Terrorist Attacks on the USA Tenth Anniversary

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The Hon. MICHAEL GALLACHER (Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for the Hunter, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [9.41 a.m.]: I move:

That this House:

(a) notes with condolence the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States of America,

(b) acknowledges the 9/11 attacks as having a profound effect on our way of life, and

(c) condemns terrorism in all its forms.

The Hon. LUKE FOLEY (Leader of the Opposition) [9.52 a.m.]: On behalf of the Labor Opposition I support the Leader of the Government's motion. In our adversarial parliamentary system it usually seems that there is not much we can agree on in this place, but an event such as 9/11 boldly reverses that notion. Honourable members may come from different political perspectives, but on this issue we are as one. It is freedom that allows us to disagree within our democracy. Hence, we are in clear agreement when freedom itself is attacked. It often has been said that everyone will remember where they were on 9/11. Time differences meant that for people in New South Wales these horrific events began in the late evening and their full consequence was certainly not known until midnight. My then girlfriend, now my wife, phoned me from Ireland, waking me. "Is your TV on?" she asked.

For those of us who watched it unfold live, it was surreal at first. But the news was real, and as the minutes ticked by it rapidly worsened. At first it was a light plane and thought to be an accident. Then it was an airliner and still presumed to be an accident. Then another airliner appeared and the sickening gravity of what was happening was instantly felt in living rooms across New South Wales and the world. From there the news got worse and worse. Indeed, it would take until the next day for any light to break through this incredibly black scene. When that light came it would be in how communities responded—communities of people and of nations. We did not need 10 years to prove this, it was evident within hours.

It was evident when the mystery of why flight 93 had apparently targeted a field in Pennsylvania was solved in a voicemail that revealed how ordinary people had sacrificed their lives to save others. It was evident when 80,000 construction workers from across New York downed tools to work for free, carting out rubble by the bucketload and doing all they could to preserve the chance of life within. It was evident in the instant and visceral response of democracies around the world, perhaps best captured in leading French Newspaper Le Monde's headline, "We are all Americans". It was evident in this Parliament when, as today, this issue united all members. As Premier Carr noted: A catastrophe like this bonds us as human beings and great good can sometimes flow from enormous evil as if, when facing the darkness, we most value the light. [These] events have shown us that human goodness is a fact—it is unstoppable … The firemen and police who walked into the shadow of two great wobbly towers and climbed the stairs were probably aware they would not survive … The husbands, wives, sons and daughters who rang loved ones from those planes and wrecked offices to say, "Goodbye, I am unlikely to survive this. It was good to have been your friend upon the earth."

Then there are the thousands who volunteered their blood, their hands, their exhaustion for the long nights and days that followed. Sometimes it takes this enormity to show the generosity of the human spirit. But it is not good that the few who are not susceptible to mercy, can do such harm to so many.

I highlight Premier Carr's description "the few that are not susceptible to mercy". I highlight that to remind us that those who perpetrated these acts designed to shatter the contract of human society placed themselves beyond the covenants of our human community. This reminder is necessary 10 years on in the wake of one of the unexpected consequences of 9/11. That consequence was an emergence of a viewpoint that America was, or is, somehow to blame for 9/11 or at least that so-called western imperialism allows us to turn a blind eye to Al Qaeda's medieval cult of death. In my maiden speech to this House I said:

Today, a totalitarian movement of the far right is threatening pluralist democracies, and the lives and freedoms of people in many societies, including our own. This movement's extremist ideology is based on an utter perversion of the Islamic faith.

It makes me wonder where this ambiguity comes from, because Al Qaeda's homicidal fanatics are completely unambiguous in what they believe. They reject the Enlightenment. They despise the social democratic, egalitarian, feminist and anti-colonial transformations of the twentieth century. They are against almost every aspect of modernity. Yet they are tacitly excused by some on the basis that the west's response to geopolitical challenges has not always been all it could be.

I would be the first to acknowledge that America's response, indeed the West's response, in the 10 years since 9/11 has been imperfect. I described America at the outset of these remarks as representing its founding ideals ever imperfectly, because pluralist democracy, perfect in its concept, is always imperfect in its execution. By its very nature it throws up significant challenges and great contradictions. But these challenges and contradictions should never be rationalised into apologia for extremism, misogyny, racism, homophobia and barbarism. In my view that is not only morally wrong but ultimately counterproductive to addressing the Middle East's real and significant human rights concerns. The deficits in freedom and rights in the Arab world, which are serious, are predominantly caused by factors that are home grown and not attributable to the United States of America or to Israel. This is the finding of the 2009 United Nations Arab Human Development Report and it is that underlying truth that has led to a great awakening of Arab peoples today, determined to assert their dignity and gain their freedom. Millions of Arabs today are rejecting Al Qaeda's death cult.

The apologia I speak of is also counterproductive to a goal that I think we all share 10 years on from 9/11, and that is to prevent more days like it. I draw members' attention to a recent forum held in the United States of America to discuss the lessons of 9/11. It was staged by the United States National Public Radio and garnered together truly serious players from all sides of the political spectrum. Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Freidman revealed that his greatest lesson from 9/11 occurred on 12 September. Freidman was reporting from Israel at the time and so immediately took the opportunity to speak to experts in Israeli defence circles about what they had learned from their long experience of dealing with suicide bombers. The answer he recounts is telling:

They said: Tom, we are really good because our intel is very good. We can get Khalid before he blows up a pizza parlour.

We can get Marwan before he blows up a disco.

But you know what? Then Mohammed will get through.

Mohammed will get through unless the village says no.

Friedman's point is as relevant in New South Wales as it is in the Middle East. Unless all communities fundamentally and unambiguously reject these kinds of attacks and the politics that support them, a false vision of credibility will remain in which this violent, bestial form of hatred can still be sown. This, then, is something else for us to remember today. Just as we remember the horror of 10 years ago, the sacrifices it brought and the moments of great human spirit that emerged to reject barbarism and murder, just as some issues are beyond the political divides of this Chamber, so too I believe some priorities should transcend the myriad politics that our democratic system allows to thrive. I believe today it is timely for us to recall not only the horror, fear and disgust we felt on September 11 but also the united voice of determination that we expressed as a community of nations on September 12. In all that we remember today, we would do well to also remember the spirit encapsulated in that Le Monde headline: When fanaticism strikes at a fellow democracy this unites us above any differences we have and on a day such as this "We are all Americans."