Hosni Mubarak and Robin Hood

The absence of a fair process in making laws, and of due process in enforcing them, produces some pretty odd characters in a society - some good, some bad, some in between.

Take the text-book case of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. If everything was nice and fair, would the two ever come into conflict? Not really. Wikipedia advises us that in many versions of the story
"the despotic sheriff gravely abuses his position, appropriating land, levying intolerable taxation, and unfairly persecuting the poor."
The due process is nowhere to be found here; hence our sympathies are with Mr. Hood. Had the laws been adopted via a democratic process and Mr. Sheriff were enforcing them fairly, Mr. Hood would hardly have chosen a criminal carrier (as per the same authority, some sources suggest that "he has served in the crusades, returning to England to find his lands pillaged by the dastardly sheriff"). If Mr. Hood's natural inclination was indeed criminal, and he succumbed to temptations of lawless debauchery out of depravity of his nature, our sympathies would have turned against him. We all love justice, you know. He would have been utterly forgotten, for no ballad-monger would see any commercial value in glorifying him. The brave and fair Mr. Sheriff would have been an object of our admiration, instead.

The lesson of this story is simple: when a society does not have a solidly sound and fair legal foundation, the question of how to behave properly becomes very confusing. Civic discipline becomes less of the matter of abiding by the law than that of personal choice. Is it more patriotic to disobey an arbitrarily imposed law which is bad, than to obey it? Without the ability for free and open discussion and deliberation, how even to know which law is bad and which is good? The whole business of choosing how to behave becomes one huge moral morass: just because a person is violating the law does not mean that he is bad (Mr. Hood of legend wasn't), and just because a person is enforcing it does not mean that he is good (Mr. Sheriff wasn't). Under such circumstances, what should one do?

Which age-old question was raised yet again by two recent news reports from Egypt. On February 15 we were informed of "Egyptian Brotherhood mass arrests:"
"The opposition Islamist group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, says at least 73 of its members have been arrested in overnight raids across the country. Security sources said those held were detained for belonging to an illegal organisation and for possessing anti-government literature."
A week later, on February 22, came the news  of an "Egypt blogger jailed for 'insult[ing Islam]':
"Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt. He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator... Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer. A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought. The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial."
One wonders what to make of this. Egypt being a country of arbitrary rule, its populace naturally lives under the Sheriff/Robin Hood paradigm. But who is who in his case? The Moslem Brotherhood is bad, the blogger is good, yet both were put into jail. This is really confusing.

But not to the human rights groups.
"The UK-based organisation Amnesty International said the ruling was ‘yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt'" when commenting on the blogger case. ‘Human Rights Watch, a US-based organisation, called on the Egyptian authorities to free hundreds of Brotherhood members who it said were detained "solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association".'
Well, there is a clear difference between the two cases. If given free reign, the Brotherhood would also suppress expression it disagrees with; the blogger would not have been any safer under its gentle mercies. In arresting the members of the Brotherhood, Mr. Mubarak was clearly acting as Robin Hood, robbing of freedom the robbers of freedom. Yet in the case of the blogger, Mr. Mubarak as clearly acted the Sheriff's part, dispossessing a person of his natural rights. Well, we can say with a sigh, this is arbitrary rule, after all - you cannot make heads or tails out of this.

But what should the Egyptians do? The answer, I think, is simple - they should get themselves out of the Sheriff/Robin Hood paradigm by becoming a county of laws - not of the laws that are "given" to them, either by Mr. Mohammed or Mr. Mubarak, but of laws that are argued openly and without the bizarre fear of "insulting Islam" (it being impossible for us, by the very nature of things, to know whether Koran is God's word or not, there is simply nothing to be insulted at when Koran is disregarded, contradicted, and, yes - insulted), laws adopted through democratic debate and enforced in a transparent way, under the rules of due process - in other words, Egyptians should end the medieval mode of Sheriff-like arbitrary making and enforcement of the laws which can only result in Robin Hood-like revolts against them.

As in the rest of the civilized world, justice in Egypt does not need to be left to effusions of private enthusiasm on the part of either the Sheriff rulers or the Robin Hood ruled. What Egypt does need, is to join the modern-day world of democracy.

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of "The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly." His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com
The absence of a fair process in making laws, and of due process in enforcing them, produces some pretty odd characters in a society - some good, some bad, some in between.

Take the text-book case of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham. If everything was nice and fair, would the two ever come into conflict? Not really. Wikipedia advises us that in many versions of the story
"the despotic sheriff gravely abuses his position, appropriating land, levying intolerable taxation, and unfairly persecuting the poor."
The due process is nowhere to be found here; hence our sympathies are with Mr. Hood. Had the laws been adopted via a democratic process and Mr. Sheriff were enforcing them fairly, Mr. Hood would hardly have chosen a criminal carrier (as per the same authority, some sources suggest that "he has served in the crusades, returning to England to find his lands pillaged by the dastardly sheriff"). If Mr. Hood's natural inclination was indeed criminal, and he succumbed to temptations of lawless debauchery out of depravity of his nature, our sympathies would have turned against him. We all love justice, you know. He would have been utterly forgotten, for no ballad-monger would see any commercial value in glorifying him. The brave and fair Mr. Sheriff would have been an object of our admiration, instead.

The lesson of this story is simple: when a society does not have a solidly sound and fair legal foundation, the question of how to behave properly becomes very confusing. Civic discipline becomes less of the matter of abiding by the law than that of personal choice. Is it more patriotic to disobey an arbitrarily imposed law which is bad, than to obey it? Without the ability for free and open discussion and deliberation, how even to know which law is bad and which is good? The whole business of choosing how to behave becomes one huge moral morass: just because a person is violating the law does not mean that he is bad (Mr. Hood of legend wasn't), and just because a person is enforcing it does not mean that he is good (Mr. Sheriff wasn't). Under such circumstances, what should one do?

Which age-old question was raised yet again by two recent news reports from Egypt. On February 15 we were informed of "Egyptian Brotherhood mass arrests:"
"The opposition Islamist group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, says at least 73 of its members have been arrested in overnight raids across the country. Security sources said those held were detained for belonging to an illegal organisation and for possessing anti-government literature."
A week later, on February 22, came the news  of an "Egypt blogger jailed for 'insult[ing Islam]':
"Abdel Kareem Soliman's trial was the first time that a blogger had been prosecuted in Egypt. He had used his web log to criticise the country's top Islamic institution, al-Azhar university and President Hosni Mubarak, whom he called a dictator... Soliman, 22, was tried in his native city of Alexandria. He blogs under the name Kareem Amer. A former student at al-Azhar, he called the institution "the university of terrorism" and accused it of suppressing free thought. The university expelled him in 2006 and pressed prosecutors to put him on trial."
One wonders what to make of this. Egypt being a country of arbitrary rule, its populace naturally lives under the Sheriff/Robin Hood paradigm. But who is who in his case? The Moslem Brotherhood is bad, the blogger is good, yet both were put into jail. This is really confusing.

But not to the human rights groups.
"The UK-based organisation Amnesty International said the ruling was ‘yet another slap in the face of freedom for expression in Egypt'" when commenting on the blogger case. ‘Human Rights Watch, a US-based organisation, called on the Egyptian authorities to free hundreds of Brotherhood members who it said were detained "solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association".'
Well, there is a clear difference between the two cases. If given free reign, the Brotherhood would also suppress expression it disagrees with; the blogger would not have been any safer under its gentle mercies. In arresting the members of the Brotherhood, Mr. Mubarak was clearly acting as Robin Hood, robbing of freedom the robbers of freedom. Yet in the case of the blogger, Mr. Mubarak as clearly acted the Sheriff's part, dispossessing a person of his natural rights. Well, we can say with a sigh, this is arbitrary rule, after all - you cannot make heads or tails out of this.

But what should the Egyptians do? The answer, I think, is simple - they should get themselves out of the Sheriff/Robin Hood paradigm by becoming a county of laws - not of the laws that are "given" to them, either by Mr. Mohammed or Mr. Mubarak, but of laws that are argued openly and without the bizarre fear of "insulting Islam" (it being impossible for us, by the very nature of things, to know whether Koran is God's word or not, there is simply nothing to be insulted at when Koran is disregarded, contradicted, and, yes - insulted), laws adopted through democratic debate and enforced in a transparent way, under the rules of due process - in other words, Egyptians should end the medieval mode of Sheriff-like arbitrary making and enforcement of the laws which can only result in Robin Hood-like revolts against them.

As in the rest of the civilized world, justice in Egypt does not need to be left to effusions of private enthusiasm on the part of either the Sheriff rulers or the Robin Hood ruled. What Egypt does need, is to join the modern-day world of democracy.

Vel Nirtist writes on the role of religion in fostering terrorism. He is author of "The Pitfall of Truth: Holy War, its Rationale and Folly." His blog is at www.rootoutterrorism.com