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Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I was in the United States on 11 September, and I want to begin by taking us back to the atrocities, because it seems that several weeks later the magnitude of the disaster has begun to diminish in many minds and in the press, where we are now seeing pictures of what is happening in Afghanistan. I witnessed the horrific events of 11 September and their aftermath live on the US media, which are a bit different from our own. Over the next 10 days, I talked about what happened as I continued to travel around meeting American people. Thus, I felt that I shared their experience, even though, thankfully, I did not experience close up the suffering of New York and Washington.
For obvious reasons, I could not return to the House on 14 September, but I watched events in the Chamber live on American public broadcasting atI think2.30 am mountain time. The House was solemn and very moved, but a number of contributions of all types made it clear that it was very difficult for people in this country to feel the same sense of outrage as was felt in the United States. That was made even clearer when I returned home. I found some media reports very offensive, especially the anti-American streak that was evident at that time.
The events have now become known simply as 11 September, and that is what we all call them. I am concerned lest that term should become another example of the classic British understatement with which we always use the terms "Falklands conflict", as if what occurred was not a war, and "the troubles in Northern Ireland", as if what is happening there is of minor importance. In the United States, what happened was unanimously and spontaneously called an attack on America. That is what it wasan act of war. I suppose that using that term in this country would have made the events seem remote and not especially relevant, but we now know that it could have been us on 11 September. We know that attacks were being planned at the same time in a number of European countries and targeted on European Union institutions. What occurred was an attack on us all. I repeat what has been said so often: it was an attack on our basic freedom and on our democracy and economy. Worryingly, that attack is continuing.
We should not ignore the targets and the symbolic importance of the Pentagon and the towers of the World Trade Centre. I call what happened an attack on our whole way of life. We witnessed a level of terrorism that was unprecedented and that had previously been unthinkable. Sadly, it made me reflect that we had got used to some acts of terrorism, such as the hijacking of planes. Executives who travel around the world are given guidance by their companies on what to do in the event of hijack. That is why so many of the passengers on the first three planes sat still, thinking that they were going to be taken somewhere else. It was only on the fourth plane, when they learned through mobile phones about what was in store, that they tried to resist. We have become used to the planting of bombs in city centres. We are not even surprised any more when aeroplanes are blown up, as happened over Lockerbie.
We know that what happened was not the act of individual fanatics, but the deadly deed of a terrorist organisation whose network covers the world. We now know that it is principally based in Afghanistan. That is why I do not see how we can possibly pursue the sort of judicial, Lockerbie-style approach of conducting a criminal investigation and lengthy extradition procedures, and then putting two or three people on trial about 10 years later. That is not a sufficient response and it would be unrealistic to expect the American people and their Government to accept it as a way forward. We would not accept such a response if the attack had been made here.
The scale, sophistication and depth of the terrorist organisation that inflicted disaster on America had never before been fully appreciated. Certain targets must be destroyed by military means. Some people say such means will not work, but they are advocating the do nothing option. If we did nothing, terrorists would laugh at our inaction, which would go down in history as another form of appeasement.
Other people ask what can be done and how terrorism can best be tackled. Some of them say that it is impossible to defeat it. The suggestion that nothing should be done because any action is difficult makes us feel as though we are facing the mythical creature whose teeth came alive when it died. However, there is a time for us to stand up and do something, and I believe that now is that time.
I mentioned the anti-Americanism that pervaded much of the debate about what happened. I find such an attitude especially difficult to understand at this time. We know that the target was not only the United States, but the whole of the so-called western worlda world that is now diverse. We are not all white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. When one travels around America, one sees that it is an incredibly diverse country. It was born out of people who were seeking refuge and asylum, and it has continued to develop along those lines throughout its history. Those who were responsible for 11 September used the freedom of America to enter the country and sign up at flying schools. They used all the freedoms of that country to construct their plot, which is very difficult to understand.
Some people were concerned that the Americans would respond in a stereotypical way and recklessly blow up half the world. They have shown themselves to be better than that. I believe that their approach has been patient and calculated. Let us not forget that this was not the first attack. Two horrific attacks were made on embassies abroad. They targeted not rich, western capitalists, but poor people in Africa. Previous attacks were also made on the World Trade Centre and the American warship USS Cole. In addition, various other attacks on America were headed off at an early stage.
We know where anti-Americanism comes from. I was opposed to America's actions in Vietnam and I still do not agree with what it did, but let us not forget something else about American history and foreign policy: America supported us in our time of need during the second world war. Last week, I heard a radio programmeI think that it was broadcast on BBC Radio 5 Livewhose topic was
Some people place great emphasis on tackling the problem by dealing with the underlying causes of terrorism. Of course we must pursue that approach, which is what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was doing yesterday, and we all wish him the best in that respect, but before suggesting that that is all that we should do we must bear in mind the people with whom we are dealing. The only way in which we could stop al-Qaeda by such means would be to give it absolutely everything it wanted, which would merely encourage groups around the world to make demands on the basis of violence and to stop only if every single demand were met. Even then, they would probably think up more demands at the last moment.
Some people are so fanatical that, to them, terrorism is almost an end in itself. That is shown by groups such as the Real IRA. Earlier, it was said that if the Palestinian problem were solved tomorrow, al-Qaeda would continue its work. I share that view because that organisation comprises a bunch of people who hate the world in which they live. They believe that they can purify it by killing people throughout it, not only in the United States and Europe. In their countries, they kill people of their own religion whom they do not deem sufficiently pure.
The Taliban regime is the modern form of Nazism. I read that, in the Taliban's Afghanistan, people from minorities are told to wear armbands; women are treated despicably, and the regime even take it out on Buddhist statues. I therefore make no distinction between the Taliban and bin Laden's organisation: one represents the home front; the other, the foreign legion. We should not forget that more people have suffered death in Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban than died in Washington and New York on 11 September.
Afghanistan was not always like that. The Afghan people are not evil. Some years ago, I spent several weeks in Afghanistan, and I know that they are a proud and decent people, but they entered a dark age with the Taliban. Consequently, many Afghans have left in desperate predicaments and many still want to leave. The Government's stance is therefore necessary not only for our international security and to protect our way of life, but to rescue the people of Afghanistan from that terrible regime.
I am pleased about the bipartisan support, which is an important aspect of the coalition. I wish that all parties could unite in it. It is important to keep other Muslim states on side. It was easy for people to condemn the attacks on 11 September, but it is more difficult for them to take military action. However, we must maintain the diplomatic initiative; otherwise, bin Laden will succeed in his aim of provoking the third world warthe west against the Muslim countries. That would not be in the interests of the moderate, more sensible Muslim states. Their interests are not served by that; they clearly want a peaceful existence and trade. However, the campaign is a test for their Governments.
No Government is being tested more than that of Pakistan. I join in the tributes paid to that country tonight. When General Musharraf took over, many of us criticised the coup. However, he has been put to the test and he is
The coalition is one not simply of countries but of various strands that our action must include. I should like more humanitarian aid to be pledged to those inside and outside Afghanistan when the campaign is over. The action must also include the financial measures that the Chancellor outlined yesterday; the new drive, which the Prime Minister is currently advancing, on the Palestinian questionthat must involve the establishment of a Palestinian stateand the military campaign. Those strands must be combined in a strategy. If we continue to do that, the Prime Minister will have my support in taking forward the fight against international terrorism.