Emily Thornberry – 2019 Speech on Sri Lanka

Below is the text of the speech made by Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the House of Commons on 23 April 2019.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for advance sight of his statement and for the tone of his words, with which ​I wholeheartedly agree. I join him in commending the work of the British high commission in Colombo. Once again, it has demonstrated that in the very worst of circumstances for British nationals abroad, our consular services offer the very best of support. I am sure the high commission will continue to ensure that the families of the British nationals who have so tragically been killed in the attacks get all the support they need at this time of unbearable shock and sadness.

I have full confidence in what the Foreign Secretary has said about the assistance that the Government are ready to offer to the Sri Lankan authorities, whether in relation to security and intelligence, or in relation to help for the forensic services. He has our support and our thanks for that.

I know that there are many questions to be asked about who was responsible for the attacks and what could have been done to prevent them, but today is not a time for those questions. On this day of national mourning in Sri Lanka, as the first of those who were killed are buried and as the death toll continues to mount, it is simply a time for this House and this country to stand with the people of Sri Lanka, with the British families and with those from around the world who have lost loved ones and to express our shared solidarity and grief at the devastation that they have suffered. It is a time to stand in admiration at the way in which the Sri Lankan people and their Government have responded to this attempt to divide them by instead coming together in peace and calling for the unity of all communities. We in the west must do our part to help Sri Lanka to recover from this horror by continuing to visit that beautiful country and showing the terrorists they will not win.

It is sadly apt that on St George’s day, when we mark both the birth and the death of Shakespeare, we are confronted with the latest example of what he once called “mountainish inhumanity”. That is the unspeakable inhumanity and evil of men who would walk into a group of peaceful Christian worshippers at prayer or happy foreign tourists having breakfast and blow these innocent people up, killing at least 320 people, including 45 children and an eight-year-old cousin of our good friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq). Dozens are still fighting for their lives in hospital and hundreds more have received life-changing injuries.

When we ask how anyone’s mind could become so warped and depraved as to commit such an act, just as we did about the attack on Muslims in Christchurch last month and on Jews in Pittsburgh last October, we must not make the mistake of blaming religion. There is no religion on this earth that teaches that the way to salvation is blowing up innocent children or shooting people at prayer. We must also not make the mistake of saying that one act of evil begets another, that somehow this atrocity happened because of the atrocity in Christchurch. I believe that that is an entirely false narrative, one that excuses terrorism. We should never indulge it. Instead, we should call it out for what it is: an act born of pure, vicious mind-polluting hatred perpetuated by sickening, despicable individuals who do not worship God but death; whose only religion is hate and whose fellow believers in hatred and in death must be wiped from the face of our earth.

But in these dark and terrible moments, I see one shred of light and one piece of definite proof that the narrative that says that evil begets evil and we reap what ​we sow is indeed a false one. That was the deeply moving statement made by Ben Nicholson, confirming the loss of his wife and two children in the blast at the Shangri-La hotel. I do not think there is any one of us who could understand what that grief would feel like. We would all have understood if Mr Nicholson’s reaction had been one of anger and hatred towards the people who had destroyed his family, but instead his response was filled with love for his wife and for his beautiful children. He rejected hatred, the hatred that had killed his family, and he responded to it with mountainish humanity: a humanity that no act of evil could corrupt, because, as Shakespeare also wrote:

“unkindness may defeat my life, But never taint my love.”