The Economist has just concluded a series of detailed articles on terrorism and civil liberties (1, 2, 3). I have been particularly touched by how the editorial introduction to the series has made an essential point in a stunningly courageous way :

“[..] We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots. To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that—with one hand tied behind their back—is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism. [..]

Human rights are part of what it means to be civilised. Locking up suspected terrorists—and why not potential murderers, rapists and paedophiles, too?—before they commit crimes would probably make society safer. Dozens of plots may have been foiled and thousands of lives saved as a result of some of the unsavoury practices now being employed in the name of fighting terrorism. Dropping such practices in order to preserve freedom may cost many lives. So be it”.

Considering the care that the editors of The Economist usually take in exercising opinions, such bold stand against the way we currently fight against terrorism has taken me by surprise. And it expresses better than I so far managed to conceive the profound reason why, in the fight to uphold our values, letting the ends justify the means is counter-productive : you cannot fight in the name of your own values if you sell your own soul.

Different regimes have different constraints, choosing democracy comes with specific ones and acting within them is the price we must keep paying without reneging. If we don’t we are just loosing ourselves and there will only be pyrrhic victories.