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4.30 pm

Mr. Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath): I shall talk about the impact of the events of 11 September on British Muslims. Like the Secretary of State, more than 40 per cent. of my constituents are British Muslims.

I wish to make it clear from the start that I support the actions of the international coalition. I do not say that with any joy. I do not like our country being involved in a war. But, I regret to say, there is no alternative. International terrorism is a threat to us all and if we do not combat it, it will kill us.

The overwhelming majority of British Muslims unreservedly condemn the atrocities of 11 September, not least because nearly 300 Muslims were killed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) gave us his opinion of his constituents' attitude and he described his Muslim constituents as keeping their heads down. He is right. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) described them as being in denial, but I am not sure about that. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South has the correct interpretation. The vast majority of Muslims are keeping their heads down because they fear the consequences for race relations. Unfortunately, now is a time when the vast majority of moderate Muslims need to stand up and be counted. They have to reclaim their religion, which has been hijacked by small fanatical groups, who have contorted and twisted the teachings of Islam.

All of us who represent multicultural communities know stories about a minority of clerics who preach fire and brimstone versions of the Koran at Friday prayers. The vast majority of Muslims know that those contorted versions are untrue. Unfortunately, until now, they have tended to opt for the quiet life. Rather than confront, cause a row or have an argument, they have said that such clerics are talking nonsense and thought that if they ignore them, the clerics will go away. Sadly, that option no longer exists.

These fire and brimstone sermons preached by some unscrupulous clerics have had a huge effect on a number of impressionable young Muslims. Because the older members of the community have chosen not to confront those who twist and contort the Koran, some impressionable young ones have believed that what is being said represents what the Koran says. Those of us who represent multicultural constituencies all know that what I am saying is, regrettably, true.

The option no longer exists for the overwhelming majority of Muslims to keep their heads down. They must stand up and reclaim their religion. They must confront

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those people who, in my judgment, have hijacked it. If they do not, the great danger is that the vast majority of the non-Muslim population will judge the entire Muslim population and the entire Muslim community by the actions of the fanatics who carried out the outrages of 11 September.

I want to make one more point. I have given my opinion on how the Muslim community has to reclaim its religion and not allow it to be hijacked. However, there are international issues that are of great concern to the Muslim community in this country. There is no relationship between the atrocities of 11 September and what I am about to say, but we must recognise that Palestine and Kashmir are crucial to the British Muslim community.

What is more, when we are discussing Palestine and Kashmir, we are discussing just causes. The right of self-determination for the Kashmiri people is a just cause. The right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, as our Prime Minister recently said, is also a just cause. Unless those international issues are addressed by the international community, they will continue to fester and to be a breeding ground for terrorists who want to use them for carrying out the activities that resulted in the atrocities of 11 September.

4.37 pm

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): Like the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George)—[Interruption.] I am afraid that I cannot help having a bad cold. All that was available a few moments ago, at the last minute, was a bit of Members' toilet roll. I apologise for that humorous interruption, particularly to the Secretary of State.

I return to the right hon. Member for Walsall, South, which is where I started. He referred to the quality of the speeches and the fact that a common thread has crisscrossed the House today in appreciation of the situation that this country faces. The right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) described the experience of listening to a former Israeli Prime Minister and talking to someone who had lived with terrorism each day. We would not have to go far from this building while remaining in the United Kingdom to talk to close on 2 million people who have lived with the trauma of terrorism each day for 30 years. Many Members of the House and of the other place have first-hand experience of the trauma of terrorism as it affected their lives and their constituents.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) spoke for a lot of people from the Jewish community in this country and many, many others when he talked with great sincerity and great depth about the truisms that apply to the situation in Israel and Palestine, and the clamour in the mind of any just-thinking person for a Palestinian homeland. Even if that were accomplished tomorrow, the likes of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and for that matter the regime in Afghanistan, would not go away, nor would the acts of terrorism stop.

There are words in the English language that can accurately describe how people must feel about what happened on 11 September, but the events defy description for most reasonable people. The people who perpetrated those acts were evil. They did not do it for religious reasons. They did it out of sheer evil and because it was a way to get what they wanted, which was to impose their will on other people.

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The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) asked who was to blame. The one thing that is certain is that the 6,000 people who died in New York were blameless. They did not play any part in the cause of their deaths. They did not incite an act of such vicious terrorism.

The Prime Minister has been right to restate the aims and to say why we are in the coalition fighting this battle. The title of today's debate is the "Coalition Against International Terrorism" and I hope that the fight does not begin and end in Afghanistan. This war must surely go way beyond the bounds of the present problem. We need some commitment and vision from our Government. They must explain where they believe we are going in the campaign against world terrorism. Surely it will not end with the capture or death of bin Laden. It will not end when the Taliban cease to rule Afghanistan. It will not end just by bombing the training bases there out of existence. It goes much further than that.

As a nation, we are surely adult enough to know that in any conflict or war it will be impossible to avoid the suffering of innocent people. No military commander engaged in the coalition's effort against terrorism ever set out to harm or bomb innocent people. Mistakes happen. The authorities in Afghanistan have sited sensitive military equipment and even their own bases close to vulnerable civilians. They have done so deliberately to incite the sort of press coverage that we have seen in the past 10 days.

The Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions that once we start this war we must ensure that we are able to finish it. In the past month, many hon. Members have insisted on knowing the endgame. No one who has given what has gone on in the past 50 years any thought can believe that the Government can come up with a magic remedy and explain to the House today what the endgame really is. That would be impossible.

In the past three weeks, not a day has gone by when I have not received at least a couple of letters from constituents who are rightly concerned about the humanitarian situation. Many of those people were writing to me about the plight of the people of Afghanistan before the bombing started. Where was the concern of the Afghan Government for what was happening? Where was the help from the Saudis, Kuwaitis and the Gulf states for the 25 per cent. of all children who died in Afghanistan before reaching the age of five? Most of the aid was generated in the United States, the United Kingdom and European Union states.

The Americans are not fighting Islam and it is a myth to suggest that they are. Every time hon. Members mention Islam in the same breath as bin Laden, they give credence to the suggestion that this fight is based on religious grounds. It is not; it is a fight against evil and against those who will kill people without thinking and will do so again and again.

Of course we should respect the rights of Muslims and their religious festivals. Ramadan is an important festival. The terrorists will not recognise it, however, and when it has suited them, Arab states have chosen not to recognise it as they waged war either on each other or against the state of Israel, as many hon. Members have said. We have to be realistic. A month's respite from the activities of the coalition will allow the Afghan forces of evil and others to re-arm, re-equip and re-establish themselves in other locations.

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We must naturally respect the Muslim faith, but this is not a battle against Muslims. It is a battle against evil people who continue to perpetrate crimes and are planning crimes now, probably even against this very building. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) spoke of the need for the Muslim people whom he represents to stand up and be counted. I agree entirely. Many have done so and continue to do so. Many of the young Muslims whom I represent have made it clear that they distance themselves from what has gone on. They are proud to be associated with this country and want to continue to be part of the multicultural cocktail of which we are so proud. They should not be tarred with the awful brush of the evil perpetrators of crime. We should distance ourselves from justifying the likes of bin Laden and his cronies by linking them with the word of the Islamic faith—the Koran—or with Muslim rights.

Bin Laden is not winning the propaganda battle, or if he is, it is only among the cronies who support his evilness. I do not meet people who want to see replicas of the atrocities of 11 September. No one I have spoken to, who has written to me or criticised what I have said publicly has said that they were pleased at what happened or would like to see it repeated. The propaganda battle that we must win is about doing this for the right reason—to rid the world of people who will take others' lives without a care in the world.

We must do all we can to help the countries involved, not just during this crisis and for a few months afterwards, but for as long as it takes. The hon. Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) spoke about rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan. It is hard to imagine what that means in a country like Afghanistan. How do we put something back together that has taken 20-odd years to destroy? I went to Grozny—

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