By Sara Khorshid
Thank you, Canada, for proving that human rights are applicable at all times. Thank you for inspiring others to cling to hope in democracy even at the darkest times.
Friends, family members and acquaintances I know who have expressed such sentiments or nodded in agreement to them vary. They include Canadians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, Americans, and Europeans. Some of them live in Canada, many outside Canada. There is an overwhelming sense of celebration among many across the globe. Cheering is mixed with solidarity and an implicit will to unite behind values that are thought to be better for humankind.
Canadians have voted for the Liberal Party after nine years of right-wing rule by the Conservatives. The new prime minister, 42-year-old Justin Trudeau, appointed an ethnically diverse cabinet with equal number of men and women ministers, most of whom are aged under 50. The cabinet includes three Sikh ministers, two aboriginal ministers, a legally blind minister, and an Afghan-born 30-year-old minister. A composition that takes the concept of citizenship to a new level.
The significance and the beauty of what is happening in Canada is that it happening at a time when many across the world were losing faith in human rights and democracy for reasons related to security challenges facing governments with the rise of the Islamic State group and the intensification of the war against terror. This context has given rise to a debate on whether human rights and progressive norms can be sustained and honored at all time.
As the brutality and gruesomeness of acts attributed to the Islamic State group left many in fear and dismay, conservative voices have risen, getting across a message that entails a compromise of long-cherished values as the only way to win the war on terror.
The symbolism of the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda and their likes being non-state actors defying states has led many citizens across the world (and especially in countries like Egypt for example where the state has lately faced extraordinary threats) to condone or ignore violations committed by the state for the sake of reinforcing its abilities and powers. This has blurred the line between the state's unique authorization to use coercive measures on the one hand, and its obligation to respect human rights and to use those coercive measures only within the limits of the rule-of-law framework and in light of its accountability to citizens, on the other hand.
In Egypt, some conservatives have reached a point close to worshiping the state as the guarantor that can prevent terrorists from prevailing. Against this backdrop, they have gone on to condone a crackdown on human rightists and pro-democracy activists and entities on the grounds that their activism obstructs the government's efforts to defeat terror.
This discourse was aided by a number of dark incidents that took place in various spots across the world, coupled with a consequent rise of right-wing politics. Examples: The surveillance bill passed into law in France in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack allowing intelligence to tap phones and emails without judicial authorization; Edward Snowden's revelations about the US intelligence apparatus's global internet and phone surveillance that violated the privacy rights of millions for the sake of preventing potential terrorist acts; Hungary's violation of asylum seekers' rights, with Hungarian politicians seeking to justify their anti-immigrant policies by linking immigration to terror threats; and in Canada itself, the draconian citizenship law passed under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative party allowing the revocation of Canadian citizenship.
All such incidents and others have empowered conservative voices in Egypt and in other non-democratic countries, enabling them to further justify their criticism of the principles of human rights and democracy under the pretext that such principles are inapplicable and unfeasible -- and more so when the state is fighting of a war on terror. The logic goes, "You see? Democracy and human rights are not working even in North American and European countries whose politicians try to instruct our Arab leaders to respect such values. There is no room for such empty slogans."
But Canada is now proving this logic wrong. A year after the Islamic State released an audio message calling for attacks on Canadians, and also after a supporter of the Islamic State group perpetrated an attack in the parliament, killing a Canadian soldier, Canadians voted for the Liberal Party and for a prime minister who speaks about bringing citizens together despite their differences, takes pride in being a feminist, and propagates multiculturalism.
This does not mean that the new Canadian prime minister and government are infallible or that Trudeau will be necessarily able to continue to walk the walk just like he talked the talk. It is still unclear how the new cabinet will perform in practice, but one can comfortably say a cabinet like this is very promising.
Also, what happened in Canada has not closed the academic and public opinion discussion over whether liberalism and multiculturalism are compatible and whether and how the Canadian model can be successfully implemented in countries with different contexts and circumstances. Such debates are useful as long as they are constructive and involve no belittling of any opinion. Constructive debates are also known to be very Canadian.
In the past few days, the Egyptian social media sphere has seen Islamists express how impressed they are by the Canadian model, and non-Islamists, for their part, accusing them of ruling in a way that deviates from Canadian principles during their one year in power (June 2012-June 2013). But this debate in and of itself has at least shown that Canada is inspiring others -- perhaps to rethink their old ways or to engage in a discussion about good practices.
So thank you, Canada, for restoring faith in democracy, citizenship and human rights. Thank you for making many liberals, feminists, multiculturalism advocates and human rightists proud.
You have made some non-Canadians jealous, but this can be a healthy jealousy.