War on terror brings out our best

Articles and op-ed

Kevin Rudd

Published in: The Daily Telegraph

12 September 2011

It is extraordinary that 10 years have passed since the Twin Towers fell. In so many respects it feels like yesterday. But the immediacy of the memories betrays the fact that in the decade since the most brazen and evil terrorist attack in history, a lot has happened, and still more has been learned.

There are things we now know, that were not clear as the dust settled a decade ago.

First, we have learned that we, the collective West, are resilient. We can fight back. And we can prevail. After September 11, we redoubled our fight against terrorism.

Our police and security forces are better trained to pre-empt an attack.

We can identify our adversaries, better and earlier. We have built networks and partnerships to go after the threats. Ten years on from 9/11, the international community is now better equipped to deal with terrorism.

It's getting harder for terrorists to plan, fund and carry out attacks. Terrorism has not, and will not, undermine our way of life. Those who feared that it would weaken us forever have been proven decisively wrong.

Second, we have learned that the costs are high.

In Afghanistan, our troops and our allies work to ensure that country can never again be a base for attacks on our homelands.

Twenty nine have now perished, wearing the uniform of Australia, and following the nation's highest calling. Today is a day to remember them and their sacrifice.

Third, we have learned that our security services, far from losing relevance post-Cold War, have a real and vital role to play in keeping us safe.

Though the security services mostly stay in the shadows, the impact of their work is clear. Since 2000, our law enforcement agencies have stopped four attacks in Australia. This has resulted in 38 prosecutions and 22 convictions of people associated with terrorism.

Some of what they do is plain to see - the way they make our airports safer, the large scale police operations. Some changes we don't see, but they are all there to protect us.

Fourth, we have learned that terrorism is, very much, still with us. In 2010 alone, there were 11,500 terrorist attacks in 72 countries, resulting in almost 13,200 deaths. Most of the targets and victims of terrorism are innocent civilians; children, women, men going about their daily lives.

Each one its own tragedy.

We cannot doubt what we are up against, or the investments we must make to prevent terrorists from eroding the freedoms we take for granted. There can be no question of competing priorities in how we deploy our security forces. This is an enemy that cannot be deterred through show of force or persuasion ... we must therefore defeat terrorists whenever we encounter them. We must deny them any opportunity to spread their hate.

Fifth, we have learned that the terrorists are highly adaptive and resourceful.

Our security forces, with our allies, have had many successes. But the enemy constantly changes its location, its modus operandi, and its point of attack.

We have had real success in weakening al-Qaeda in its core in Afghanistan. Our close partners in Indonesia have neutralised many terrorist cells. But new threats have arisen in Somalia, Yemen and the Sahel. Like the Hydra of Greek mythology, the defeat of one part of the threat does not disable it all.

Sixth, we have learned that there is no low to which this enemy will not stoop.

We can never hope to understand what drives organisations such as al-Qaeda and the like, who plot barbarous attacks in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In Nigeria, terrorists wouldn't spare the United Nations, the guardian of human rights and dignity. In 1998, terrorists attacked the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya but it was Tanzanians and Kenyans, not Americans, they killed in the greatest numbers.

In fact, of the 229 who perished that day, only a dozen were the ones terrorists claimed as targets.

Seventh, we have learned that, while there will be dark days in the fight against terrorism, there will also be days of stunning success.

Osama bin Laden's removal was a major strike against terrorism. And we pay tribute today to the skill of the US Navy SEALs who led the operation on bin Laden, and the many others whose essential work made it a success.

Eighth, we have learned that our cooperation in countering the worst of humanity can bring out the best in us.

Our work against terrorism has forged strong partnerships with countries in South-East Asia. The cooperation between the Indonesian National Police and the Australian Federal Police following the Bali bombing has served as a model for our cooperation with Indonesia in many fields.

It could easily not have been so - the complex and stressful work of the police forces might easily have ended in recrimination and bitterness.

Instead, Indonesia's success in tracking down, arresting and convicting large numbers of terrorists has proven they are our partners in this shared endeavour.

Ninth, we have learned that, chillingly, this threat does not necessarily come from abroad.

New threats from "home-grown" and "self-radicalised" individuals continue to emerge.

Australia has not been immune. A group of radicals who grew up amongst us planned to attack an Australian military installation but were foiled by our security services.

And the recent actions of the lone killer in Oslo were a chilling reminder of the scale of destruction that a single madman can wreak. We are ever alert and on our guard.

As a community it is up to us to challenge those who see terrorism as a way of imposing their repressive views. We must remain united in this challenge. Terrorism fails every time when communities stand up for shared values and principles.

And lastly, we have learned what we always knew - that every human life is precious, beyond value.

We must never shirk the tough task of standing up to terrorism, and never avoid paying the price to thwart it. Because each of the 2977 who perished 10 years ago was one of those priceless, unique and special things: a human life.

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