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3.59 pm

Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): When we were recalled to this Chamber three weeks ago, I remember thinking that these were extraordinary times. As news is still coming in today about another possible terrorist atrocity, the memories of three weeks ago are brought back, although the aftershock of those events has yet to subside.

Over the past three weeks I have been moved by the compassion and resolve that I have seen throughout the country, not least among people in my constituency. In the past two weeks the British people have shown their support in many ways. I pay particular tribute to the firefighters in my constituency, who collected more than £8,000 for the families of their heroic colleagues who died in New York.

All over the country we have seen, outside post offices and town halls, queues of people wishing to sign books of condolence. It is important for us to remember that the British people have held prayer services for the victims in churches throughout the land—and not just in churches, but in mosques, Sikh gurdwaras, Hindu temples and other temples.

Our compassion is best defined not only by its strength but by its breadth. Although most of us have stood together against terrorism, a tiny few have added to the horror of 11 September. Since the attacks in New York,

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Pennsylvania and Washington, we have seen a spate of reprisals in this country, mostly directed at Asians. If we are determined to root out terrorism, those acts of terror cannot be allowed to escape justice, either. I very much support the measures that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary outlined yesterday in Brighton.

It is easy to categorise people in this day and age, but let us not forget that the turban and the beard are worn by people of more than one religion. They are worn by Muslims, but also by Sikhs; they are not a badge of fanaticism. My own grandfather proudly wears a turban and a beard, and he wore them with great pride for king and country in Burma, in the conflict between 1939 and 1945—and in that conflict many of his colleagues died for king and country wearing turbans and beards.

Last week we saw a leaflet produced by the British National party, showing the World Trade Centre in ruins, and containing the words:

That is a false and ignorant statement. Such intemperate language is disloyal to our nation, and I hope that the new legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of religion will help to tackle it.

It is particularly important at the moment to reassure the Muslim communities both at home and abroad that we are not at war with Islam. Muslims are not the enemies of the British people. I commend the actions of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week in meeting the representatives of the ethnic communities, especially the Muslim groups, in Downing street.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary also deserves to be commended for his handling of the difficult task that he faced last week with his diplomatic trip to Iran and Israel. Our international coalition is strengthened by its breadth. If we ask Islamic countries to stand with us against terrorism, they must be made to feel that they stand with us on even and solid ground, and that is what I believe we are doing. I hope that the recent visit to meet the Israelis and the Palestinians will prove to be one of a number of turning points in the search for an acceptable and lasting peace for both the communities there.

As I said, it is easy to have certain views about one community or another. My mind goes back to when I was at university, when a friend of mine, Nasser Masri, was always late to return to lectures when we came back from the holidays. He always returned a week after the rest of us, and we asked why, what was going on? What was wrong with Nasser? After a while, he overcame his embarrassment and told us. His crime was to have been born a Palestinian, in Ramallah, so every time he returned to his studies in the United Kingdom, he was detained for a week.

Such measures breed anger and create difficult circumstances. We are right to ensure that diplomatic discussions are opened between the Israelis and the Palestinian people. I am pleased to see the Foreign Secretary's measures designed to bring that about.

I had a message earlier today from the two mosques in my constituency of Gloucester. People there were very concerned about the remarks of a former Prime Minster, reported today, about their views on what happened on 11 September. I said that I would be happy to put across their view that what happened on that day was not only a

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crime but a crime against religion and a crime against all of us. It was a crime against civilisation, and they totally condemn it.

4.6 pm

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): I find it ironic that on a day when I am speaking in a debate on the international security situation, the former Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, is splashed across the front pages of the newspapers. It was Lady Thatcher who inspired me to get involved in party politics in the first place, at a time of similar international crisis towards the end of the 1980s, when the former Soviet Union was breaking up, and I felt less than confident in the ability of the then Prime Minister to keep us all from nuclear destruction. Now here we are at a time of equally significant international crisis in terms of the possible repercussions of our actions.

I speak as someone who counts himself a friend of America and the Americans. It already been acknowledged in the debate that there has been a latent anti-Americanism, particularly on the left, in British politics. I remember a conversation I had some years ago with American friends whom I had made in Latin America, when I had gone through all the things that I disliked about America. My friend said, "Essentially, you're saying we're all like Ronald Reagan." I said, "Yes, that's it; you've got it." She replied, "So can I assume that you're all like Margaret Thatcher, and share her views?" I realised that we had been engaged in the grossest form of stereotyping of the Americans, which we would never accept if we were talking about an ethnic minority or any other grouping, yet somehow it had seemed acceptable.

Since then, and since entering the House, I have made good friends with many American politicians. Last year I visited Representative Dennis Kucinich, who showed me that there was a huge variety in American pluralist politics, which we do not always see from this side of the Atlantic. We have to understand that America is a complex nation, with a very pluralist political system.

Speaking as a friend of the United States and of American citizens in general, I think it is important that we define what our friendship means. The United States faces a difficult situation. It needs to plan for the future and understand how it should respond, and it comes to us, their friends, to ask about that.

My experience is that in such circumstances a casual friend will not bother, will not listen and is not interested. A good friend will listen uncritically and say, "I'll support you wholeheartedly. I'll give you whatever you want." Our very best friends, however, will listen critically to what we say and then tell us what they really think. They will not just assume that what we say is correct. They will put our interests ahead even of their friendship with us—and that is the position that we should take now towards the United States. We should be that country's very best friends, listening to what it has to say but not scared to criticise.

The Opposition, too, should have that relationship with the Government. We do not wish the Government to fail; we wish them to be successful in working with the United States—but we cannot be expected to be entirely uncritical. That would be a derogation of our duty as a friend of the United States.

Two concerns have been raised with me. I had a public meeting in the constituency last week, because I had had a lot of mail on the subject and lot of e-mail urging

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caution. More than 50 people came to the meeting, which was called at very short notice. The notes of caution came through, and two aspects particularly concern me. First, I was told about the impact on community relations, which has rightly been spoken about a great deal today. It was put to me that there is genuine and palpable fear in many communities in the United Kingdom. That fear is likely to increase as and when the prospect of military action arises.

We must also be realistic about how we are making people in our communities feel. Many people properly maintain close cultural and family ties with people in the affected regions. We believe in strong families and consider that it is right for people to maintain such links. They will now feel an immense tug. Norman Tebbit's cricket test is irrelevant. It is a perfectly natural human response, and nothing Islamic, to feel concern for one's friends and relatives in a zone that is threatened by conflict. That anxiety will be magnified if the conflict is to involve troops in the country that one regards as one's home.

For example, in the second world war, Australian Germans were allies of the United Kingdom and would have had no truck with the Nazi regime, but natural human emotion would have meant that they felt very distressed about the bombing raids against Germany. We are facing a testing and difficult time in which we must be not only tolerant but understanding. We must also show political leadership.

The Home Secretary struck a good note when the media dragged in the few voices on the fringe, as they will do in such circumstances, that were giving the anti-American line. He merely said that those people were being silly. It is very important for us, as politicians, to maintain that line. Involvement in terrorism or the incitement of violence is serious, but let us not get on our high horses when people are dragged up to express their opposition. If we disagree, let us say that it is silly but not get on our bandstands and stir things up even more because, as has been pointed out, it is the British National party that will fill the void. I hope that we are responsible and understand the difficulties faced by members of our community as military action becomes increasingly likely.

I want to deal briefly with the implications of the recent events for international justice. We may be moving into a new era in which our opinions and actions will be checked for consistency as never before. The history of the cold war is littered with stories of different countries funding groups that carried out terrorist acts throughout the world. That has been happening since the second world war. We now have a chance to start to understand terrorism for what it is—murder. Whether terrorism is committed by Colombians who think that they are operating against guerrillas on behalf of the state, by the IRA or loyalists, or by anybody else, it involves acts of murder, none of which are so gross as that which was committed on 11 September. We should never fund or support murder. We must consider mechanisms for dealing with murderers as we always have done in this country: primarily by judicial means and not by summary execution or by sending in troops. Troops may be required, as they have been in Northern Ireland, to carry out the requirements of

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justice. There may be no other means of dealing with the situation, but our primary recourse should be the judicial method.

The formation and building of the International Criminal Court will be crucial if we are to move forward. There are people who deserve to be tried but, because of human rights concerns, cannot be sent back to the countries where the request for trial was made. We cannot sacrifice one aspect for another and say that human rights are no longer important when people are suspected of terrorism. We must satisfy the need for human rights to be upheld and the need to deal with terrorism. I believe that an international justice system will help us to solve that problem, but we must be subject to it just as much as we expect others to be.

I still have an element of hope. I believe that we can achieve our objectives only by sticking with our principles of international law. I sincerely hope that the Prime Minister achieves success in being the best friend of America by guiding it towards the most appropriate response to the awful murders of 11 September.

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