United Kingdom
Foreign Office Minister for Europe Peter Hain
Article in The Guardian Newspaper
September 24, 2001

In the late 1960s, I was one of those who marched in London against US intervention in Vietnam - and we were right to do so. But critics of the US over past or present policies must not allow their judgment to be clouded at this critical time. The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington were attacks on us all, which is why there is a unique, worldwide consensus for tough action to eliminate the capability of those responsible to strike again.

Virtually everyone has joined in the international coalition to confront terrorism: Russia, China, countries across the Arab and Islamic world. The 19 countries of NATO, for the first time in the alliance's history, invoked article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which provides for collective defence by all the allies if one is attacked.

The United Nations Security Council has insisted that not just the terrorists, but also those who harbour them, must be held to account. So has the UN General Assembly, the European Union and the Arab League.

This unity of international opinion is quite unprecedented. It derives both from horror at the atrocities we all witnessed and from a grim recognition that the next strike could be on London or Moscow, Beijing or Berlin.

The values that the terrorists attacked last week were human rights, democracy and the rule of law - values that are not western but universal. They are the same values that inspired the British left in the 1930s to fight fascism in Spain and oppose appeasement of the Nazis, and in the 1970s and 1980s to back liberation struggles in southern Africa. While there is an honourable minority tradition of pacifism, most on the left have recognised that at some historic moments the only way to defend freedom and justice is to fight.

Tough decisions lie ahead now too. Action against those responsible for the atrocities is necessary to pre-empt repeat attacks. So, our response cannot be effete. To be blunt, we cannot stand aside. But to be effective, as Tony Blair has made clear, our response must be precise. And to maintain international solidarity, it must be appropriate too.

One of the benefits of the immediate and practical solidarity that the prime minister offered to the US is that Britain's views as a reliable ally are taken very seriously in Washington. If we and Europe, and almost all governments in the world, had not shown such solidarity - if the US had felt alone - the pressures would have been the very opposite of the careful, targeted and determined strategy George Bush has announced.

Of course people are fearful of the action to come. Of course people are apprehensive. So they were on the eve of the second world war. Military action is unpleasant. People get killed and people get frightened. But the barbaric threat faced by the entire world today means such action is necessary.

None of us should be under any illusions about Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. His supporters have a proven record of terror and mayhem. The Taliban must be about the most odious regime in the world. Afghanistan is a country where ethnic and religious minorities are forced to wear badges; where people are executed, flogged and mutilated in public; and where women are systematically denied access to rights, education, employment, healthcare and humanitarian aid. All magazines and newspapers and most books are banned, and much of Afghanistan's rich cultural heritage has been deliberately destroyed, including the world-renowned Bamiyan Buddhas.

Yes, the west has made mistakes in Afghanistan. But the Taliban have made the lives of people there a great deal worse. Their regime is funded largely by the cultivation, production and trafficking of illegal drugs. It prostitutes Islam's ideals and is a self-proclaimed base for terrorists like Bin Laden.

Arguing for tough action does not remove our responsibility to work for peace, justice and freedom in troubled regions, such as the Middle East. Equally, the absence of peace between Israelis and Palestinians must not be an excuse for extremists to commit acts of terror. Justice for the Palestinians and security for Israelis is the last thing on Bin Laden's mind. His group has a deadly agenda of fanaticism driven by terror. It would be a tragic irony if, at the very moment when the whole of the international community is committed as never before to combat evil and tyranny, the left refused to take sides.

We all have an interest in seeing terrorism defeated. The left should applaud loudest when it happens. Then we should continue with our mission to conquer world poverty and build international peace and a world based upon justice, equality and human rights.


Crown copyright material reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO.