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In Defense of Right

J. Lee Simons

The Early Years

A native of Lahore, Pakistan, Farooq Hassan, was a visiting scholar at the Kennedy Center during fall 2003. Lahore is the capital of Pakistan, an area his family has lived in for several generations. “My parents live there; my grandfather lived there. And my family was fairly influential,” Hassan described. “One of my uncles was a chief justice; another uncle was next to the president thirty years ago. My own father held an important position in the government, and my maternal grandfather was one of the greatest poets of India.”

And though deeply connected to Pakistan, London is where he spent the better part of his first twenty-three years. “My home is in two different places. I also think of England as home, where I grew up as a child. My parents sent me to study at Harrow, which is one of the two best schools in England,” Hassan explained. “Winston Churchill went there, and I lived in the same house he had lived in.

“Then I went to Oxford for six years to receive a PhD, and I practiced law there. So I spent a lot of time in England, and I still have a law office in London. When I have time, I go back to London. And I believe what [Ben] Jonson said, ‘if you are fed up with London, you are fed up with life.’ I still tell everyone that London is the best place to go and stay.”

Living in the USA

Hassan also calls the U.S. home. “I came to this country twenty-six years ago to teach and practice law; I brought my three children—all girls—with me,” he said. “They went to school here, so all of them are now American, and they live like Americans do.”

After completing his education in England, the first U.S. state he lived in was Texas. “I was at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, working with dean of law, Robert Storey, who had been the deputy prosecutor of Allied Forces in Nuremburg,” he recalled. “I was a fellow there for three months. But we have a home in Boston, because I taught at Harvard University.”


Human Rights in Other Nations

Hassan is currently researching the forms of the family institution as found in different countries, but his work as a legal consultant has taken him to many countries, and given him the opportunity to meet with high-ranking officials. “The Saudi Arabian government and crown prince invited me to do some work for them And they organized the first-ever human rights conference in Saudi Arabia, at which I was one of the main speakers,” he said. “I was very privileged to receive the Citation of Honor from the royal court [an honor received by Hassan from the brother of the king, Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh].”

According to Hassan, there are many places where regular people cannot go in Saudi Arabia, such as in Riyadh, the capital. “First I went to Riyadh, where the conference took place. This was a very big moment for me, and I was criticized by the Western press saying that Saudi Arabia was not in a position to have any human rights,” he said, but added that “their system is different. Like in Pakistan, my native country, it’s just very different. The system in every country is different. I have connections to over 125 countries in the world, and I think, except for Western Europe, where there is a similarity of culture, the structure of living is totally different.”

He referred to the system in Saudi Arabia as a “personalized, remedial system” where, for instance, the governor of Riyadh holds a daily open office where any citizen may come and speak with him without an appointment. Even in our democracy, that is not a likely scenario with our elected officials—from the mayor to the president.

The political nuances are more complicated than open meetings to air grievances though. “The people like to get things resolved very quickly, and in a very direct manner—that is a system that works there,” Hassan reasoned. “Now, I know there are quirks in their courts, but I saw for myself the manifestation of their human rights in action, which are more or less similar to those found in a hundred other countries that are consistently called ‘Third-World countries.’”

Hassan’s background in human rights is impressive and should be noted. “In 1974, I received the initial Professor’s Diploma of Human Rights Teaching, the first of its kind in the world, from Rene Cassin’s International Institute of Human Rights in France,” said Hassan. He also worked with Cassin, who had earlier won the Nobel Prize for drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 1980, Hassan was selected by the UN and UNESCO as one of the six jurists, and the only one from a Third World country, to frame new human rights. He was responsible for the right now known as “the right to be different.” He went on to teach this subject at the Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Center and is the author of nearly twenty-five professional articles on this subject. He has also been a delegate and member of the UN Human Rights Commission and one of the experts for the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

Religious Observance

While in Saudi Arabia, he had the opportunity to  undertake an umra, similar to a haj, which for Muslims is what Hassan deemed a “very invigorating experience.” The haj is done once a year at a prescribed time by millions of believers, but the umra is an individual devotion that may be done many times at the discretion of the believer.

“The first time I went to the Ka’bah, I saw the first house for worshiping the liberty of God at Mecca. It was so comforting to look at,” Hassan attested. For Muslims, Ka’bah, or the sacred mosque at Mecca, is the center, holiest place of worship in Islam (which means submission)—al Masjid al-Haram, the Arabic name, means cube, and refers to the cube-shaped stone structure built in the middle of the mosque. This structure is believed by Muslims to have been built by Abraham for the purpose of worshiping God. The umra is a three-hour ritual experience, after which the believer would normally then travel to Medina, where the Prophet Mohammad lived.

“This was a short trip; I only stayed two or three days,” he added to explain why he went to Medina. “The duty of the religion calls upon people of means to go to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. Jerusalem is common to all three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Mecca is not shared by the other religions.” Across the Ka’bah courtyard are footprints that Muslims believe are those of Abraham.

This experience offers a sense of immense renewal, according to Hassan. “We feel very good in performing this pilgrimage. We say one word, lebac, which means, ‘I am present my God, I have come my God.’ We say this several times to mark our presence before God. Therefore, out of all our worldly pursuits, we found time to go and present ourself to God.”

Making Friends with the Latter-day Saints

Hassan has represented The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in legal matters in Asia, but his first contact with the Church came while attending Oxford. “Thirty-five years ago, one of my classmates was a son of then-BYU Pres-ident [Ernest L.] Wilkinson, David, who later became Attorney General of Utah,” he related. “He was older than me, having come from Germany after performing military service, but we were very good friends. That was my first contact with the Church. He took me with him to London in his car. He was the only one with a car, you know. We didn’t even have a bicycle. And I remember he never had a cup of tea, which we had; he only had milk. So I came to know the eating habits of the Mormons.

In later years, he became friends with the late Congressman from Utah Gunn McKay. “I met him many years ago in Pakistan, and later I had an opportunity to help him. I’ve had, over the years, many close contacts with Mormons, and I have found them to be the most noble and most honest people—very hard working.”


Defending in the Courts

Most of Hassan’s time is spent in the U.S. practicing law, but he has been the main lawyer in Pakistan for human rights civil litigation in their Supreme Court. “I have argued more important cases in Pakistan than any lawyer in the history of the country. I have cases with high commission, and I have taken the case of the underdog. My clients have included most of the former Prime Ministers of Pakistan and many politicians as well, mostly when they have left office,” he acknowledged. “I also work on the equivalent of cases that you would find in the U.S., like you have now with the Michael Jackson case or, earlier, the Simpson case.”

Working in the political arena in Third World countries has not always been the safest work for Hassan. “A year ago, when I was doing a big case against Pervez Musharraf, I thought he should pack up and go home, have elections in his country, and allow the constitution to prevail. But he wants to stay there forever with his children, without elections. He’s still the Army chief, so it is a classic military coup,” Hassan said. “And this is the kind of thing that I have worked with all my life. One of the grievances that people have with the American government, not the people, is that they have supported dictators in Islamic countries. That is not good. On the 6th of November [2003], President Bush actually said that we [the U.S.] will not respond to dictatorship, and I hope the United States sticks to this resolution.”

Dialogue is an important aspect of foreign policy according to Hassan. “There are very good, motivated people in Pakistan who like the U.S., but when they see their own government having things said about them that they know are all false, people begin, then, to lose trust. I think that trust has to be gained.”

When asked about Pakistan’s support for the U.S. against Afghanistan, Hassan was adamant that “any government in Pakistan would have supported the United States, because Pakistan, with the largest Islamic population, has been fast allies with the U.S. for fifty years against the Russians. But helping military dictators is going to backfire. And you don’t go to war unless there is no chance left for earthly dialogue.”

Does this mean the U.S. should have dialogue with terrorists? “No, I’m only propagating a principle. Whether the principle is applicable or not applicable will depend upon the situation. Now, you did not ask me that question, you asked me whether any government in Pakistan would have helped, and I said, ‘yes.’”

The UN and Family Policies

Hassan’s connection with the Kennedy Center began in 1997, when he was heading the delegation of Pakistan to the United States General Assembly, 3rd Committee, which deals with social issues surrounding the family, children, human rights, and political rights. “That’s where I came to know Professor Richard Wilkins [professor of law at BYU] and the World Family Policy Center. Through him I came to know many other people in this field,” he said.

As the United Nations has assumed the role of international lawmaker, the World Family Policy Center has taken a stand to lobby against the limited voices of a few, powerful lobbies—particularly in the area of traditional families. The center is supported by the J. Reuben Clark Law School and the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, in partnership with the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University.

“Since then I have been very lucky to attend most of the annual forums, and I’ve also attended the religious liberties conference that the university organizes in October every year. My visits to BYU continue to be of a consistent nature over the last several years.”

His experiences at BYU have left him with a very positive spin on at least two aspects of campus life. “I am grateful to be here, and there are two things that have left an indelible impression on my mind. One is the moral code of the people. This is a very big university—I went to Oxford and Cambridge where the number of students was 5,000. Here, I believe, there are 30,000 or 40,000—such a large university and yet so well behaved students! No noise I find; no dirt I see; no filth I see; no rubbish I see. It’s remarkable!” Hassan exclaimed.

“This is the kind of discipline that I would like my children and our families to grow up with. If this is the only manifestation of a pattern for living life, then this speaks volumes for the training that people receive at this institution. And this is something that I will carry with me.


“And second is the dedication to intellect. I understand that being a church-related school, it has to have a certain policy orientation, even if you don’t want it. But whatever you call them, Christian values or Mormon values, they are basically good, human values. I think these values should be cultivated in other places, and intellect is a strong base. When people say there is a debate between secularism and religious thinking, there is a presumption that secularism is synonymous with rationality,” he said.

“I would argue that rationality is synonymous with religion. If you don’t have a foundation of morality you are nothing. If you start making concessions, there is no such thing as being a little bit moral. Either you are moral, or you are immoral,” concluded Hassan.