Charles Kennedy – 2001 Speech on Terrorism

Below is the text of the speech made by Charles Kennedy on 24 September 2001.

We meet against an unimaginable backdrop.

It is 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 their families, so many of whom were British.

Can you imagine that last mobile phone call from your husband, or wife or child?

The helplessness. And with it, the hopelessness. 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. 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. Nor should they. 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 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’re 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 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 from this conference hall this morning.

But let us also remember. There will 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 all about civil liberties. In facing those dilemmas, we are 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 implies, comes with a price tag attached. It involves realism and 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.

All underpinned by a philosophic and 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 security and reassurance, and that the proper role of the state is to provide that.

Now that’s where we stand. And that defines our response and our reasoning in the wake of these 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 States.

Friendships were made there. What struck me then, what I didn’t understand properly, was the extent to which the mid-West can almost be a country which is very different
from the rest of the country, which, when you think about it, itself is a continent.

But what is so striking now is the remarkable degree of spontaneous unity right across America. A unity of understandable anger. But the fear that can flow from that can be dangerous.

That’s where a candid friend comes in. Standing shoulder to shoulder, but always there for the occasional cautionary tap on the shoulder.

The most special relationships, in my experience, are based on a combination of trust and mutual respect.

And as America’s candid friend, we are 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.

And let me say this where military response is concerned: we 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 that, we owe that to our armed forces.

And let me also, incidentally, pay tribute 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 have 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.