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Three Salient Cultural Disagreements

I think most of the core values in the international human rights framework have come to be shared across cultures as values -- not always implemented, but shared as values.

Culturally, though, I think there are a couple of areas, maybe three areas, where there really is a lot of substantial disagreement.

One of them is about religious freedom. I think the Western idea of religious freedom, which is that, normatively at least, we respect -- especially the American idea, which is distinctive even in the West -- that we respect every belief that presents itself to us as a religious belief. If somebody says, "My set of beliefs are a religious belief," we usually in the United States take that as granted -- we don't say, "Is it a religion or is it a superstition or something like that?" -- they all deserve respect.

That view is not held, I would say, in the mainstream of the Islamic world. Of course, the Islamic world is extraordinarily diverse itself. But in recent years, I would say, a very powerful voice in the Islamic world is a voice that says, "There is only one god and there is one truth about that god." The other religious beliefs may be permitted to exist but are not to be respected as an equally dignified and honorable commitment on the part of the holders of that belief.

That same view is held by some communities in the Christian world and some communities in the Jewish world -- not the mainstream. But I would say that in the Islamic world that the fundamentalist points of view are quite powerful in a number of countries and form the mainstream in a number of countries.

I think the role of women is another area of very strong disagreement. That's connected to sexuality as well. But I think there are lots of cultures in which the idea of women being truly equal to men in their public role, in their social role, in their ability to express themselves sexually, and things like that, that that idea is not widely accepted. I think that's true probably in most of the world as a matter of fact, throughout Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and many more traditional parts of Europe.

If you look at the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is a very widely ratified UN Convention, and at some of the ways in which the treaty body, called the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, has interpreted the treaty -- if you look at the treaty itself and its interpretation by the treaty body, I think some of the things they have said are way ahead of global culture with respect to the rights of women to equal decision-making in sexual life, to the rights of women to abortion, the rights of women to equality in public life, things of this kind.

The third area where I think there is quite a bit of cultural disagreement really has to do with the zone of political freedom. I think in the United States, because we have such a kind of meta-stable political system, which survives when we have economic disasters, which survives when we lose wars overseas, which survives when we have domestic disorder -- nobody in the United States is really advocating a different political system, a monarchy or a military rule or something -- we can't think of another system. So the political system is quite stable.

It means that when people advocate crazy political ideas and say crazy things, it doesn't matter that much. So we have a very broad scope of freedom of speech, freedom of association. Our First Amendment freedoms are bigger than they are probably in any other country.

But in a lot of countries that feel themselves to be more insecure, there is strong public support for more limitation on political freedoms than we have here. That would be a third area, I think, of cultural disagreement.

This post was produced by The Huffington Post and Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs as part of the Council's Centennial Thought Leaders Forum. The series features thought leaders answering questions posed by Carnegie Council Senior Fellow Devin Stewart. For more information about the Carnegie Council, click here.