When Rights Become Weapons: Comparative Insights from Political Battles in Europe, the United States and Elsewhere
20 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 8, 2011
Rights are usually viewed as defensive concepts representing mankind’s highest aspirations to protect and uplift the vulnerable. Since the Enlightenment, however, political combatants have also used rights belligerently -- to batter despised communities, demolish existing institutions, and smash opposing ideas. Examining historical and contemporary conflicts, I describe how activists sharpen rights into weapons: by naturalizing, absolutizing, universalizing, and depoliticizing them. I show how they wield rights: to camouflage ulterior motives, break rival coalitions, attack policies, and explode societies. Finally, I analyze how targets repulse the assault, often by fashioning contrary rights.
My paper, part of a larger book project combining historical and comparative analysis, focuses on contemporary cases in which rights are deployed belligerently: in Spain, minority Catalan nationalists’ use of animal rights to attack Spanish culture epitomized by bullfighting; in England, right-wing activists’ deployment of free expression rights to undermine recent hate speech laws protecting Muslim communities; and in the U.S., pro-Israel activists’ use of gay rights to sow discord in the Palestinian solidarity network. Comparing these important cases in which rights are wielded as weapons, I raise troubling new questions about a concept we thought we knew.
Keywords: Palestinian solidarity, human rights, animal rights, gay rights, women's rights, English Defence League, rights
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