Charles Kennedy: Don't forget that we live in a liberal democracy

From an address by the leader of the Liberal Democrats to the party conference, in Bournemouth
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The Independent Online

We meet against an unimaginable backdrop. It is hard to find words adequate to give proper voice by way of response, far less respect. Now immediate emotions inevitably begin to subside, but they will never go away. Nor should they. We Liberal Democrats must be clear about our intentions. Resolve. There cannot be capitulation to the terrorist. Determination. That we strike at the heart of international terrorism. And equal determination that in combating terrorism we do not lose sight of the fact, at one and the same time, that we live – actually – in a liberal democracy, and the principles of democracy are what we're all about.

One of our particular duties is to make it clear that short-term kneejerk responses never provide long-term solutions. We have to be especially vigilant against those people who would seek to make scapegoats of Muslims in Britain. Let us be quite clear, we have no quarrel with the Muslim community and no quarrel with the Islamic faith.

Do not underestimate the real, ongoing pressures and the public scrutiny that goes with that, which will be upon us in the times ahead. Proportionate response is not just about military measures. Proportionate response is also about civil liberties. The scandal that is terrorism is all about civil liberties. In facing those dilemmas, we are best to remember our first principles. We subscribe to the rule of law, violated over the skyline of the United States on 11 September. But that subscription, as the very word implies, comes with a price tag attached. It involves realism and risk.Realism means facing the stark truth – that the terrorist will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing. Risk is about the consequences of your response.

Now that's where we stand. And that defines our response and our reasoning in the wake of these dreadful events. When Parliament was reconvened, I couldn't help but cast my mind back to such a happy year as a student in the Midwest of the States. Friendships were made there. What struck me then, what I didn't understand properly, was the extent to which the Midwest can almost be a country that is very different from the rest of the country, which, when you think about it, itself is a continent.

But what is so striking now is the remarkable degree of spontaneous unity right across America. A unity of understandable anger. But the fear that can flow from that can be dangerous. That's where a candid friend comes in. Standing shoulder to shoulder, but always there for the occasional cautionary tap on the shoulder.

The most special relationships, in my experience, are based on a combination of trust and mutual respect. And as America's candid friend, we are able to say: there are no blank cheques to be issued to the US. The way to defeat international terrorism is through international co-operation based on international law, clear intelligence and a measured and appropriate military response.

And let me say this where military response is concerned: we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that where our armed forces are involved, the risks to them are quantified and minimised. We cannot shelve or abandon that requirement.

That means supporting American actions only in the knowledge that Britain will be involved in all planning and risk assessment. All that, we owe that to our armed forces. And let me also, incidentally, pay tribute to the BBC World Service. As ever, one of the key contributions that Britain can make to the coalition against terror and suppression is to offer accurate information and rational analysis.

But do remember. War is not the word. Nor is crusade. Resolve is. We have got to fashion a mindset, to find that approach which begins to address the roots of such evil. We do need to get back to those first. In the face of such violation, be inviolate. Don't flinch. Democracy must prevail and it will.

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