Throughout human history, with its recurring wars and conflicts, it has been an unwritten code of humane behavior to avoid civilian casualties and non-military destruction.  In the past, those nations or peoples who have dis-regarded this rule of simple decency have earned for themselves perpetual exe-cration in the annals of human history as uncivilized brutes and barbarians.


          Unfortunately, such rules of decent behavior are now being deliberately disregarded, and even in this enlightened age, acts of violence against innocent people have reached sub-human levels.  Religious radicals bent on overthrow-ing the Egyptian government are now targeting foreign tourists as a means of hurting that nation’s economy.  Elsewhere, terrorists are knowingly selecting the most defenseless and innocent victims to slaughter in order to make a poli-tical point.  Hostages are taken without regard to their identification with or against an issue.


          “Ethnic cleansing” is the current euphemistic term that connotes the wholesale massacre of human beings belonging to any despised race or religion.  In backward nations there are actually laws that sanction savage acts of persecu-tion against citizens belonging to minority groups.  And in these benighted lands, terrorists who destroy themselves along with their victims are actually venerated as holy martyrs by religious fanatics whose warped beliefs have cor-rupted their rationality as well as their sense of human decency.


          It should be a matter of personal shame for every person alive today to admit that such barbarism still exists, especially in these modern times wherein freedom and democracy are opening new vistas of progress and prosperity in much of the world.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has now existed for almost a half century, and by this time the world should have come to harmonious accord with its spirit and ideals.  Its provisions are plain and un-equivocal: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or de-grading treatment or punishment” (Article 5), “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (Article 9), and “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance” (Article 18).


          Despite the international agreements that forbid it and despite the denials from governments that use it, physical violence as a political tool is commonly practiced around the globe.  The systematic use of torture is reported in many countries, regardless of political ideologies or economic systems.


          The list of torture techniques used today includes not only archaic instru-ments like whips, clubs, and thumbscrews, but also the modern technology of electrical shock devices, sophisticated methods of psychological torment, and drugs that can cause dread, hallucinations, muscle spasms, and paralysis.  Vic-ims are beaten, burned, raped, suffocated, and subjected to mock executions.


          Of the world’s governments, 110 of them still practice torture.  And the victims include members of all social groups, ages, and professions.  Criminal suspects as well as political detainees may be subjected to physical violence or inhumane treatment.  Women often face sexual degradation at the hands of their male captors.  In some countries, even children have been tortured or have been forced to watch the torture of their parents.


          Government sanctioned psychological pressure and social stigma deprive multitudes of minority groups of their basic human freedoms.  In Iran, all citi-zens must carry identity cards listing their religion, and non-Muslim shopkeep-ers must display signs showing their religious affiliation.  Christian, Jewish, Ba-ha’i, and Parsee places of worship have been closed.  Conversion of Muslims to other faiths is actually against the law (in a clear violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and Iranian authorities arrest, impris-on, interrogate, and torture such converts and their families.


          When in 1989 the British-born Indian writer Salman Rushdie published a novel, The Satanic Verses, referring to an imaginary passage in the Quran showing the prophet Muhammad compromising with paganism, a death warrant was given out by the Islamic leaders.  Then, when Rushdie gained an audience with President Clinton, after a period of remaining in hiding for fear of his life, the President was condemned by these same bigots.  In reply to their charges, Clinton gave much too mild a response.  Instead of treating these enemies of freedom with kid gloves, he might well have denounced them as the barbarians that they are - in much the same way that President Reagan condemned “the evil empire” of Soviet Russia in his time.


          It is simply inconceivable that a man should be sentenced to death for writing a book, for this does not begin to compare with such things as terrorism and seizing hostages, which are blatant acts of piracy and and coercion perpe-trated by Muslims.  A book can be either read or left alone, and it is a basic hu-man right for a person to be able to express himself in writing.


          Such freedom is not, however, tolerable to religious despots. And from this it may be recognized that Fundamentalism in all its forms is a holdover from the Dark Ages.  Also, the record shows that, since the demise of militant communism, Islamic Fundamentalism is the biggest threat to world peace in existence today.


          Speaking on the topic of “Democracy and Human Rights” at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, Secretary of State Warren Christopher made the following statements of purpose and intent:


          “We must keep the spotlight of world opinion on the darkest corners of abuse.  We must confront the abus-ers.  We must sharpen the tools of human rights diploma-cy to address problems before they escalate into violence and create new pariah states.

          Today, on behalf of the United States, I officially present to the world community an ambitious action plan that represents our commitment to pursue human rights, regardless of the outcome of this conference.  This plan will build on the UN’s capacity to practice preventive di-plomacy, safeguard human rights, and assist fledgling democracies.  We seek to strengthen the UN Human Rights Center and its advisory and rapporteurial functions.  We support the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.”


          While just one individual suffers unjust imprisonment, enslavement, per-secution, or harassment in this world, mankind as a whole cannot be free, for such acts are a nagging disturbance to the consciences of every civilized human being.  When a fellow human creature is suffering on the other side of the globe, moral outrage of those who are aware of these acts of savagery prevents their full enjoyment of the blessings of existence.


          Obviously, many nations and peoples of the world have never advanced beyond the Dark Ages, remaining instead in the primeval slime of prejudice, intolerance, ignorance, and superstition.  But such sorry conditions cannot al-ways prevail, for there is a powerful movement afoot toward democracy, en-lightenment, and freedom.  It is a vital lesson of history that tyrants never seem to learn: repressive regimes tend to drown themselves in the blood of martyrs.  And the relentless tide of support for human rights will, in the long run, cause the final overthrow of all despotism and autocracy that blights the human race and blemishes the lives of those creatures who are made in the image of God.