Kamran Bokhari and Sahar Aziz, two senior fellows with the Center for Global Policy, discuss transnational counterterrorism and how it has created a shift toward authoritarian ideas in the West. Aziz — an expert on national security, civil rights and Middle Eastern law — posits that the United States’ close work with authoritarian regimes on counterterrorism efforts has led to a contagion of authoritarian ideas, and that Washington should put strict conditions on its cooperation with these governments in the fight against terrorism.
Aziz points out that as the U.S. government has worked alongside Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes to fight terrorists, U.S. counterterrorism practices and policies are becoming similar to those found in those countries. Civil liberties infringements and civil rights issues that mostly affect Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans have become more common. Most Americans do not see these changes as problematic because they believe the changes will not affect them; moreover, a cultural shift has made Americans more willing to give up privacy and other rights in exchange for the perception of greater safety. Aziz points to the PATRIOT Act as an example of a policy change that curtails individual liberties. She also points to the U.S. use of torture and indefinite detention as a shift away from the United States’ ideals, though she says the U.S. civil society — investigative journalists, a strong judiciary and nongovernmental organizations — is a powerful force for democracy.
Aziz says that authoritarianism actually destabilizes countries, while democracy promotes stabilization. She believes that Washington needs to make sure that when it cooperates with authoritarian governments on counterterrorism, it insists that the cooperation adhere to international human rights standards. Aziz then gives recommendations on how the United States should proceed in working with other countries — and within itself — to limit political violence without compromising its democratic ideals.