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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Mr. John Austin.

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10.55 pm

John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead): Like most hon. Members, I heaved a sigh of relief that there was not an immediate and ill-thought-out response from the United States after the appalling atrocity of 11 September. It is comforting that there has been such restraint and I join in the tribute that has been paid to our Prime Minister's contribution to putting together the international coalition. It was important to get resolutions 1368 and 1373 crafted and I welcome the assurance given this evening that, under article 51, the United Nations Security Council has been informed of our actions. I hope that it will continue to be so at every step of this engagement and that the UN will be brought much more into play in this issue.

I also welcome the clear statements by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition that this is not in any sense a war against Islam. As the Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat says:

Our own Muslim communities here in Britain were among the first and the most outspoken in their condemnation of the atrocities of 11 September and I welcome the Prime Minister's meeting with the Muslim Council of Britain and others.

We need to keep all the partners in the coalition together, but we need also to keep our own Muslim communities informed and on board. The Greenwich Islamic Centre and Woolwich mosque in my constituency were among the first to express their condemnation of this appalling atrocity. This is not a war against Islam, but we in this country need to wage a war against Islamophobia.

In that respect, the outburst from Baroness Thatcher, which echoed the racist language of Mr. Berlusconi and the similar intemperate Islamophobic utterances and anti-Arab racism in The Daily Telegraph, did great damage to good race and community relations here and damaged the ability to keep the coalition together.

Although my Muslim constituents support action to combat terrorism, they recognise only too well that the support from Islamic countries and in the Arab world in particular could rapidly decline in the wake of pressure from and unrest in their own communities. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton–Brown) referred to the difficulties for the Government of Pakistan, but countries such as Jordan, which have said that they support the international efforts to combat terrorism, stress the necessity for restraint in respect of inflicting losses on the innocent civilians of Afghanistan.

Lebanon has stressed its concern, saying that the UN must play more of a role, and Ghazi Afridi, the Lebanese information Minister, hopes that

Syria has supported the strikes, but says that their success depends on getting Israeli leaders to "respect the international law" with regard to Palestine.

Muslims in my constituency share the anger of their brothers and sisters about the international community's failure to resolve the conflict in the middle east and the

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failure to make progress in Kashmir. They also express concern about the situation in Iraq. It may be that they see thousands of children dying in Iraq. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) may place all the blame on sanctions and I know that our Foreign Secretary would say that the blame rests fairly and squarely with Saddam Hussein. I happen to believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but the perception in the Arab world is that children in Iraq are dying because of sanctions. We must be aware of that perception.

I want to use the "P" word—Palestine. Of course the Prime Minister was right when he said that Osama bin Laden has no interest in resolving the middle east conflict. It is in his interest to prolong and intensify that conflict, but its continuation, the illegal occupation of Palestine and the failure to make progress in the peace process provide a fertile recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden and threaten continued support for the coalition. That is why two things are essential to the solidarity of the coalition against terrorism.

First, we must ensure that any military response is measured, targeted and proportionate. The deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan as a result of military intervention would lead to the protests in Peshawar being repeated in cities and towns throughout the Muslim world and could destabilise the Governments who, at the moment, support the international coalition. We also need to build on diplomacy and ensure that development aid gets through. I fully support the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who said that we need to think now about what will happen afterwards to rebuild Afghanistan. I hope that consideration of a UN protectorate is on the Government's agenda.

Secondly, we need to deal with the issue of Palestine. It cannot be left to negotiation in which Israel effectively has a veto over any process. Under Sharon, the most extreme, fanatical and fundamentalist groups have returned to the centre stage of Israeli politics. This is the man who was responsible for the massacres in Sabra and Chatila. We ought to have an international criminal court. That is where Osama bin Laden should be tried; it is where Saddam Hussein should be tried, and it is where Ariel Sharon should be tried.

We need to build a coalition to support the ratification of the International Criminal Court so that we can have a civilised response to the evils of terrorism throughout the world, whether it is the terrorism of Osama bin Laden or the state terrorism of Ariel Sharon, Tansu Ciller and Saddam Hussein.

11.1 pm

Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): There has been a great deal of discussion tonight and I am sure that we are all persuaded by it, but there are those in the communities that we represent who may not accept that this action is justice, not revenge. They may not accept that we have no choice but to act against terror or be attacked. There are those who think that these are issues between races or faiths. We must continue to talk to our communities about what has happened.

We all know that 7,000 people of different races and religions were needlessly killed. We all know that if different means of destruction had been available to the

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perpetrators, that number could have been 70,000 or 700,000. It is important that we remind people that it was nearly a month before action was taken, because there are those who think that it was almost immediate, whereas we know that a coalition has been built on a humanitarian strategy and the need to find political solutions, as well a commitment to achieve justice on the basis of evidence.

Overwhelming evidence against bin Laden has been emerging. Some of that has been placed in the public domain, but there are those who say that they have not seen all the evidence and do not accept the argument that someone might be shot if all the evidence were made public. We have now heard from bin Laden himself that, in his view, the events in New York were God's actions and therefore good, but still there are those who are uncomfortable with the proportionality and nature of the response. They argue that it is against Islam, even though Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia and at home have said that the terrorist actions defamed Islam and Muslims' reputation in the world. The Muslim Council of Britain said that Muslims must be in the vanguard of the movement to achieve justice following those crimes against humanity.

We know that bin Laden thinks that all Jews and Americans, whether civilian or military, are legitimate targets. We ought to remind any hotheads in our local communities of that fact. We should remind them also that in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait, we acted to defend Muslim communities, and we will do the same in Afghanistan.

Years of drought, war and misrule in that country have left people facing a humanitarian disaster of apocalyptic proportions as the winter approaches. We have been told by many speakers that, even before the events of 11 September, there were 4 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran, and that 7 million Afghan people were dependent on aid, in part because so many women are uneducated and unable to find work for themselves. I am glad that Britain is giving an extra £55 million in aid, and that George Bush last week announced $320 million in aid. It is important that the UN should now get a grip and provide refugee camps with the access, funding and administration that will enable people to escape the horrors of war.

Our commitment is to root out bin Laden and his terrorist network, and to avert a humanitarian disaster. However, we must also give a commitment that we will play our part in providing a lasting peace in Afghanistan and in creating an opportunity for renewal there. We must not make the mistakes that the Soviet forces made when they withdrew 10 years ago and left behind civil war and carnage in a country awash with small arms. After the Soviet forces had gone, fundamentalism—initially in the guise of the Northern Alliance—was on the rise. The Northern Alliance now appears to want our support, but it really only wants our arms and air power so that it can resume committing the war atrocities that it used to commit.

We should build a lasting peace in Afghanistan, in which all ethnic and religious groups are represented. We should also, in the aftermath of our action, get involved in the country's economic renewal. The international community should give its support to schools, hospitals and economic renewal.

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Last time, we simply left Afghanistan without rebuilding strong and neighbourly relationships with Iran and Pakistan, which had to pick up the pieces and the refugees. If we do the same this time, the peace will not be lasting, for, in time, another bin Laden will emerge.

It is important that change come from within, so that lasting reconciliation can be secured, in Afghanistan and in the middle east in general. In that way, we would be able to demand that an independent Palestine be established alongside Israel.

Our immediate priority is to overcome bin Laden and to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, but our lasting commitment in a shrinking world is to admit our vulnerabilities while accepting our responsibilities. In that way, we can hope to push forward peace, hope and justice instead of war, fear and terror.

Finally, it is important that we, in the community of communities that is Britain, should strengthen our resolve to work together. We must condemn those who divide us and stoke up hatred on the back of catastrophe. Prejudice cannot be tolerated, regardless of the community from which it comes. This is a testing time for people in all communities. We must lead by example, at home and abroad, and in so doing celebrate the fact that there is hope for the future of Britain and the world, and for all people and children everywhere.

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