Question Time 13th September 2001
Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat)
Tam Dalyell (Labour)
Philip Lader (US Ambassador to London)
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (Journalist)
Following the September 11th 2001 terrorist attack on New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a Question Time special was aired only 48 hours later. In haste and broadcast with the events of the previous Tuesday still unclear, this was a mistake as was broadcasting without editing. Later, the Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, apologised in person to the American Ambassador. Who was present and what was all the fuss about? Read on.
David Dimbleby opened the programme linked straight from Peter Sissons on the BBC news. Seven hundred Britons were feared dead in the attack, the chair claimed. How will America respond and what role should Britain play?
In fact, 67 Britons had perished, out of a total of 2,977 fatalities. Although at the time, and in the show, speculation suggested tens of thousands had died.
Question one, won’t a heated US response provoke more violence?
Paddy Ashdown (Liberal Democrat) replied yes it could, a matter we have to bear in mind. From now on, Mr Ashdown added, all has changed. The age of the superpower has faded. He posed himself a rhetorical question, may this lead to war between nations in the regions involved? The aim of the terrorists is to provoke overreaction, as per Israel being provoked into overreaction to suicide bombings. ‘Measured’, ‘proportionate’ and ‘precisely targetted’ were Mr Ashdown’s keywords. He didn’t like the word ‘war’ and preferred ‘conflict’. At that point, a coalition of revulsion which included America’s enemies straddled the world.
Who are we declaring war against? Asked an audience member. Bin Ladin isn’t a nation-state, rather a Saudi living in Afghanistan. A war would kill innocent people, she added to applause.
His Excellency Philip Lader (US Ambassador) used the words ‘purposeful, measured, proportionate’. First, we must establish with certainty who was to blame and then act to prevent further attacks.
Dimbleby asked, well, what’s to do? Do you rule out an invasion of Afghanistan?
Mr Lader replied the advice to the president would come from across a range of military and legal experts.
A youthful-looking Yasmin Alibiah-Brown (journalist) thought the United States now faced new realities. She was applauded as she said she was shocked Americans were shocked to discover people hated them.
How long will Americans wait to respond? Wondered a young woman.
Shouty Tom Dalyell (Labour) barked, as per the 1988 Lockerbie bombing blame takes a long time to attribute with accuracy. If others are killed on impulse we will be making the situation worse and Bin Laden and his like will be delighted. So-called collateral damage would evaporate any sympathy for America in the Arab world.
At the time, leftie blue blood Tam Dalyell was the Labour MP for Linlithgow.
Born in a stately home, the House of Binns sits in 200 acres of parkland a few hundred yards from the Firth of Forth. Tam was privately educated at Eton College, his father being the colonial civil servant Gordon Loch CIE (Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire).
Tam became a Dalyell when his mother inherited the baronetcy of Dalyell in 1938. Mr Dalyell did his national service in the Royal Scots Greys before attending Kings College, Cambridge where he graduated in History.
After teacher training, he taught at Bo’ness Academy eventually being elected to parliament in 1962 as MP for West Lothian. A perpetual backbencher, Dalyell took advantage of the latitude allowed by becoming an independently minded member of the House, not least during the Falklands war. As if Mr Belgrano, he enjoyed being the centre of a number of controversies involving the sinking of the Argentinian warship.
In 2005, Dalyell stood down from his seat after being an MP for 43 years, the final four of them as Father of the House.
His 2011 autobiography was entitled The Importance of Being Awkward. The awkwardness included opposing his own party’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and calling Prime Minister Tony Blair a war criminal. Mr Dalyell died in 2017, after a short illness, aged 84.
Despite being close to the start, it was already noticeable, in contrast to the present day, Dimbleby was a proactive and incise-full chair and the panellists spoke clearly and slowly and had something interesting to say.
“War?” said a lady to applause. While the bodies are still being counted can we justify killing others in a war?
Dimbleby pointed to the audience and asked for an opposing view.
You always come on the side of the terrorist, was the reply addressed to Dalyell, and have done for years.
The point was refuted by Tam. A war had been going on for ten years, given the daily bombing of post Gulf War I no-fly zone Iraq. The brothers and sisters of these people will be exploited by Bin Laden. An unpalatable fact needing to be addressed.
Dalyell was taken to task again from the audience. A contributor pointed out the Americans were defending Kurds from Saddam Hussein. He referenced Halabja, a nerve gas attack also in 1988. Vigorously contradicted by hecklers, he claimed the American’s no-fly zone defended Muslims.
Given the noise, Dimbleby had to insist people were quiet.
An Anglo-Arab lady spoke. People in Libya, Sudan and Palestine also know what it’s like to be killed – a reference to contemporaneous American and Israeli military action in those places.
As a second question, a Mr Fenwick asked if Britain should support America no matter what?
The Ambassador replied the United States appreciated the support of Prime Minister Blair, Defence Minister Robertson and NATO. To which he added, no religion has a monopoly on fanaticism. It is an error to connect the actions of fanatics with the people at large.
Yasmin Alibiah-Brown was concerned at the language of a Mr Rubens (careful now) who had spoken of this conflict as being between the civilised and the uncivilised. This wasn’t acceptable. The Oklahoma bomber (Timothy McVeigh, who murdered 167 by bombing Oklahoma City Hall in protest against his own government) was an American and very uncivilised.
Dimbleby pointed out we didn’t know who Mr Reuben was.
Tam Dalyell referred to the mention of Sudan. A chemical weapons factory had been bombed, by the Clinton administration, which turned out to be nothing of the kind. A huge error teaching us to be certain before launching military action.
Paddy Ashdown began his answer with a simple “No” and continued with, “And neither are we required to do so.” Neither did we want the US to slip into isolationism and unilateralism. It was right NATO should be involved. NATO was committed to solidarity and a right to consultation between its members.
It is possible, we don’t use force but the suspects are given up to stand trial. Those responsible must suffer a penalty in a court of law, or the right and precise target must be struck with the agreement of the majority of NATO members.
A contributor mentioned Ulster. In the 1990s, clandestine links with the IRA had established a dialogue. He wondered of the merit of trying likewise with the perpetrators of 9/11 and thence resolve the issue with a negotiated dialogue?
Yasmin said every option was open. She wouldn’t exclude a negotiated solution but that would not be popular with American public opinion.
In spite of many promises to leave the county, Brexit, a Boris majority etc, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (NHRN) is still with us. Aged a youthful-looking 51 at the time of this programme, Mrs Alibhai-Brown was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1949. One of the Gujarati Damji’s, Yasmin’s family were Ugandan Asians living in East Africa under the Idi Amin regime. After graduating from the exclusive Makerere University (alma mater of QT Review favourite George the Poet’s mother) she left Uganda but, despite the impression she sometimes gives, before her fellow Ugandan Asians had been expelled by Amin.
A Master of Philosophy with a degree in literature from Linacre College, University of Oxford, Yasmin is married to Colin Brown, a quango wallah and former chairman of the Consumer Services Panel of the Financial Services Authority. A London leftie media bubble lifer, Ms Alibia-Brown has made a career out of selectively laying the race card, with some ethnicities (careful now) being less well protected by her than others.
More recently on GB News Review modest Welsh war hero Simon Weston nailed the panel’s dilemma. He reminded us some things are so awful they demand a call to arms. Likewise, some are so beyond reason they demand the use of force against them.
The message hadn’t sunk in by the 13th September 2001 (as we shall find in part two) with much of the BBC Question Time audience, and some on the panel, determined to kick the Careful Now closet door off its hinges.
To be continued ……
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