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These societies are in trouble for a reason Bilahari himself points out but never bothers to examine – hypocrisy. Consider France, today’s poster-boy for post-Enlightenment (read: post-rights) apocalypse. The trouble with France is not the freedom of speech, but that speech is free for some but not all. Charlie Hebdo can rubbish the Prophet Muhammad all they want, but Muslims aren’t free to express their faith using symbols like the burqa. Would the sizzling groundswell of Muslim anger that birthed the gunmen have existed if not for this discrimination? If Muslims were free to stand up as equal citizens and denounce the mockery of their faith? I think not. Muslims and Charlie Hebdo’s editors would still have hated each other, but it’s far less likely automatic weapons would have gotten involved. France is a bad example of human rights in action. It is a good example of racist bullying, the kind even Singapore indulges in sometimes (just think Thaipusam, the Little India riots and our treatment of foreign workers). Are Western leaders hypocritical when they talk about human rights in international fora? Of course! That is a disgrace. But if anything, it only gives us another reason why rights are important. Rights protect us against those in power, whether in the form of tyrannical governments or oppressive majorities. Whether Western or Eastern, the powerful will always have a motive to take those rights away.

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