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Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Latest Fragile Freedoms lecture examined the inseparable links between culture, identity, and human rights

Our obligation to help

Fragile Freedom lecturer argues justice is about more than protecting people’s basic freedoms

November 18, 2013 — 
Kwame Anthony Appiah

Kwame Anthony Appiah

The idea of human rights has never been a mere abstraction for Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, whose recent Fragile Freedoms lecture will air on CBC’s Ideas on Nov. 21.

Professor Appiah, who on November 13 gave the third lecture in the Fragile Freedoms series at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, grew up in Ghana, where his father Joe Appiah was a leader of the independence movement.  After independence, Joe Appiah broke with the government of his former friend Kwame Nkrumah, and the young boy had to watch as his father was arrested and imprisoned, and his house ransacked for evidence of sedition.  A new organization called Amnesty International took up his father’s cause, and people all over the world wrote letters demanding freedom for one of the first people ever described as a “prisoner of conscience”. During his lecture, professor Appiah reminded his audience that we too have the obligation to help those who are denied their basic freedoms, wherever they may live.

Professor Appiah, the author of many books and a professor at Princeton University, emphasized that justice is about more than protecting people’s basic freedoms. It is also about allowing them to form their own identity. This means we must respect not just the things we all have in common, but also the things that make us different. He insisted that before we criticize the practices of other cultures, we must first ensure that we understand them. Professor Appiah discussed Quebec’s new charter of values, which he said threatens to undermine the diversity of its society and make religious minorities feel less welcome.

 “He may have said some things that not everyone in the room wanted to hear. But the audience afterwards was buzzing with discussion. He gave everyone something to think about, ” Arthur Schafer, director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said after the lecture.

The Fragile Freedoms lecture series is sponsored by the University of Manitoba’s Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, in conjunction with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and CBC’s Ideas programme, which will broadcast all of the lectures. Appiah’s lecture will air on Ideas on Thursday, Nov. 21.

Tickets for future lectures may be purchased through the series website:

Listen to previous Fragile Freedoms lectures

A.C. Grayling’s Sept 25 lecture on Ideas.

Martha Nussbaum’s Oct. 31 lecture on Ideas



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