Previous SectionIndexHome Page

2.1 pm

Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush): Last Tuesday, in a remarkable speech, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke for me and, I suspect,

4 Oct 2001 : Column 738

many millions around the world. There were three reasons for that. First, my right hon. Friend was very clear, and very focused on what needed to be done to deal with the immediate emergency: that included taking the necessary and appropriate military action. Secondly and very importantly, he indicated that he understood some of the circumstances—particularly the instability in the middle east and surrounding countries—that aggravate these problems.

In saying that, however, my right hon. Friend did not fall into a trap into which many do fall: that of saying that being able to explain the circumstances that aggravate the political or economic instability of regions such as this somehow excuses those who take or organise terrorist actions. There can be no excuse. There can be no excuse for individuals, groups or nation states. That is why it may well be appropriate and necessary to deal with some aspects of the Taliban regime.

It is important to understand this. If we do not, we shall make another mistake that people make and assume that Arabs in particular—I have many Arab constituents—have not the free will and the ability to solve some of the problems in their own countries, and to know that those problems exist. They do know; and they resent the implication, often made with good intentions, that Saddam Hussein and others of his kind—including the Taliban—are there only because of what the west, or the United States, has done.

Those people know that there is a democratic deficit in some of their countries. They know that there is a human rights deficit. They know that some of what the west has done aggravates those problems, and they know in particular that the double standards between Israel and Palestine cause a lot of discontent on the streets. I agree with them about that. But never—please—make the mistake of assuming that because somehow or other the west gets its actions wrong in such areas, that justifies the reaction of either terrorist groups or, indeed, the Saddam Husseins of this world. My Arab constituents resent that assumption. They believe—they know—who is responsible for the misery of the Afghan people and for that of the Iraqi people, and it is not the west.

Thirdly, the Prime Minister spoke for me by doing something incredibly important: he put this destructive act in a context in which something optimistic could be built from it at the end of the day. We may well—I think we will—secure greater international agreement on how to deal with violence of one type or another, and that alone is important. We may—indeed, we must—put more emphasis on resolving the difficulties between Palestine and Israel. I agree with almost all that has been said about that so far, and about the all-important need to ensure that Israel recognises its responsibilities to move in that regard.

Let no one dismiss the hope that the Prime Minister expressed last Tuesday for a better world; the only people who object to it are cynics and depressives. Of course it can be dismissed, as one or two rather right-wing journalists did when speaking to me on Tuesday night. They said, "You will never deliver it." Well, I would far rather enter this century—this millennium—with that expression of hope, and that agenda, than ever to return to the agendas of the past, when it was assumed that war could not be prevented, that it was not possible to go in for peacekeeping, and that it was not possible to deal with

4 Oct 2001 : Column 739

the Rwandas and the Bosnias. We can. We did it in Bosnia, and, as the Prime Minister said, we should have done it in Rwanda.

The real danger underlying so much of this—we are all aware of it, although we may not have expressed it in these words—is that of a clash between civilisations and religions if we mishandle it. Pakistan is crucial: it contains 143 million people, it has a nuclear weapon, and if it becomes unstable—it is already unstable, in fact, but if it becomes another Iraq or, indeed, Iran of the 1980s—we shall be in serious trouble. The handling of this is therefore very important, which is why it is right to keep emphasising the importance of Islam.

By Islam I mean not just a religion—I speak as one who has very little time for any religion, as I am not religious—but a civilisation. I dearly hope that the BBC will show the programmes that it featured late at night before 11 September at an earlier time, because those programmes were exceptionally good. They told people about Islam and what it stood for. There are fundamentalists in all walks of life—in religion, and in politics. Fundamentalists and authoritarians are the danger, not any particular religious or political belief. I say that with some feeling.

I want to emphasise something else. This is why I particularly wanted to speak in the debate. The Afghan taxi driver from my constituency who, when I checked the other day, was still lying in intensive care paralysed from the neck down, is there not just because of the bigotry and religious hatred that can boil around, but because of incredible ignorance. What sort of people did not put two and two together? Why did they not think, "Perhaps this guy is an Afghan refugee; if he is, he may have problems with the Taliban; therefore, he may be our friend rather than our enemy"? It is not just wicked; it is incredibly stupid.

My last point has already been made by a couple of Members. There is a danger of people being anti-American. This country has good reason to draw some lessons from history. Let us look back at a few pages of history. It may surprise people to know that, 100 years ago almost to the day, The New York Times described Britain as a great power that was destined to rule the world. The French and the Germans said the same. We retreated into isolation; and only the Daily Mail could have produced, just a few years later, the headline "Fog in the Channel—Europe isolated".

Great powers are destined to be both admired and resented. Great powers do get their interventions wrong, and they do harm as well as good; but it is important to keep the balance in our own minds too, because they do much good. Many people will say that, and in my constituency—which represents so many from around the world—they frequently do. We should listen to them, look back at our own history, and use it to learn lessons for today.

2.8 pm

Patsy Calton (Cheadle): I endorse what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), and will not go over the same ground.

I was one of those who were in the American capital at the time of the attacks. I was a member of an all-party delegation, with colleagues, many of whom are here

4 Oct 2001 : Column 740

today. We were evacuated very precipitately—not surprisingly, given the nature of the attacks and the fact that there was still a plane in the air at the time. It lives with all of us that we may well be here now because of the bravery of the passengers on the plane that came down in Pennsylvania.

On the previous day, 10 September, we had engaged in a number of discussions with leading politicians and State Department officials. As friends and allies, we were nevertheless bringing to their attention our concerns about some areas of American foreign policy, specifically the aftermath of Kyoto, the Palestine-Israel conflict and national missile defence issues. The comments were striking and the Americans were more than prepared to listen. We were given a clear sign that the Bush Administration welcomed comment and criticism and that what we said would not be ignored. The events of the following day put much of that out of our minds. I pay my own tribute to the dignity and unity of the American people whom we saw, and to the bravery of the firemen and policemen who had to handle what happened.

I agree entirely with the comments that have been made about the need for military action to be proportionate. It should be time limited and we should be looking for clear outcomes. Humanitarian aid should be part of the work that produces the outcomes that we are seeking.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North–East Fife and my right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal Democrats said that we should be involving the United Nations, and specifically Kofi Annan, in providing legitimacy for the action that we would have to take. In my reading of Colin Powell's biography, the lesson of Vietnam is that the public, in a protracted action, need to be convinced of the legitimacy of any action taken.

I am more than happy to accept the word of the leader of my party, as no doubt other Members are prepared to accept the word of their leaders, but we must accept that the public will sometimes need a little more than the say-so of leading politicians. It is important to bring in someone who is seen to be neutral.

I turn to the work that we need to do in our communities. In my constituency, the work of the chair of the Cheadle Muslim Association, Mr. Assad Zaman, has built bridges between the Muslim community and parts of that community and others. Some of the first messages of concern for my own safety came from the Muslim community in my constituency.

We must voice the message that action or activity is not being taken against Muslims and Islam. We need to go further than that. We are leaders in our communities, and as such we should assist the integration of people from other cultures and other faiths. In particular, we need to respect one another's cultures and faiths; merely crying for integration is not sufficient.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) talked about the force of law in terms of racist attacks and the need for it to be brought to bear. There is relevant legislation on the statute book already but too often, sadly, it is not being used when it should be. Legislation should be extended to deal with religious attacks to cover the Muslims in my constituency and elsewhere.

Politicians should be careful about their language and so should the media. I was much taken with the comments of the hon. Member for South-West Devon (Mr. Streeter),

4 Oct 2001 : Column 741

who talked about the need for positive language when dealing with these issues. We need to be careful because it is not only what we say that matters. There is the potential for misunderstanding on the part of people with different cultures and faiths.

The Muslim population in my constituency is concerned about the linkage of asylum seekers with race issues. They are concerned also about comments about a just war. Justice has specific meanings for people of the Muslim faith. Similarly, I hope that "crusade" has dropped out of the language.

I was impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Kelvin (Mr. Galloway) in the debate on 14 September. It was a brave and compassionate speech that came at a time when perhaps we would have been talking only about retaliatory action. The hon. Gentleman made us stop and think. We all did well to do that in the circumstances.

Good can come from the present situation in allowing and encouraging greater co-operation that involves different communities, different countries and different ethnic groups and faiths. They can be united in their determination to prevent terrorist attacks. We cannot continue to act as though we are different people throughout the world. Terrorism must not be allowed to work its way between us.

Next Section

IndexHome Page