Relations between cultural claims, power and universal human rights

 To begin with, let us consider the controversy surrounding the design of the Australian flag. This case is representative of the ideological and power struggles that are rampant everywhere else in the world. The Australian flag evokes starkly different emotions from different sections of its populace. For the indigenous community, it denotes a selective and exclusivist interpretation of Australian history, which completely neglects pre-colonial heritage. For the majority of the European settlers, the blatant human rights violations perpetrated against innocent hordes of indigenous tribes do not evoke sympathy as much as colonial supremacy. This dual viewpoints of history are typical in the post-colonial societies elsewhere, with a marked shift between the sentiments of the ruling elite and the subaltern masses. As the authors point out,

“These debates about the meaning of flags raise issues that point to the very foundations of international politics. States claim that they embody the identities of the peoples living within their territorial boundaries. These identities are a powerful force, even if they are sometimes contrived or imagined. The principle of state sovereignty is often upheld not just as a fundamental political and legal tool but also as the means of protecting the culture or cultures operating within the state’s boundaries”. (Brown, Bromley & Athreye, p.200)

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Over the course of the last century, states have claimed legitimacy to their causes using the language of rights. The hope lies therein for minorities and underprivileged within states to also employ the language of rights to claim their legitimate share of opportunity, prosperity, and privilege. While traditionally, notions of cultural identity held sway over other abstract categorizations, the world of neo-liberal economic globalization has given precedence to universal human rights and justice. So, the twentieth-century world is undergoing an interesting political and cultural evolution that breaks away from conventional notions of rights and justice.

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