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Between Idealism and Terrorism

In March 2002, while coming back to the US from a weekend in Mexico, I was stopped and heavily interrogated at the US border. My only mistake appeared to be simple birthrights: name, age and religious affiliations. The incident has passed calmly but the learning was immense. The question I asked myself then was: When …

Dr Mohamed Fouad
Dr Mohamed Fouad

In March 2002, while coming back to the US from a weekend in Mexico, I was stopped and heavily interrogated at the US border. My only mistake appeared to be simple birthrights: name, age and religious affiliations. The incident has passed calmly but the learning was immense. The question I asked myself then was: When does personal freedom stop and national security start? This question is very relevant in modern day Egypt, as the state wages an all-out war against resurfacing terrorism. We must stop and ask: What is the fine line between idealism and terrorism? And is trespassing on perceived “rights” defensible?

The current debate on Egypt’s fight against terrorism has exposed a dichotomy between hawks and doves. This divide is reflected in approaches regarding how to deal with the current situation. The doves speak of dialogue, inclusion and political participation, whereas the hawks call for zero tolerance, sequestering and exclusion.  In this debate, the buzzword remains: “human rights”.

It was once said that we have come to define modernity largely in terms of individual rights, the curtailing of which is considered to be a heinous crime. However, a lingering “but when”, is certainly due here. It must be said, that the preservation of this sort of idealism is not the only way to define progress. The preservation of human lives certainly takes precedence. While the definition of a greater good is always illusive and may lead us straight into the gates of hell, we continue to face limited choices.

As some voices rebuke with great disdain Egypt’s government decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, they fail to see the full picture. While such a measure is largely draconian, it is no secret that the Brotherhood’s current destabilising actions either directly promote terrorism or provide the right environment for it to thrive; neither can be tolerated. Simply standing on the high moral grounds of categorically denouncing any infringements on liberties might provide solace to modern day idealists. However, between a crunchy granola stance and a full-on witch hunt, there are few stones that remain unturned. The answer is, therefore, not completely shunning tough measures but simply controlling the extent to which they can be applied. Unfortunately, this usually leads us down the path of unintended results. However, what choices do we really have?

There appear to be no decent choices in times of terror–there are only dreadful ones. It cannot be denied that extreme measures against liberties are morally agonising and have always been historically treacherous. In some circumstances, our real choices between national security and moral consequences will be between controlled and uncontrolled liberties. We will be wasting time and lives in pretending differently. In the fight against terrorism, some of the world’s most established democracies did not shy away, at times, from doing what they thought is necessary; in many cases their choices were shocking to any idealist. Unfortunately, we live in those awful times.

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  • elefromsi

    Sisi and his minions should be kicked out of Egypt, he is Idi Amin for Egypt.

  • Ahmed Bata

    There is no conflict between individual rights and what is right for egypt. Islamists dont have the right to tell the rest of us how to rule egypt. We will have an election where everyone can vote. Islamists don’t have the right to use religion to impinge on individual rights. Islamists don’t even have a right to inconvenience the rest of us, just like everyone else. Any inconvenience by blocking roads or sabotage, will not be tolerated. See? No conflict. The white elephant you haven’t mentioned is that mainstream traditional run of the mill islamic scholarship is corrupt when it comes to interpersonal, intersexual, and interfaith relations. We need to fire our scholars, burn the old books, and start over with only the quran as a given. The ahadiths should ALL be treated as suspect, with no enforcement allowed, except upon oneself. Its time islamic jurisprudence is treated as a science, with no “mullahs” allowed who will race each other to see who can be the most strict to prove the superiority of his piousness. Better yet, lets start with only women interpreting islam, since the men have brought us to this misogynous state. I wouldn’t mind a country where a man has to pay child support, and where sexual harassment is blamed on the man, not the woman.

    • Sarfaraz A.

      In last six-decades dictatorship without Mullahs and Islamists what have you achieved (you one liar anti-Islam)?

      • Ahmed Bata

        Sarfaraz, we achieved peace without terrorism, anarchy, discrimination against minorities and against women. there have been plenty of failings, and they have all been secular in nature. Government and country is a man-made invention for all its citizens. I don’t believe that political Islam as it is practiced today, is at compatible with the principles of Islam. Your name indicates you are Iranian. Are your people , your minorities and your women happy with their government? I am like you doing what I believe is God’s will. We have to be able to reason with each other, and that means keeping contentious religion out of any government that represents both you and I. What we have now is described in the Quran. It is a people that appear united only on the surface, but with ill will towards each other and inability to reason, so we will fail. Reason must be supreme in government, not religion according to an Islamist.

  • Luiz Eduardo Gonçalves

    Dear Dr. Fouad,
    I have been an admirer of your articles, but this one is very disappointing indeed.
    The Muslim Brotherhood, of which I am not a supporter but which is undeniably the largest political movement in Egypt, has been put in a position in which they have nothing to lose.
    And your last paragraph is just groundless.
    In Argentina and West Germany there were real terrorist waves in the 1970s.
    West Germany, an established democracy, defeated terrorism without resorting to domestic authoritarianism.
    Argentina, on the other hand, did resort to authoritarianism. The result: no victory and 10,000 corpses; first of real terrorists, later of perceived ones, finally of liberals, democrats and ordinary citizens.
    You may have heard of Jose Mujica and Dilma Rousseff: former guerilla fighters branded as “terrorists” in the past who are in power nowadays thanks to Idealists as you would call them. I am proud to be an Idealist.
    But of course you must know better. Sorry for my naivete.
    Go for it, Dr. Fouad; just do not complain if you hear a night knock on the door. It is a lesson we in South America have learned the hard way.

  • sam enslow

    Ben Franklin, “Those who trade Liberty for Security get neither.”
    The Brotherhood thrives by being persecuted. They thrive underground. But see what happened when they operated in the open and people saw who they really were, not Muslims but Nazis. I remember when Morsy came to power, the people here and the media talked about how smart and well organized The Brothers were. “They should be given a chance,” the people said. Crimes now ascribed to The Brothers were then the responsibility of the police and army. The biggest enemies of The Brothers are themselves and sunlight.
    Terrorists must be fought, but force alone will not do the job. Look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. “All politics are local.” In Egypt it could be said all politics are personal. Individuals know effective and fair government when they experience it. They know they are hungry. They know no jobs are available. They experience paying the constant sweets to move any piece of government paper. They know none of the promises of 25 January have been kept. In fact no one has suggested ways to reach the goals of that revolution. I often mention small shops that must pay protection money, illegal buildings allowed to grow like weeds, street vendors blocking streets and paying ‘rent” to someone. These facts represent government to most people. Every bribe demanded, every rude treatment of a citizen, every opportunity lost because one has the wrong father, every simple task that takes days to finish is more important than cash to The Brothers and others like them. Many will say, “Now is not the time to…” To these people the time is never NOW.
    I read and hear many Egyptians complain about foreigners worried about the treatment of Morsy. This has nothing to do with any support of The Brothers. However, if Morsy’s rights are violated, no one has any rights. The rule of law must apply to all or it applies to none. This holds true for Mubarak also. When the law is not applied to all, you get stains like Gitmo or the internment of Japanese during WWII. The laws and their enforcement must be fair and just – and seen to be fair and just. The facts concerning Morsy’s activities should be made public. Secrecy leads to questions, “What are they covering up?” In Egypt no one trusts anyone, especially the government and with good reason (they never should). The government needs to prove itself. It needs to earn respect – not demand it. The government needs to answer the people’s questions (they work for them) and not be insulted by them. A frequently heard statement in coffee shops is, “When will they stop talking and start doing?”

    There is in America an organization that is often unpopular. It is called the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union). Its sole purpose is to go to court to challenge laws that limit our civil liberties. Why unpopular? Because it defends rights – not causes. It has, for example, defended a Black person’s right to sit anywhere on a bus while in a another courtroom defended the right of the KKK ( a racist group) to burn crosses during their meetings. It also supported the rights of Nazis to march in Stokie, IL which resulted in a trial where Jewish lawyers were defending the rights of Nazis. Far too often people want to limit rights in the passions of the moment, but the rights are what will keep you free.

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