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Alan Simpson: I am well aware of that. We might also look at Harakat-ul-Jihad-ul-Islami, an organisation originally formed to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. I suspect that, at that time, no one would have described it as a terrorist organisation. It was almost certainly founded with the covert backing of the CIA, and would have received direct funding from the CIA for its heroic acts of resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However, now that circumstances have changed and that group's hostilities are directed towards those whom it regards as the current occupiers of that country, it has become a terrorist organisation. Parliament must exercise greater judgment and scrutiny of the legitimacy of current threats and the impartiality of the lobbying that we receive from other Governments to add organisations to our list.
Two of the criteria for inclusion on the list apply to organisations whose principal aim is to overthrow legitimate Governments and to those that advocate armed struggle or the killing of the leaders of such Governments or of the Administrations that run their country. Bearing in mind those criteria, I would urge people to look at the website of the Christian Coalition of America, which is run by Rev. Pat Buchanan, who actively and openly advocates the assassination of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. If we are to be
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consistent, we should consider imposing a proscribing order on the Christian Coalition, too. Those who actively advocate the assassination of democratically elected leaders of Governments, and whose organisations platform such ideas openly on their websites, ought to be included in the banning order. The thing is, they are not Muslims. We take a very different view of Christian fundamentalists, including those who advocate armed insurgency and the killing of nationally elected leaders, because they are somehow part of civilisation. I worry when, at each stage of a banning process, we are faced with a list of organisations whose crime has been to shift allegiance from pro-western terrorism to anti-western terrorism, and which excludes organisations that advocate precisely the same acts of terrorism against regimes that the west does not like.
Simon Hughes: I share the hon. Gentleman's views on this issue, and I also happen to be a member of the Christian Church. I believe that we do inter-faith and inter-community relations a disservice if we take a differential view. That is why, when we debate the Equality Bill, which will come before us soon, we must remember that protecting one faith in this country while not giving protection to the others represents a fundamental flaw in the equality with which we should treat all these issues in Parliament.
Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): I am grateful for being able to make a small contribution on the most important and dangerous subject facing Parliament at the moment. I am also grateful to be able to endorse the views of my Nottinghamshire colleague, the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Alan Simpson). He has just made an extremely important contribution, which was not trivial in any way, shape or form. I welcome this opportunity because, like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that these organisations need to be considered in detail. We need to have time to debate what they stand for. We should not simply take a block of names, philosophies and confused ideologies, give them a convenient tag, and write them off. We need to look at the matter in detail.
I shall not oppose the Government today, and I praise the dispatch with which they have now chosen to move, but I wonder why they have taken so long to ban one, two or possibly three organisations that, so far as I can see, probably represent the same thing. I am concentrating particularly on the organisations that call themselves Ansar Al-Islam and Ansar Al Sunna. The Minister might equally have put on the list al-Qaeda in the Country of Two Rivers, and a series of other names by which these organisations go whenever it suits them.
It is an aphorism I know, but we are not considering concrete organisations. We are considering ideologies and organisations that have more in common with a piece of mercury, which, when hit with a hammer, will split into various different parts and spring up enormously dangerously. As we are concentrating on those organisations—which, it is fair to say, owe their allegiance to Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the gentleman who brings us on the television screen the charming views of Britons' heads being sliced off with bread
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knives, who is such an expert in handling the media that when we lose one of our aircraft, whether to friendly fire or enemy fire I do not know, he has his cameras on the spot within minutes and those images projected across the world within hours, and who runs a propaganda machine far in advance of anything that we seem to be able to handle in countering his particular threat—I wonder why this individual has not had more interest shown in him and his organisation before now.
Without making any judgment on the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war, I am interested to hear those criticisms that spring up, saying that the war has made us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks since we engaged in it. Let me point out that those organisations, Al-Islam and Al-Sunna, brought us the January 2003 ricin attack—please note, before we went to war in Iraq. That organisation, I suggest, leaves al-Qaeda as we believe it to exist in the shadows. It is a long way in advance of some of the amateurish operations that we have seen from that group. That organisation tried to use weapons of mass destruction, and I use the phrase advisedly, on the mainland of this country as long as three years ago. If the newspapers are to be believed, it was active as recently as last weekend and its suspects are in custody. Whether they will be charged, released or released on control orders I have no idea. While I am delighted that the Government are getting a move on from this particular point, why has it taken so long to address those two, three or four groups, whatever they might call themselves?
I challenge the Government to go a step further. Many of us have ignored the problem of terrorism—writing it off, thinking it would never happen in this country and that the study of it was too difficult. Well, it has happened. We have had the events of 7 July and 21 July. Possibly, something was planned for last weekend. Certainly, the arrests that followed suggest that we are still very much in jeopardy. Given that a debate on emergency planning is coming up later next week, I ask the Minister why all we see from the Government is lists of names and suggested legislation. Why do we not see concrete methods for the prevention and suppression of terrorism?
The Minister talked eloquently about those organisations on this list of names adding to the hostile environment. There are a million things that we could do to make terrorism that much more difficult to demonstrate inside this country, but I come back to the point made by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South: we need to raise our awareness of it in the House and to ensure that our public understand what the threat is. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), we must not think that these are a series of bizarre websites with bizarre names that we do not understand. We need to understand them.
We the public—not just here in Parliament, but on the street—need to understand what the threat is. We must not just proscribe those organisations, but have a campaign for public information and public training that makes people understand what the threat is and know what to do about it. We have done this a million times before. For instance, I could ask the Government what their approach is on flooding. They are taking it extremely seriously, telling us what the danger is and how to cope with it.
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I shall finish on this point, if I may. This is not just a question of proscribing organisations, although that will help, and laying down laws, which might help, although I have yet to see a suicide bomber who would have been deterred by a law. We must have concrete measures, we must ensure that our people understand the dangers and know how to deal with them. We will be attacked again. We must ensure next time that we first make things more difficult for our enemies and that casualties are minimised.
Parliamentary debates - Orders of the Day - Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism
- Thursday, 11 September 2008 11:30
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 29 October 2008 17:12