In this video, I am trying to answer the burning question on the relationship between advancing human rights and fighting terrorism, based on my experience as a human rights activist and researcher on fighting Islamic extremism since 2006.
It has become a trend! Over the recent few years, we have been listening to world leaders talking about the two topics – human rights and violent extremism – as if they are two ends of the same spectrum.
The United Nation’s office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued several fact sheets explaining the link between human rights and terrorism. Several analysts from think tanks and academia have issued a tremendous number of papers on the so-called “interdependent relationship” between fighting terrorism and human rights.
Their arguments usually deal with fighting terrorism and advancing human rights as two ends of the same spectrum. Pursuing more of one side should necessarily mean losing more on the other side, so they argue. If you want more security and success on fighting terrorism, you have to stop achieving progress on human rights. Vice versa, if you want more progress on human rights, then you have to stop speaking about terrorism as a threat to human security and be more lenient on fighting violent extremists out of fear of being “islamophobic” or not “respecting other’s religion!” Some analysts have gone as far as giving excuses to terrorists by claiming that they adopted terrorism as a reaction to not have enough human rights in their countries.
In practical reality all those arguments have been proven wrong. We have seen French, British, and American citizens turning into terrorists despite the fact that they grow up in liberal democratic nations, which cherish individual freedoms and respects human rights.
I do believe that linking human rights and terrorism in the way we are doing today is a fatal mistake. By playing the spectrum of fighting terrorism versus advancing human rights, we lethally empower terrorists over national states; and thus making it impossible to put an end to terrorism or achieve any tangible progress on human rights.
Advancing human rights and fighting terrorism are like water and oil. They are two objects (or topics) from two different spheres. They are neither interdependent on each other nor linked to each other, despite the fact that they can exist and develop at the same time and the same place.
On one hand, human Rights, in its essence, is an international law of idealistic goals that human beings have been trying to realize for decades, and have not fully realized, yet! National states are abiding by the international human rights law. National states are obliged to take all necessary measures to apply those rights on the humans (citizens) living under the governance of those national states.
On the other hand, terrorism is a criminal action committed by non-state actors, who are not committed to any laws or rules that dignifies human beings. They do not have a common identity or an organized body to force to commit to any agreement of any kind. Killing human beings and destroying national states is their ultimate goal.
National states can sometimes fail on advancing human rights. This is a mistake that can be corrected by time and cooperation with other states or with the United Nations. We have seen countries, especially in my Middle East region, turning from authoritarian dictatorships into open democracies.
However, National states do not have the luxury of trial and error on fighting terrorism. Failure is not an option here, because it means the end of the national state. Syria, Yemen, and Libya are clear examples on this. Fighting terrorism is a criminal action that requires an immediate reaction, while advancing human rights is a process that takes years if not decades to be accomplished.
In that sense, we should understand that terrorism is not a threat to human rights, but a threat to human existence. If humans are killed, there won’t be human rights. For humans to practice their rights, they need to exist in a safe context first. Terrorism is only one of many obstacles in the way of progressing human rights. Yet, terrorism is not an equivalent to human rights. i.e., one of them is not interdependent on the other. Likewise, Human rights are not a luxury but at the same time, human rights should not be used as an obstacle in the way of fighting terrorism. This distinction is extremely important to consider, while looking at how national states should be handling terrorism and terrorists.
I hope this video and blog post initiate an international conversation on the lack of interdependence between advancing human rights and fighting violent extremism, in a way that ends the current state of polarization that is pre-occupying our world, today.
I look forward to hearing from you. Write m your comments or questions under the video on Youtube. Or, drop me an email by clicking here.