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The Civilized World Must Fight this Terrorism

The Civilized World Must Fight this Terrorism

Edited Transcript of an Interview by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, on BBC Radio Four's 'Today' Programme. Source: FCO, November 21, 2003.

Interviewer: Earlier this morning I spoke to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who as I say was in Istanbul. He is going to meet the Turkish Foreign Minister later this morning. I asked him what he would say if the Minister asked him if Turkey is now a target in his eyes.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: I would say I think that's true. What you have in this country is a democracy, a relatively secular society in the sense that if people don't wish to practice their religion they don't have to and the institutions are actually remarkably secular. That democracy has just elected a Islamic based Party, but it's a modern, moderate Islamic based Party and I think that paradoxically it is precisely Parties which are Islamic and are proud of it and proud of their respect for Islam, but which are also democratic and modern looking, which pose the greatest threat of all to these dreadful terrorists.

Interviewer: You use the word indiscriminate. It does not seem to be a coincidence that these bombs were aimed at British interests on the very day that our Prime Minister was playing host to the President of the United States. This does not seem to be a coincidence does it?

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well I understand the point of your question, but I think the truth is that so vile and ruthless are these terrorists that they will use any excuse or none for what they did. I understand what's behind the question but I think people need to remember that the 11 September attacks in Washington and in New York that led to 3000 deaths and who knows how many people injured and what destruction, those were terrorist incidents, terrorist atrocities which were planned not under the presidency of President Bush but under the presidency of President Clinton and were executed not on 11 September 2003 but 11 September 2001.

We've faced a whole series of attacks by these ruthless terrorists which go back at least six or seven years to the attacks on the United States embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. So they will always find an excuse, but it doesn't in any sense legitimise what they are seeking to do, nor should it in any sense divert us from the fact that the whole of civilisation, and I use that phrase advisedly, has to fight this terrorism because I'm afraid to say that it's all of us, regardless of our religion, who are on one side of this and the terrorists who are on the other.

Interviewer: Fighting terrorism is fine if it succeeds. The war on terror was supposed to make the world a safer place. It doesn't look this morning as though the world is a safer place and it is the outcome that matters isn't it.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well of course it's the outcome that matters, but what people have to bear in mind when they search for people to take responsibility other than those who have the responsibility for these outrages, namely the terrorists, is that the United States showed huge patience in this war against terrorism, turning the other cheek week after week, month after month, year after year.

It started to build up. You then had those appalling bombs, some of the worst we've ever seen in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam which killed over 200 people, injured thousands. It's not featured as part of our consciousness, I tell you why, because it happened in Africa, in black Africa and most of the victims were African and or Muslim and they weren't whites in the West. But it's deeply, deeply traumatic. That happened.

There is a whole series of further terrorist incidents, including an attempt by Al Qa'ida to take out the United States ship Cole. This went on and it culminated in the attack on 11 September 2001 against the World Trade Centre. So whatever else one can say I'm afraid turning the other cheek in the fight against terrorism had not worked.

Interviewer: But it's not so much a question of turning the other cheek is it? It's how we reacted. We attacked Afghanistan first because there was a clear link with Al Qa'ida. We then attacked Iraq which had no links with Al Qa'ida, which had, as far as we now know, no weapons of mass destruction, and attacking Iraq gave these men you quite rightly describe as evil, the excuse to draw greater support for their cause and specifically to threaten Britain in a way that we by your own admission had not been threatened before.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well sorry I haven't made that admission at all and I actually think the implication of your question is dreadful because I have not brought Iraq in to this today... and the idea which is behind your question which is that somehow we should slide away from pinning the responsibility for this terrorism on to those responsible for it and for those who are harbouring it ... I think we need to be very careful about this. I go back to the point that we were all victims of terrorism months and years before we made a separate and distinct decision to take military action in Iraq, a decision which was backed let me say not just by the United States, the United Kingdom, but by more than half the countries in now wider Europe and many other countries in the rest of the world.

Interviewer: And opposed by many precisely because of the effect that we are now witnessing, that is the argument that they would make.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: And the thing I would just say to you is that in my judgement, because of what had happened before, had we not taken military action against Iraq I am clear that the same level of incidence of terrorist atrocities organised by Al Qa'ida and its associates would have gone on; they would have found other excuses and we still would have had to fight terrorism.

Interviewer: You simply can't be sure of that though can you?

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well of course one can't be sure because we're talking about what ifs. But you are suggesting a link which I think is palpably not the case. Yes, Iraq is used as an excuse, but the idea that what has happened today is some kind of consequence is utter and palpable nonsense and it is based on a myth which I'm afraid some people are now believing, that 11 September happened six months after military action in Iraq.

Interviewer: I'm reporting to you people's concerns which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well no, what you're reporting to me is a statement and an assertion almost in the form of a question and the simple fact of the matter is that 11 September happened not six months after the military action took place in Iraq, but 18 months before and that was preceded by a whole series of terrorist atrocities and followed by them.

Interviewer: But Iraq was not involved in 11 September. There is not a shred of evidence that Iraq was involved.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Thank you that is exactly my point. I'm glad you accept it.

Interviewer: Well I fail to understand your point. The implication I understood from you was that in some way we had to attack Iraq because of the war on terror. Iraq was not involved in 11 September.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: No, of course it wasn't and that is exactly my point and I've never suggested that it was. Why I think it is wrong to bring this in to the matter in the way in which you're doing, is that this terrorism from Al Qa'ida and its associates would in my judgement have gone on in any event, not withstanding the separate military action that was taken in Iraq because it is motivated in a different way. It was part of, if you like, a sub set of the total threat that the international community faces, but it was there before and it would have gone on. The fact that Al Qa'ida and their associates are now attacking targets in Indonesia, in Saudi Arabia, in Morocco, I think emphasises the point I am making.

Interviewer: We can not kill all the terrorists, quite clearly. Should we not be concentrating more on getting peace in the Middle East and a rapprochement between Israel and the Arabs?

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: Well of course we have to have a political approach to this as well as a security approach and if I go back to the position that we faced in the United Kingdom 30 years and 20 years ago in respect of terrorism we had to deal with the most appalling incidents of terrorism which we faced, for example one day in London 1973 four bombs going off, a lot of destruction. We then had the following year all the outcome of the bombing in Birmingham where well over 20 people were killed in a bomb without warning and people of course became extremely worried about what was happening then and we had to take firm security action. We also had to take political action as well, but that was frankly not possible until the terrorists, in this case the IRA, were weakened to the point where they recognised they had to come to the negotiating table.

Now this situation is actually more difficult because the terrorists concerned do not have explicit nor territorial based political demands. Of course we should try and make progress in the Middle East and in other areas where there are conflicts. But I also say, so far as the Middle East, the Israel Palestine conflict is concerned, what is it that has disrupted progress most in respect of the road map? It is the terrorists, the rejectionist terrorists, who are continuing their evil work. And that's not only put fear in to the minds of Israelis, but it's also wholly undermined the democratic and peaceful leadership of the Palestinian Authority.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).