Tackle terrorism with common sense

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2006, 12:00am

The speech made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Australia yesterday suggests western nations leading the fight against terrorism have failed to learn important lessons since the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001.

Mr Blair's call for a global alliance against Islamist extremists echoed exactly what US President George W. Bush said in the wake of the atrocities 41/2 years ago.

Mr Bush acknowledged then, as did Mr Blair, that the fight would be long and difficult, but that the terrorists would be tracked down and eliminated, wherever in the world they were. They were right to want to make the world a safer place. But in practice, the opposite has occurred. This is because of the way in which the 'war on terror' has been implemented.

Yet the British leader does not seem to recognise that a change of policy is in order. He continued, in his speech, on the same theme when he told Australian politicians that the only way to secure our way of life was 'to fight for it' and that meant 'standing up for our values not just in our own countries but the world over'.

That was valid when it came to overthrowing Afghanistan's Muslim extremist Taleban government and taking on the al-Qaeda terrorists they were protecting in the months after September 11; it was not, though, when the so-called 'war on terror' moved on to Iraq in 2003 without UN Security Council clearance.

The lack of international support has contributed to the global instability now faced by all nations. With the authority of the UN eroded, the unilateral approach to the Iraq invasion adopted by the US and its allies created shortcomings in securing the country that may have been avoided if a wider consultation had been permitted. Sensitivity towards the possibility of a wider rift between western nations and the Arab and Muslim worlds would also have received greater consideration.

Mr Blair's impassioned plea for protection of 'global values' of fairness, justice and freedom is the least that a leader could want for his or her nation and the people of the world. They are the basis of democracy, which the United States and its key allies in fighting terrorism, Britain and Australia, have done much to help restore to Afghanistan and Iraq. As Mr Bush has also promised, the British leader said his nation's troops would stay in those countries until they had been stabilised and if the 'going is tough, we tough it out'. Such sentiments must be commended.

Taking on the role of international terrorist fighters without broad approval, though, cannot be condoned. As the struggle against terrorism continues, they must act with UN backing. At the same time, the US and its allies, must seek ways to work with, not against, Arab and Muslim countries. One approach would be through free and fair trade and encouraging investment to help economies grow. Terrorism will only be tackled through a multilateral, wide-ranging, approach - not a dangerous, short-sighted one.