|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): To be under attack is to be under a microscope. The response an individual makes defines clearly who they are. Faced with criticism and hatred, a person can show either courage or cowardice, calm resolve or reckless retaliation. Perhaps no response is as fitting as that of self-examinationthat is to look at one's life, to examine it and to face its failings, but also to rediscover what is good. I believe that a nation is no different.
If the attack of 11 September was an attack on more than people and buildingsand it waswe must use it to re-examine our way of life. If there be any virtue in the way that we live, we should proclaim it as a memorial to those who died and as a covenant with those who share our values throughout the world in which we shall continue to live governed by the principles of tolerance, democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Those are principles that we hold precious.
Our tolerance gives us the humility to recognise that ours is not the only way of living. Our democracy establishes rights for those who oppose and seek to change our way of life. Our freedom means that no human being is forced to subject himself to another's will. However, the rule of law binds together each one of those principles under a supreme authority, which is the principle of equality.
In our way of life no individual is above the law. The rights and freedoms that our democracy establishes are the equal rights and freedoms of equal citizens. The rule of law stands in judgment against the thief who would take these privileges for himself only to use them to steal the same rights and freedoms from his neighbour.
To those who seek to turn our tolerance into their tyranny and terror we say, "You do not understand us. Our freedom does not arise because we care not what our neighbours do. Our freedom is born out of the dignity and respect in which we hold them, believing them to enjoy that same right to choose their way of life and determine their own actions as we claim for ourselves."
Freedom is a virtue of double worth. It ennobles the one who receives it. It gives autonomy, turning a human being into a person. However, freedom also blesses the one who bestows it by turning resentful subjects into equal friends. That was the lesson that gave birth to the Commonwealth. Indeed, it is a lesson that some Commonwealth states still have to learn.
How, then, do freedom, democracy, tolerance and the rule of law respond to those who would attack them? Do we meet terror with terror, barbarity with barbarity? That would be to cast aside the very values that we claim to be defending.
I welcome the restraint and thoughtfulness with which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the United States President have worked during the past three weeks. However, let those who would attack our way of life know that our tolerance is not weaknessit is what gives us our dignity and strength. Let the terrorists know that our freedom is not licence and that we shall defend our freedom. Let them know that the rule of law is not impotent. We shall not seek blind vengeance but we will exact justice, for we believe that there is virtue in the way we live. We believe that there is value in the principles we hold. We believe that the dignity of each human soul comes not from enforced enslavement to another's ideal, but from the liberty to choose a life that is one's own.
In Srinagar this week, another 38 people had that liberty taken from them by a terrorist bomb. Although I welcome the Pakistan Government's co-operation with the coalition, I ask the Minister to assure the House that no matter how desirable that co-operation may be in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan, we will not overlook the complicity of General Musharraf and Pakistan in the cross-border attacks and terrorist insurgency across the line of control. Let the House be clear that our choice of friends in any coalition against terror must not include states that still actively promote terror in neighbouring countries. The price of their friendship is too high if it means being selective in the application of our principles.
Let us also be clear that we do not confuse terrorism with human rights abuses. That both are vile and wrong does not mean that both are the same. They are not, and we do no one any service by speaking as if they were. They are different evils requiring different remedies. In precisely the same way, we must distinguish genuine civil war where freedom fighters are engaged in a military campaign of secession that is fought against a state and its legitimate military and economic targets. America, too, won her freedom from tyrannical rule, and George Washington was not a terrorist.
Yet countries and dictators throughout the world try to brand as terrorists those who use violence to oppose them. We do liberty a disservice if, for expediency's sake, we accept that partisan interpretation. I know that it cannot have escaped the notice of at least one Foreign Office Minister that the definition of terror in currency today would have bracketed the African National Congress and Nelson Mandela together with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
The Prime Minister is absolutely correct to insist that we use this tragedy as a wake-up call to the world community to rededicate itself to global justicejustice in world trade and justice for the developing world. If we are to deliver that promise, let us now raise our aid budget to the 0.7 per cent. of gross domestic product that has for far too long been only a target. Injustice and poverty allow fanaticism to breed and do its work. It is no justification, but it is a precondition of terrorism.
Finally, when the terrorists stand before their God to account for the evil that they have done, I pray that He may look at the response that their evil has engendered in us: the courage of the firefighters; the compassion of the paramedics; the solidarity and support of whole communities; the sympathy, the kindness and the acts of generosity. Let their God count all our acts of love to the terrorists benefit, so that He can indeed judge them as "The Compassionate and The Merciful".
Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): I speak in the debate in support of the Government's position. I do that not out of habit or a sense of duty, but as a father of two children who feels that he is living through the most frightening period that he has ever lived through. However, what we are doing seems to be the most credible way of dealing with the situation. It is not without risks, but whatever we do entails a degree of risk, and anyone who pretends otherwise is deluding himself. The Government are proposing the least worst set of options.
I believe that our influence has been felt. How many of us on 11 September feared that there would be a disproportionate, untargeted, knee-jerk response by the American Government? That has not happened, partly because of the influence and the advice of the British Government. We need, and we are getting, a cautious, reasoned response that will involve various elementsincreased international dialogue and understanding, internal security measures, a huge and genuine expansion of humanitarian aid, but also, regrettably, a proportionate military response designed explicitly to reduce terrorist capability.
I am not naive. I know that however determined we are to avoid civilian casualties, that may not be possible in all circumstances. That leads to enormous soul searching to judge whether we should still go ahead with military action. On balance, I believe that we should. I would simply ask those who argue that we should not go ahead with any form of military action, what are the alternative means to deal with and prevent further attacks on the scale of those in New York and Washington?
In that regard, it was instructive to read the article in New Statesman last Friday, which laid down a challenge to 10 or 12 critics of military action who are on the left. Effectively, New Statesman asked, "If not military action, what is your alternative response?" I read the responses carefully. They were long in their critique of the historical development of American foreign policyI agreed with much of that critiquebut sadly they were short, if not non-existent, on how else we may proceed and protect ourselves.
That is the nub of the situation. We must understand that however much we increase international aidthat needs to happenor we desire, and should see, a different and more even-handed American stance in the middle east, or we reduce international poverty, bin Laden and al-Qaeda will still try to commit terrorist mayhem and kill tens if not hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Next time they will try to do it with chemical, biological and nuclear capability. That is the scale of the threat that we are facing and we must stand up to it.
We also need to understand clearly what drives bin Laden and his followers. It is a hatred of the values that America and the rest of the west stand for as much as opposition to American foreign policy. Sexual equality, religious tolerance and the use of culture, entertainment and recreation as a means to personal self-fulfilment are decadence and depravity as far as bin Laden is concerned. The problem for people on the left, who have instinctively adopted an anti-American stance in the past, is that those are the very values that we hold dear. They are our values every bit as much as those of the American people and nation. That is the crisis that we face.
I also address my remarks to some of the zealots on the right who are trying to use the present circumstances to their own political ends. I address them to the British National party and to some of the right-wing commentators who attack and question the right of anyone to question and challenge military action in the present circumstances. I have made clear my viewpeople who
Some of the articles that I have read in our national newspapers do not fit with the sort of debate that we should be having. This is a serious situation and everyone has a right to put forward his or her view. That right should be respected, but it is being lost at present.
I visited the Muslim community in my constituency of Harlow last Friday. Members of that community made it clear to me that they oppose what has happened as much as I do. In that regard, the comments of Lady Thatcher this morning should be treated with silent contempt. They were insulting and that is the way that we should deal with them. When I met the Muslim community I was also struck by the fact that many of them feel that Muslims throughout the world are always under attack. I came away from the discussion convinced that, whatever else happens in the coming weeks and months, we desperately need greater dialogue and understanding between the Muslim world and the rest of the world. We must proceed with conviction.
Therefore, we need proportionate military action, humanitarian aid and dialogue and understanding, but also greater internal security. We have not yet faced up to the way in which all our lives will be changed by what happened on 11 September. If I needed any convincing of that I got it when I arrived in Brighton on Sunday to see British police officers with sub-machine guns standing on the street corner. We need to consider all our internal security measures and that should include identity cards.
We are in a hugely dangerous situation in which there are no easy solutions. I have one final plea. We are not going to eradicate international terrorismthat will never be possiblebut we are trying to diminish its capability. In that sense, we should proceed as we are doing and support the Government's actions.