Dail Remarks by Mary Harney, T.D., Tánaiste and Leader of the Progressive Democrats in Response to the Recent Terrorist Attacks on the United States
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously described December 7, 1941, as a day that would live in infamy.
He was referring to Pearl Harbour and the attack which brought the United States into the Second World War. But I think there is no doubt that September 11, 2001, will also etch itself into all our memories as a day that will live in infamy.
What happened in New York and Washington one week ago today was an assault not just on America but on the entire free world. It was an assault on all those who love liberty. It was an assault on all those who love life itself.
I would like to say at the outset that it is important that we in Ireland understand the anger of the American people at this terrible time. They have every reason to be angry.
Can we in Ireland not remember the horror and revulsion which we all felt when the Provisional IRA perpetrated the Remembrance Day massacre in Enniskillen back in November 1987 ?
Can we in Ireland not remember our horror and revulsion at the Omagh bombing carried out by the so-called Real IRA in the summer of 1998 ? Can we not remember how, at the time, angry crowds marched on the homes of those they thought responsible for it ?
Let us recognise that anger has its place in a civilised society. And let us recognise and applaud the restraint with which President Bush and his government have reacted in the immediate aftermath of this atrocity.
In the wake of the attacks there was an overwhelming demand among the American public for an instant military response. But President Bush has sought to lead his people, not follow them, and for that he deserves our support and our respect at this difficult time.
What happened in the northeastern United States last Tuesday was a crime against humanity. It was an attack not just on the United States but on the democratic way of life which unites all of the western world. It was, in the truest sense, an attack on civil liberties by elements who believe the citizen should have no liberty.
The hijackers who carried out last week's atrocity have now been identified. But have yet to identify those who directed them, who funded them, who inspired them.
We can be certain that we are dealing with the forces of violent Islamic fundamentalism and we have strong grounds for believing that we are dealing with Osama Bin Laden and his network.
It is clear therefore that what we are witnessing is a struggle between two very different views of the world. On the one hand we have the Western democratic model. It embraces tolerance and freedom. It espouses openness and opportunity. It seeks to accommodate difference and diversity. It respects the rights of the individual within civil society.
It is an imperfect system, run by imperfect people making imperfect decisions. But it is the best system around and it has brought unprecedented peace and prosperity to millions of people over the last fifty years.
On the other hand we have the opposing model - a violent political and ideological fundamentalism that tolerates no opposition and accommodates no diversity.
All terrorist ideologies are based on an arrogant sense of self-righteousness. That arrogance translates easily into a contempt for the individual, a callous indifference to the rights of ordinary people. And so it was that planeloads of passengers could be crashed into American buildings to make some perverted political statement.
I would reject out of hand any suggestion that there is some kind of moral equivalence between the actions of the hijackers and the attitude of the American government. "There is a latent anti-Americanism in some quarters which cannot help seeing the United States as the source of evil even when it is the victim of evil. It was heartening to see that this view is not shared by the Irish people whose dignified reaction to last week's atrocities reflected the strong and close links which bind this country to America.
We in Ireland have to ask ourselves now where we stand in the contest that is now unfolding between democracy and violent fundamentalism.
We in Ireland have to consider what happened on United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark last Tuesday morning. After the aircraft had been taken over by the hijack team we know that a group of passengers tackled the hijackers. The ensuing struggle may have caused the plane to crash in the Pennsylvania countryside, miles short of its intended but still unknown target.
Is it possible for a civilised nation to be neutral in the struggle that took place on Flight 93 ? Is it possible for a civilised nation to be indifferent in a contest between innocent airline passengers and a murderous gang intent on killing them and many more besides ?
The answer is no. It is not. And neither is it possible for us in this country to be neutral in the struggle between international democracy and international terror.
Last Wednesday the Security Council of the United Nations adopted Resolution 1368. According to the resolution the Security Council (and I quote): `unequivocally condemns in the strongest terms the horrifying terrorist attack which took place on 11 September 2001 in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania and regards such acts, like any act of international terrorism, as a threat to international peace and security.'
That resolution is very clear and very forceful and our ambassador at the Security Council gave this country's full and unequivocal support to it.
The resolution went on to call on the international community to redouble their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts including by increased cooperation and full implementation of the relevant international anti-terrorist conventions and Security Council resolutions."It is important that we in Ireland make our contribution to the international effort, both through the United Nations and directly through our relationship with the United States.
We are bound to the United States by the closest ties of blood and history. The attack on the twin towers was the worst ever terrorist attack perpetrated on the American people.
And when all the dead are eventually accounted for it may turn out to be the worst ever terrorist attack perpetrated on the Irish people, for some reports from New York indicate that the number of Irish casualties may even approach Omagh proportions.
Right-thinking people everywhere know instinctively that what was done in Manhattan and Washington and Pennsylvania last week was wrong. There is no cause, religious or political, which justifies the deliberate flying of planes full of innocent men, women and children into buildings full of equally innocent people.
It is important here that we state very clearly who exactly is to blame for what occurred last week. Make no mistake about it: the blame lies fairly and squarely with the people who hijacked the four aircraft and with those who funded and directed them. The blame does not lie with the United States and it is wrong to suggest that it does.
We may not always agree with US foreign policy but no aspect of that policy down the years provides justification for the events of last Tuesday.
This is important because it is now being suggested that a change in US policy might somehow placate the fundamentalists and stave off future attacks. This fails to understand the mindset of the opponents we are now dealing with.
It is doubtful if anything less than the outright destruction of Israel and the United States, and possibly of the entire Western way of life, would satisfy the Bin Ladens of this world and their fanatical followers. It is difficult to be reasonable with unreasonable people.
The United States has made great efforts to promote a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians under several different presidents in recent years. Let us not forget that violent Islamic fundamentalists are among the most vociferous opponents of any such peace settlement.
Ireland is not neutral in the fight against international terrorism. The question of Irish military involvement is unlikely to arise but we can play our part in other important ways. We can be vigilant in terms of our security and ensure that this country is not used as a safe haven or staging post by terrorist elements. We can cooperate if required in international sanctions against states which harbour terrorist leaders and their networks.
And we can be understanding of the fact that the American government has a legitimate right to deliver an appropriate military response in the wake of what happened last Tuesday.
We must have confidence in the ability of the American government to take the right decisions and to ensure that innocent civilian casualties are avoided in the military actions which are now inevitable.
Global terrorism requires a global response. The United States will need to build a broad-based international coalition in order to prosecute this campaign successfully. That will be a ‘variable-geometry' coalition with some countries playing larger roles than others.
But it is vital that the coalition holds together if this campaign, and the validity of its objectives, are to have real international credibility. And the coalition will not hold if military action by the US and its major allies is seen to result in large-scale civilian casualties.
This is a struggle which the United States cannot afford to lose. It is a struggle which the Western democracies cannot afford to lose. I have no doubt that the organisers of last Tuesday's atrocities have the resources and the evil enterprise to repeat them, either in America or in Europe. That is a threat with which civilised people cannot be expected to live.
It would be a tragedy if the hate that filled the hijackers were to infect Western society too. There is a huge difference between Islam and the abuse of Islam by violent fundamentalists and recent events should not be used as a pretext for racist attacks on innocent people.
Ireland now has a substantial Muslim community. It is big enough to be visible but small enough to be vulnerable. I would appeal to people to act calmly and rationally and fairly. Can we not remember the indignities visited upon many innocent and law-abiding Irish people in Britain over the last thirty years because of the bombing activities of a handful of their countrymen?
September 11 2001 is one of those rare days that will have a profound and lasting impact on human history.
It was the day when the forces of international terrorism finally reached their full potential. But history will show that it was also the day when the civilised world resolved that those forces should be permanently extinguished.
Terrorism has disfigured the politics of this country for much of the last thirty years. Proportionate to its population the island of Ireland has had its Manhattans and its Pentagons. We remember Enniskillen and Omagh, Greysteel and Loughinisland and a hundred other places whose names are written in blood in our history.
As the whole world now turns against terrorism is it not time for us to escape from our history? Is it not time now to put the past behind us?
There are still several organisations on this island which seek to engage in political activity while still keeping the terrorist option open. Some are actively engaged in violence; others are on ceasefire.
I would say this to all of them. It takes courage to move away from violence, more courage than it takes to kill people. The doorway to democracy is now open. Go through it. Take your courage in your hands. Say - now - in clear and simple terms that you are renouncing the use of violence for political ends and that you are prepared to take your chances with the rest of us in the democratic process.
And don't just say it: do it. And that means no more guns, no more bombs and no more punishment beatings.
We in Ireland lost a lot on Tuesday last and our hearts go out to the families of the victims. But we in Ireland could salvage something of great value from the wreckage of Manhattan if the terrible events of September 11 were to bring us to the full and final acceptance of democracy as the sole means of resolving our political problems on this island.
Almost forty years ago President John F. Kennedy stood near the Berlin Wall and addressed the people of that great and then divided city. He said ‘if anyone wants to know the difference between the free world and the communist world let them come to Berlin'.
Today we can say that if anyone wants to know the difference between the free world and the dark world which threatens it, let them come to Manhattan.
Last modified: 01/01/2004