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Statement on the events of 9/11

Charles Kennedy (Liberal Democrat)

Location: Bournemouth

We meet against an unimaginable backdrop.

 

It’s been hard to find words adequate

to give proper voice by way of response,

far less respect.

 

How can day-to-day vocabulary,

measure up to such sheer criminality?

 

For me, watching those grim images on television – again, and again and again

– there were all the normal, human reactions.

 

Disbelief. Then alarm.

 

Horror – as the truth sank in.

 

Compassion for all those people and all their families,

so many of whom, of course, were British.

 

Can you imagine that last mobile phone call

from your husband,

or wife or child?

 

The helplessness. And with it,

the hopelessness.

Well, we’re here because we don’t believe

in hopelessness.

We actually believe in hope.

But hope requires purpose.

And purpose requires direction.

When I spoke again with the Prime Minister

earlier today,

we were clear on a number of matters.

First, common resolve

to root out terrorism wherever it may be.

Second, the need to balance legislation

with the interests of domestic civil rights.

Third, vigilance against anyone

who seeks to target and attack

any of our ethnic communities.

And fourth, no ruling out

of a further recall of Parliament,

if events require it.

 

Now, immediate emotions inevitably begin to subside,

but they will never go away.

And nor should they.

But we Liberal Democrats must be clear

about our intentions.

 

Resolve.

There cannot be capitulation to the terrorist.

 

Determination.

That we strike at the heart of international terrorism.

 

And equal determination,

Equal determination.

That in combating terrorism,

we do not lose sight of the fact,

at one at the same time,

that we live, actually, in a liberal democracy,

and the principles of democracy

are what we are all about.

So as we gather here this week,

this is one of the challenges facing us,

as Liberal Democrats.

 

One of our particular duties,

is to make it clear

that short-term knee-jerk responses,

never provide long-term solutions.

We have to point out

the humanitarian issues involved.

We have to be especially vigilant,

against those people

who would seek to make scapegoats,

of Muslims in Britain.

 

Let us be quite clear,

we have no quarrel with the Muslim community,

and no quarrel with the Islamic faith.

Last Friday, when I visited a Mosque in London,

that was the message I took to our fellow citizens,

on all our behalves.

And that message went out loud and clear,

and very eloquently too,

from this conference hall this morning.

 

But let us also remember.

That there will now

be particularly difficult dilemmas

ahead for our party.

 

Those difficulties will involve a gauging

between the balance of the liberty of the individual

against the threat that the terrorist presents

to that very liberty.

 

Do not underestimate the real, ongoing pressures,

and the public scrutiny that goes with that,

which will be upon us in the times ahead.

Proportionate response

is not just about military measures.

Proportionate response

is also about civil liberties.

The scandal that is terrorism

is also about civil liberties.

In facing those dilemmas,

we’re best to remember our first principles.

 

We subscribe to the rule of law,

violated over the skyline of the United States,

on September 11th.

 

But that subscription,

as the very word itself implies,

comes with a price tag attached.

It involves realism

and it involves risk.

 

Realism means facing the stark truth,

that the terrorist

will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing.

 

Risk is about the consequences of your response.

 

So let us be clear about these first principles.

 

Civil liberties – yes.

 

The rule of international law – yes.

 

Co-operation amongst sane-minded peoples

across the globe – yes.

 

But all underpinned

by a philosophic and a fundamental commitment

to the integrity of the individual,

and the supremacy of that individual

over the power of the nation state.

But recognising also,

that people need and are looking for –

right now as we speak –

security and reassurance,

and that the proper role of the state

is to provide just that.

 

Now that’s where we stand.

And that defines our response

and our reasoning

in the wake of these dreadful, dreadful events.

 

When Parliament was reconvened,

I couldn’t help but cast my mind back

to such a happy year as a student

in the mid-West of the United States.

 

Friendships were made there.

 

What struck me then,

what I hadn’t properly understood,

was the extent to which the mid-West

can almost be a country which is very different

from the rest of the country,

which is in itself,

when you think about it,

a continent.

 

And so what is so striking now

is this remarkable degree of spontaneous unity

right across America.

Coast to coast.

A unity of understandable anger.

But the fear that can flow from that,

can in itself be dangerous.

 

Now, that’s where a candid friend comes in.

Standing shoulder to shoulder, of course,

but always there,

for the occasional cautionary tap on the shoulder.

The most special relationships,

in my experience,

are based on a combination of two things;

trust and mutual respect.

 

And as America’s candid friend,

we’re able to say,

there are no blank cheques

to be issued to the United States.

 

The way to defeat international terrorism,

is through international co-operation,

based on international law,

clear intelligence,

and a measured and appropriate military response.

All backed up,

by an appropriate concern,

for the humanitarian aspects,

of the crisis that we now face.

 

And let me say this

where military response is concerned.

We also have a duty and a responsibility

to ensure that where our armed forces are involved

the risks to them

are quantified and minimised.

We cannot shelve or abandon that requirement.

 

That means supporting American actions,

only in the knowledge

that Britain will be involved

in all planning and risk assessment

All of that, we owe to our armed forces.

 

And if the first casualty of war is truth,

the purveyors of truth themselves

become especially important.

I refer of course, to the BBC World Service.

As ever, one of the key contributions

that Britain can make

to the coalition against terror and suppression

is to offer accurate information and rational analysis.

 

But do remember.

War is not the word.

Nor is crusade.

Resolve is.

We’ve got to fashion a mindset,

to find that approach,

which begins to address the roots of such evil.

 

We do need to get back to those first principles.

In the face of such violation,

be inviolate.

Don’t flinch.

Democracy must prevail and it will.

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