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Majority Rule/Minority Rights: Study Questions

Suggested Review Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles

Questions

If the majority always rules, what real protections for minority rights exist within a democracy? Does the majority ever have a stake in respect for minority rights?

Why do individual rights protect minority rights? When are individual rights insufficient for the protection of minority rights? Are UN guarantees protecting minority groups from discrimination superfluous or necessary?

Activity

When the majority decides to oppress or exterminate a minority, often the minority has no option but to appeal for help from outside the country. Using sources such as the European Court of Human Rights and the UN, identify international actions aimed at defending minorities against oppression or extinction. Have any succeeded in protecting the minority? For those that did not, what caused them to fail?

Netherlands

Question

The Netherlands today is addressing both political and ethnic minority issues at the same time. What issues are being confronted? What were the historical barriers that prevented integration of immigrants?

Activity

Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders produced a controversial short movie about Islam, Fitna, that was released on the internet in 2008. No television company would broadcast the movie, and some politicians in the Netherlands tried to ban it due to its inflammatory content. Watch the movie, if possible, and compare the concept to Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali's movie Submission. Do you think that either movie helps promote understanding of immigrants? Why or why not? What stereotypes do the movies present? In what ways has the Dutch government protected the rights of minorities in light of these two movies?

Turkey

Question

Is Turkey in compliance with Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (see quotation in general section above)? How is the Turkish government acting to conform to European and international norms regarding minority rights?

Activity

Compare Turkey's constitutional insistence on a secular state with the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state. What are the similarities and differences between the two constitutional approaches to religion? Is the U.S. a secular state? What explains Turkey's insistence on secularism?

Sudan

Question

What historical and political factors contributed to Sudan's disunity following independence?

Activity

Sudan is among the world's most diverse countries, with 600 ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. Pretend that you are charged with writing a new national constitution for Sudan. What approach would you take in trying to build a united country? Would you try to include all of the different groups? Why or why not? Have your class vote on your constitution and debate the outcome.