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12.42 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I represent a constituency in which a large number of Muslims live. There are about 10,000 Muslim voters in my constituency. I have not met or seen any Muslim in my constituency who supports terrorism, but that does not mean that there are no individuals or groups who support terrorism, and I have seen some of their activities in my constituency.

I should like to offer my condolences to the thousands of people who lost friends and family following last month's brutal terrorist action, which represents a challenge not just to the United States, but to democratic nations across the world. Nearly 70 nations, including India and Pakistan, lost citizens in the attacks.

I have by no means been an uncritical supporter of the United States, especially in the light of some its foreign policy decisions. Too often, especially under the current Administration, the US has seemed to take the line that compromise with them means following their lead, or people get nothing at all. In the past year, America has acted in a dispiriting unilateralist way on issues such as the world criminal court and global warming, yet none of that, even by the furthest stretch of the imagination, can begin to justify the atrocity that the terrorists have committed. People who have said "I can see why this happened" are lending a dignity to those actions that they do not deserve.

Nothing can justify the deliberate taking of civilian lives, and people automatically forfeit their argument when they turn to such acts of terror, but whatever the moral confusion of those who perpetrated the terrorist acts, we have not held the people of Afghanistan responsible for them—and we should not—nor have we tried to blame any religion, despite the attempts of some to paint the coalition's moves as an attack on Islam. Such people wilfully ignore inconvenient events, such as the fact that NATO went to war against a Christian regime in Kosovo to defend a Muslim minority.

I am pleased that the coalition that is being formed and led by the United States and the United Kingdom has not simply lashed out and retaliated by, for example, the carpet bombing of Kabul. So far, the response has involved a careful assessment of the situation and a gradual and deliberate build-up of our forces. In a moving and symbolic gesture, the Security Council stood up, instead of raising its hands, in support of a motion condemning the atrocities as an unprecedented act. That reflects the rest of the world's willingness to literally stand up and be counted.

That unity has been reflected in the co-operation of some unlikely sources, and it will be essential if we are to take the next necessary steps. The Taliban must, at the very least, be made to hand over Osama bin Laden, and we are right in using targeted force to bring that about. However, the actions that we need to take, and the lessons that we need to learn, are not just in some distant conflict zones, but here at home, where we have seen some of the activities of the terrorists. I have often raised my concerns

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in the House about the threat posed by terrorists to the west's security and those who live here. Yet, too often, the west has turned a blind eye to terrorism abroad—for example, in Kashmir, where non-Kashmiris have committed terrible atrocities in the name of religion. We should address such issues not just for humanitarian reasons, but out of self-preservation. Acts of terrorism and the religious zealotry that often inspire them have a habit of spreading.

So far, the Government's policies have tended to be too soft, and too much has been tolerated from those who support terrorism abroad and sometimes in this country in one form or another. We should, for example, be prepared to stand firm against the religious fundamentalists in this country who openly call for a holy war. The coalition that has been built up by the US and the UK should also learn from the mistakes that the west has made in the past when confronting an enemy overseas. For example, the Taliban are, in large part, a creation of the policies adopted by the US during the conflict between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. The idea of jihad had almost disappeared from the Muslim world until it was revived, under American encouragement, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The country was left full of weapons and the notion of jihad has spread far beyond the Afghan borders. Let us be cautious when choosing and arming our new allies.

The fears of those who expected the United States to respond with an immediate show of force have not been borne out, and it is now time for us to concentrate on the responsible actions that we can take at home and abroad. We have already increased the aid that we are offering to the region, and it is important that we continue to work to avert the possible humanitarian disaster. We should not make the Afghan people suffer twice for the actions of their leaders. As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I should like to ask the Secretary of State for International Development to consider that issue.

We must also be responsible at home. Of course, none of us enjoys having our bags checked at the cinema or spending yet more time checking in at the airport, but if we are to prevent a repeat of the events in New York, we have to take precautions. Such inconveniences are a small price to pay for our safety, and they do not represent a victory for the terrorists.

Our democracies are still standing firm. They will not be beaten down by cowardly acts. We should remain vigilant about the activities of racists in this country and abroad.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

12.50 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): I was in California on the west coast of America on 11 September and I agree with all right hon. and hon. Members who support the measured response by the United States Government in the aftermath of the tragedy. The attacks caused the most severe destruction on mainland America since the civil war 140 years ago. The American people suffered a great shock and I was surprised by their measured response. By the time I left America on the following Sunday, virtually every house had the stars and stripes hanging outside or planted in the garden. There was a great determination

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among the American people to resist the challenge, not only to them, but to the rest of the western world, to our values and our democratic way of life. Central to that will be the role that our forces play in that activity.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence said that action is necessary. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) said a moment ago, the campaign will not be defined by military action alone. There needs to be military action as soon as we can possibly identify targets that can be eliminated with the minimum loss of innocent lives. We must make it clear to the Government, particularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that we will support the reallocation of funding that will be required to ensure that our troops can meet that commitment.

I welcome the Defence Secretary's announcement that he intends to review the strategic defence review. That is right and proper in the aftermath of these horrific events. Quite clearly we will need to refocus our troops in order to meet the threat from international terrorism. That will need further funding, however, and I hope that the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Neath (Peter Hain), will convey to the Defence Secretary that we expect some explanation from the Government as to how they will provide the necessary troops to meet the demands that will be placed on them shortly. Our troops are already heavily committed around the world. Overstretch is a popular word, but it illustrates the difficulty that our troops face in being involved in almost continuous back-to-back operations.

In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) the Prime Minister said that there are no plans to call up reservists. Members expect the Government to share with us as soon as they can what specific plans they have.

We shall have to move beyond looking at the military response to the threat from Islamic fundamentalism. A few days after 11 September, President George Bush senior said that while the United States had invested a lot of money in high-technology espionage, it had neglected human intelligence. He was absolutely right. One of the secrets of our success in Northern Ireland—if that is what it has been—is that we invested a great deal in human intelligence infiltrating terrorist organisations. That is where we must now redirect substantial investment. The United Kingdom is well placed to do that. We have the expertise—we have first-class people—and we have the experience.

I now turn to the Muslim world. There is no doubt that the events of 11 September were the action of a tiny minority of Islamic fundamentalists. However, if there were 19 people on those aeroplanes those 19 people achieved more in a few minutes than an entire generation of communist Governments. They had attacked mainland America. So we have to address the serious issue of Islamic fundamentalism. The Prime Minister reminded us that bin Laden has said that killing Americans is a religious duty. It has been made absolutely clear on both sides of the House that this is not a campaign against Islam. Indeed, it relies for its success on building a coalition with the Islamic world.

I salute in particular the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) who said that we must stand firm against the tiny minority of Islamic fundamentalists in this

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country who are doing a great disservice not just to the rest of the country, but particularly to the Islamic community as they are undermining the public perception. It may be that the newspapers are giving them more coverage than they deserve, but they are getting that coverage.

For the past five years I have been calling on successive Home Secretaries to take action against Omar Bakri Muhammad whose outpourings are offensive to the vast majority of people in this country, whether they are native British, Christian, Muslim, Jew or whatever. I was supported in my campaign by the Board of Deputies of British Jews whose then president wrote to me saying:

Why on earth is he still in this country? There are others like him, and they are not only abusing our hospitality and the freedom of speech for which this House has fought for generations, but they are polluting the minds of young, susceptible Muslims in this country. British Muslims were arrested in the Yemen—Lord knows what they were doing out there. We have to get to grips with the training camps that are operating here.

I will support the Home Secretary when he brings measures before the House, albeit that it will be the third set of anti-terrorism measures in four years. For goodness sake, the time has come when judges must no longer be allowed to determine policy. Parliament must determine policy. At our briefing last week, for which I am grateful, one of my hon. Friends asked the Prime Minister to produce some judge-proof laws and there was a great roar of laughter. However, it is part of our problem. The Human Rights Act 1998 must not be allowed to stand in the way of the human rights of the great majority of people in this country who support the Government in their determination to eradicate this particularly pernicious form of international terrorism from our midst.

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