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Islam, Liberalism and Human Rights: implications for International Relations

Katerina Dalacoura
I B Tauris (February 2003)

Are human rights a universal norm or are they a 'western' value and therefore inappropriate and irrelevant for other cultures? How does Islam influence the understanding of human rights in Muslim societies? Is there an inherent antithesis between Islam as a religion and the value of human rights? How do we evaluate proposals for a particularly 'Islamic' conceptualisation of human rights?

This timely book addresses the question of human rights in the international context, focusing in particular on the interaction between human rights as a value and norm in international relations and Islam as a constituent of political culture in particular societies. 

Dalacoura's argument proceeds at two levels. Firstly, through a reconsideration of the liberal position, it arrives at a consistent normative position on the question of human rights while taking into account the claims of personal and cultural authenticity. The argument here aims to discredit cultural essentialism and to prove that the advent of modernity allows meaningful inter-cultural dialogue on human rights. Secondly, the theoretical argument is reinforced through a detailed study both of the precepts of Islam and the role of Islam in the political process of twentieth century Egypt and Tunisia. These cases illustrate that the interpretation of Islam in relation to human rights principles is not static but is subject to reformulation largely under the impact of social and economic developments and the political choice of the dominant and contending elites. The implications of this view of Islam for the study of human rights in international relations are then spelt out and discussed.