Democracy and Human Rights: Does it matter in Exploration?

Sports washing – Associated with countries who are trying to ‘wash away’ their stains of poor human rights records with hosting of sporting events. Lately it has been associated with Saudi Arabia. Recently there is a lot of press about Saudi Arabia trying to buy their way into Golf. Similar arguments have been made about Russia, China and many other Middle Eastern Nations. There has been serious backlash against these events by many in the West.

I am not going to argue for either side of this debate – that is a different conversation. Where it matters to me is Exploration. In that context, if you are an explorer, then do you care about democracies and human rights? Where will you draw the line? Will you stop yourself from visiting a country because of your political ideologies?

These are very important questions – I recommend you formulate your own arguments and try to take a step back and evaluate what is right for you. Before I delve into my answers to the questions I have posed, I want to highlight a few examples, which hopefully, indicate the nuances of this serious issue.

  1. The United States, one of the world’s freest democracies, has serious problems with race – many of their laws, their policies have created structural divides between minorities and majorities. Many of the land stolen by the European immigrants from the natives have yet to be returned or some sort of compensation has yet to be provided.
  2. Australia, another free democracy, is guilty of, and one can argue this, institutional genocide against the aboriginals – ‘The Lost Generations’.
  3. Saudi Arabia has very strict Islamic laws and their track record on human rights is abysmal.
  4. India, while still a democracy, has seen deterioration in its secularism leading to tensions, violence between communities.
  5. China has accelerated its repressive policies against the Uyghurs and the Tibetans. It has also crushed Hong Kong and has its eyes on Taiwan.
  6. Most Islamic nations are not democracies (some are only on paper) and stricter versions of Islam permeate across the societies leaving very little religious freedom for other religious groups and almost no freedom for many liberal Muslims.
  7. The United Kingdom has still to apologise for slavery and make amends to any historical crimes. It is the same for France, Belgium, and Spain.

Let us get one fact right away – Every country and community is guilty of gross violation of human rights, as we define the term in the modern world. The above examples clearly show that.

What is then different between the United States and Saudi Arabia?

What is the difference between the United Kingdom and China?

In the most simplistic view, the biggest difference is not about values or principles or morality but that of the passage of time.

  1. In general, The West has committed heinous crimes in the past. Today their societies are relatively free and they are trying to equalise many historical differences and mistakes within their liberal democracy models. Of course serious violations still exist (eg: Canada and it treatment of First Nations communities or the Iraq War)
  2. Most of the other ‘undemocratic’ countries are committing serious violations today (eg: North Korea, Egypt etc)

The nature of the violations is the same. One group has treated another group very badly. One dominant government or party has destroyed the culture, economy and values of another party. There is really no difference in principle.

With this knowledge in mind, I asked myself those questions again

If you are an explorer, then do you care about democracies and human rights?

Where will you draw the line?

Will you stop yourself from visiting a country because of your political ideologies?

The answer is that I will not stop myself from visiting any nation or any community. I enjoy going to the US even though the Americans have yet to resolve many historical issues. I enjoy Arab hospitality even though I don’t agree with their governments.

Will I visit Ethiopia today (provided it is safe?) – Yes

Will I visit Saudi Arabia – Yes

Will I enjoy my time in China – Yes

From my perspective, an explorer has to, to a very large extent, be agnostic to the politics of a country. Life isn’t black and white – it is a lot more complex and nuanced. The same applies to a community, a society and a country.

Ofcourse, as a human, there is always a conflict about these issues, which invariably influences my response as an explorer. But, in the grander scheme, one can hope and work for change but change is slow and messy. One can wish (unrealistically) that life is equal and fair to every single human but clearly as history has shown us, this is not the case. We can only work towards a better future and an explorer in his or her own way can help bring about that better future.

It starts with reaching out and exploring – Building a bridge and slowly bringing about change through sharing of common universal values. This is lot more meaningful longer term than a dramatic change brought about by force or moral preaching.

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