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Integrated Public Safety

This speech addresses the need for an integrated public safety system if countries are effectively to combat terrorism. It was given at the Middle East Homeland and Global Security Forum in Bahrain on November 19th 2007.


A Basic Requirement for Homeland Safety: An Integrated Public Safety System

Rt Hon Charles Clarke MP, speaking at the Middle East: Homeland and Global Security Forum, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Bahrain on Monday, November 19th 2007.

I firstly want to thank you most warmly for the invitation to attend this important Conference in Bahrain.

There are, of course, many different threats to Homeland Safety, ranging from national disasters like a tsunami, earthquake or hurricane in Louisiana to overt military attack by a foreign power.

However I intend to focus this evening upon the threat posed by terrorism, and how best we can deal with it. Some of my conclusions are relevant for other threats too, but my focus is counter-terrorism.

The challenge of terrorist attack around the world remains strong. In these circumstances it is our duty to analyze its causes, and then determine the means by which this threat can best be contested. Today, I want to start by clarifying the values and society which we are defending; so to identify the threat with which we have to deal; and then to set out the central means by which we need both to contest those who seek to destroy us and to build the solidarity and determination which we need to succeed.

What Are We Defending?

The threat from Al Quaida and others is not principally a threat to territory or a bid for wealth and treasure. It is a challenge to the way in which the world is increasingly asserting certain modern democratic values.

These values are steadily spreading throughout the world, and I pay tribute to the way in which that is happening too here in Bahrain.

They are values which I believe enhance and build the happiness of literally billions of people, and they are values which are worth defending. They include:

  • free speech and freedom of expression, including free media;

  • genuine respect for all faiths, races, and beliefs;

  • justice based upon a transparent and accountable rule of law;

  • the ability for every citizen, including women, to have a full and democratic stake in society;

  • a free economy which can build and spread prosperity.

Societies throughout the world are based on these values, which continue to evolve and develop. Of course we can all point to aspects of our societies which fall short of these aspirations. But we also know that the achievements we do have are based on centuries of struggle. The societies which express these values are not slight or passing. They are deeply rooted and profound and they have been built by the efforts of millions over centuries.

Moreover, it is important to appreciate how much and how rapidly these values have driven enormous political, economic and social change throughout the world over the past 30 years or so. In those 30 years:

  • Democracy has replaced fascist or military rule in Greece, Spain, and Portugal;

  • Democratic systems have replaced totalitarianism in most of Central and Eastern Europe;

  • Apartheid and colonialist rule have been replaced my more democratic systems in South and Southern Africa;

  • Democracy has replaced military dictatorships in most of Latin and Central America;

  • In Southeast Asia, democracy has replaced dictatorship.

And of course here in Bahrain, as in some other countries in this region, democracy has steadily increased.

Of course the process has varied from country to country; in some massive problems remain and in most there are still significant issues which remain to be addressed.

However, it is an extraordinary fact, in my opinion insufficiently celebrated, that in just one generation there has been such an absolutely enormous change in the world. It proves that change for the good can happen and, moreover, that it can happen in very many cases without violence or bloodshed. We should celebrate that.

In societies throughout the world, these values are embraced by the overwhelming majority of citizens, from whatever faith or ethnic group they come. For example, most of those who have migrated to the West have done so because they want to embrace those values. So these societies are characterized by common values but diverse backgrounds, faiths, and lifestyles.

This model of integration has in turn powered dramatic and positive political, social and economic change. It has driven creativity and economic success, but always within the framework of our common values.

We have democratic and vibrant societies which threaten no one but improve the quality of living for everyone.

What Is the Threat?

I believe that the modern terrorist threat has grown in order to challenge the democratic values which have spread so rapidly, changed societies so dramatically and challenged traditional cultures so sharply.

Many societies now have a highly successful model of integration which enables people of all backgrounds and faiths to prosper and live together within the safeguard of common values. But those societies which express that integration have themselves become an affront and reproach to the ideologues who believe that only their own way of living life is the right one. And they believe that to such an extent that they are ready literally to destroy alternatives based on democratic values.

And make no mistake: The threat we face is ideological. It is not driven by poverty, or by social exclusion, or by racial hatred. It was not the poor and dispossessed who attacked London in July 2005, New York in September 2001 or committed any of the other appalling atrocities. The criminals were, for the most part, well educated and prosperous. In the case of terrorists in the UK, they have also been ethnically and nationally diverse.

What drives these people on is a backward-looking ideology. They are quite unlike the liberation movements of 20th century. Theirs are not political ideas like national independence from colonial rule, or equality for all citizens without regard for race or creed, or freedom of expression without totalitarian repression. Such ambitions are, at least in principle, negotiable and in many cases have actually been negotiated.

However, there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of some type of Caliphate or the worldwide imposition of Sharia law in place of other legal forms; there can be no negotiation about the ending of free speech or the removal of fundamental democratic rights. These values are fundamental to peoples throughout the world. They are simply not up for negotiation.

It is equally wrong to claim, as some do, that the motivation of Al-Qaeda and their allies is driven by some desire to seek justice in the Middle East - the part of the world where progress towards democracy has been most difficult to achieve in the past 30 years. I do not accept that in any respect.

The only common thread in the approach of Al-Qaeda and its allies towards the Middle East is a violent and destructive opposition to democracy in any form. Whether in Israel, in Palestine, in Afghanistan or in Iraq, they resort to vicious and vile terrorism to do whatever they can to destroy any developments towards democracy, incidentally in direct defiance of the United Nations and of common decency.

The methods of terrorism, too, have changed. Because they recognize no common bonds with people who have different beliefs, they are prepared to kill indiscriminately. Indeed, mass murder is their explicit objective, their measure of success in their terms, and their methods of recruitment bear more comparison with self-destructive cults than political movements.

In fact, the whole approach of al-Qaeda and their like is more akin to 19th century nihilism than to 20th century liberation. But this modern nihilism is innovative, flexible, and cunning nihilism because al-Qaeda and the networks inspired by them approach their task with all the resources of modern technology and all the focus of modern zealotry.

The most important conclusion to draw from this analysis is that there is no particular government policy decision, or even some overall policy stance, which could be changed to escape from the al-Qaeda firing line. Their nihilism means that democratic societies would only cease to be a target if we were to renounce all those values of freedom and liberty which have been extend so far over so many years.

It is for these reasons that I profoundly believe that our only option is militantly to contest the threat of terrorism and then to defeat it.

Contesting the Threat

From the way in which I have described the threat which we all face, I hope that it will be clear that only an integrated and holistic response can succeed.

The title of this session of the Forum is "Basic Requirement for Homeland Safety: an Integrated Public Safety System" and it is that basic integration which is needed everywhere to maximize the effectiveness of our response.

There are some who will hope and even believe that if we could only find some golden bullet, some piece of hardware or some clever policy, these alone could repel the terrorist threat.

I believe profoundly that this is wrong and that we have to take a whole series of integrated steps to protect our safety and counter the terrorist threat. These steps fall into two categories.

The first is to build and strengthen the democracy of our society, to isolate extremist ideology in its various manifestations and to strengthen the legal framework within which we contest terrorism.

The second is to develop the most effective physical and technical means to protect our society. This means utilizing the most efficient intelligence-led systems to anticipate and prevent threats, employing the most modern methods to defend the Critical National Infrastructure (to use the jargon we use in the UK), and achieving the highest levels of staff professionalism and training.

I begin with the strengthening and protection of democracy.

The strongest societies are those which are based upon the true respect of one individual for another, one culture for another, one faith for another, one race for another. It means promoting the view that democracy, not violence, is the best means of making change in our societies, and it means working to strengthen our democracy so that young people from all communities can see the ways in which their engagement in our societies can bring about democratic change and reduce the alienation which can make individuals prey to those who seek to destroy us.

As part of this approach it is important to isolate extremist organizations and those individuals who promote extremism.

For example in Britain we have recently put in place legislation which outlaws incitement to religious or race hatred and makes it clear that glorification of terrorism is not a legitimate political expression of view. We have proscribed acts preparatory to terrorism and terrorist training and we have decided to attack the foci of extremist organization in Britain, whether they be in training camps, in prisons, in bookshops, or in places of worship. We are seeking to identify the networks and individuals who are promoting extremism, and we then seek to disrupt and weaken them.

All of these measures will further isolate and weaken those extremists who wish to promote terrorism as an appropriate form of activity.

And in this it is important to acknowledge the vitally important role of the mainstream faith communities, to encourage faiths to pursue their faith openly and directly rather than clandestinely, and to understand and engage with their preoccupations.

And part of those mainstream faith beliefs is the need for every community, and all faiths, to work together to reduce tensions and to assert the primacy of toleration and respect. This is overwhelmingly the existing practice throughout the world but it needs to be encouraged by all possible means.

I am not familiar enough with life here in Bahrain to make specific proposals for your society, and I don't think that it's appropriate to preach even if I did. However I am certain that the general principles which I have expressed hold good here too.

Conferences such as this Forum in Bahrain are an important means of building mutually supportive and exploratory relationships between the so-called West and Muslim countries which oppose extremism.

I turn now to the physical and technical means which we can now deploy, which are more powerful than ever before.

There are a variety of intelligence-led techniques which can help us to identify those who wish to threaten us. These include the biometric data on passports, visas, ID cards where they exist, and perhaps even driving licenses. As the United Nations Security Council has declared, harmonization of this data can greatly assist. So too can properly and legally authorized use of telecommunications date, as the European Union has agreed. The genuine civil liberties concerns which exist about use of such techniques can in my opinion be addressed through proper data protection legislation and legal oversight of police and security agencies.

For Critical National Infrastructure - those installations such as energy, water and health - there is now a great deal of professional expertise which can be used to raise levels of protection, and I am glad to say that professionals are already sharing expertise and knowledge.

The process is relatively simple - to identify what really is critical, to analyze the source and method of potential threats, and the related risks, and then to install the best possible levels of physical protection. The investment is worthwhile and across the world levels of expertise are now good.

None of this can be done however without the highest quality professionalism and training of staff. I saw this at first hand as Home Secretary in London after the 7/7 attacks. The professionalism and preparation in all the key services made a critical difference. It saved lives, it prevented panic, it strengthened the community's resilience against the attack. The adverse consequences of other disasters, where the professionalism was absent, were vastly magnified. Preparation and investment are very much worth the effort.

I finally want to mention the difficult and complicated issues of command, control and communications. I hesitate to touch on these matters as they can often go to the heart of sensitive professional and political relationships. However, particularly at a time of crisis, clarity and clear lines of responsibility and accountability are essential. And they need to be thought about and rehearsed before, not after the event.

Solidarity and Determination

I conclude today by asserting that the single most important weapon that we have in protecting our societies is our determination, conviction and solidarity.

Democracy is the strongest and most resilient form of society. It is the aspiration of peoples throughout the world. And ultimately it is through democracy that extremist terrorism will be defeated.

I wish you in Bahrain the very best in your own efforts to address this and I am certain that Britain will do whatever it can to give you support.

Thank you.


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