The Blair Doctrine

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


ipeITony Blair’s latest speech on Islam is significant as much for what it doesn’t mention as for what it does. Not long ago, a speech of this sort would have been rich with contrasts between dictatorship and democracy. Democracy, the audience would have been told solemnly, equals freedom and modernity.

Instead Blair mentions the word ‘democracy’ only three times.

The first time he’s referring to Israel and the second time he disavows the entire program of dropping elections on Muslim countries and expecting their populations to make the right choices. Instead he argues,

“Democracy cannot function except as a way of thinking as well as voting. You put your view; you may lose; you try to win next time; or you win but you accept that you may lose next time. That is not the way that the Islamist ideology works.”

This is very much a post-Arab Spring speech and though he offers obligatory praise of that over-hyped phenomenon, the lessons he has drawn from its failure make for a changed perspective.

How changed? Blair endorses the Egyptian popular overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood and urges support for the new government within the larger context of “supporting and assisting” those who take on “Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood”.

That’s an impossible position in Washington D.C., but it emerges naturally out of an understanding that democracy isn’t enough and that an Islamist political victory inherently dismantles democracy.

“Islamist ideology”, Blair says, has an “exclusivist” ultimate goal, which is “not a society which someone else can change after winning an election”. The Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist groups, he says, are both part of an “overall ideology” in which “such extremism can take root”. They are all totalitarian group that differ on “how to achieve the goals of Islamism” rather than on “what those goals are.”

Democracy is downright destructive in a political landscape in which Islamic political forces compete. Instead Blair’s new doctrine replaces democracy with religious freedom.

The former British Prime Minister calls for supporting “the principles of religious freedom and open, rule based economies.  It means helping those countries whose people wish to embrace those principles to achieve them. Where there has been revolution, we should be on the side of those who support those principles and opposed to those who would thwart them.”

That position, Blair continues, leads him to support the Egyptian uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood and even interim Assad rule until a final agreement is concluded.

While that may not seem like much, imagine the last 15 years if the obsession with using democracy to replace dictatorships had instead been turned to promoting religious freedom at the expense of Islamic rule. Imagine if we made tolerance for Christians and other religious minorities into the defining line instead of the meaningless one of holding majority rule Muslim elections.

The Blair Doctrine surgically replaces democracy with religious freedom while leaving the larger worldview so common in European and American political circles untouched so that it does not seem like a shift, but a natural adaptation to the failures of the Arab Spring.

Blair cannot and will not say that the problem with democracy in countries with an Islamic majority is the tyranny of the majority, nor does he ever use the word ‘secularism’, and his rhetoric is largely dependent on assumptions made in the aftermath of the Cold War by a comfortable West.

He speaks positively of globalization, without conceding that the UK has a terrorism crisis largely because of it. He briefly mentions the export of ‘radicalism’ from the Middle East, but aside from the Muslim Brotherhood’s growing power in Europe, he doesn’t elaborate.

To a multicultural left that already embraces Burkas and FGM, his speech is rage fodder. But while Blair may have helped turn Islam into a problem in the UK, it’s his foes on the left who have championed its worst aspects.

Tony Blair is no Geert Wilders and the UK’s problem with Islam is in no small part of his making due to his government’s immigration policies, but revolutionary ideas are more likely to be accepted from thoroughly establishment sources.

In his speech, Blair argues that reactionary Islamic rule is the problem, rather than mere tyranny. It’s a shift that invalidates the entire political Islam movement behind the Arab Spring. And for all the many ways that he covers his tracks, subdividing Islam from Islamism, he does hold a nearly firm line on Islamic rule. That is a rarity in a world order which had come to embrace political Islam as the future.

And yet Blair’s speech isn’t really that revolutionary. It’s a reaction to current events such as the degeneration of Erdogan’s Turkey, once used by Western diplomats as a model of Muslim democracy, into a brutal tyranny whose abuses the world is no longer able to ignore, the collapse of the Arab Spring and the failure of elections to bring peace to the religious conflicts in the Muslim world.

The establishment parties and pundits have had little to say about it. The Obama-Romney foreign policy debate has been largely mirrored across the ocean in Europe. Widely hated by his own party, Blair has little to lose by offering a shift that seems very mild, while explaining the failures of the past 15 years in terms of a new paradigm. It’s much more graceful than Cameron’s episodes of unconvincingly bellicose rhetoric, to say nothing of his opposite number, and yet for all its shortcomings, it’s also very promising.

If religious freedom replaces democracy as the metric by which we judge Muslim countries, if we put as much effort into protecting the rights of minorities as we did into promoting elections, we will finally be on the right track. And even if we accomplish little, the metric effectively blocks the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various front groups.

And that is no small thing.

The Blair Doctrine, while paying ample lip service to the peaceful nature of Islam, would block the rise of Islamic political parties. It would make pluralism into the new democracy and “religious extremism” into the new tyranny. It would be far less interested in majority rule elections and far more cognizant of protecting the diversity of political and religious expression.

It would apply the very metrics that the modern left insists on applying to the West, but refuses to apply to the Third World, to the Muslim world.

Republicans could do worse than put copies of the speech into the hands of presidential candidates still mumbling confused nonsense about the region. Blair offers much of the same rhetoric, but with a clear focus on the lack of religious freedom. If Romney had been operating from the Blair Doctrine, he might have been able to put forward a polished and reasonable worldview in the debate.

There are plenty of things wrong with Blair’s speech. He believes the Saudis are reformers, that the Palestinian Arabs want peace and that the issue isn’t Islam as a religion. But he is also surprisingly honest about Egypt, Syria and Libya; and about the links between Islamic power and violence.

And the Blair Doctrine’s shift from democracy to religious freedom could fundamentally change our relationship with the Muslim world.

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  • truebearing

    Excellent analysis of Blair’s strategy, Daniel. Upon first reading the speech, it seemed that Blair was throwing in a bit of everything, but his strategic change of focus from democracy — a stepping stone to totalitarianism in Egypt — to religious freedom, is the first effective strategy for dealing with Islam to come out of the West. It goes to the heart of the problem with Islam.

    Beyond proposing a new paradigm that is hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islam in general, Blair has has taken a position that is adversarial to Obama’s pro-Islamist policies. It’s hard to imagine any cooperation between the two. If this doesn’t enrage Obama it will be a minor miracle.

    Blair seems naive about Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians, but it is unlikely that he can so clearly see the incompatiblity of Islam within free societies, yet not see it in those countries. Blair may simply be avoiding the appearance of opposing all Muslims. It seems to be a strategy of incremental rejection of Islam, regardless of whatever lip service is necessary to calm certain nations.

  • Naresh Krishnamoorti

    As I’ve been saying for years, Baathist-type rule is most suited to the region, and our foreign policy should always prefer such rule to any Islamist rule, even if democratically-elected. Political process is never as important as substance (protection of religious minorities) — something often lost, I’m afraid, on neo-Wilsonian idealists, both Republican and Democrat.

    • Softly Bob

      I agree with you 100%

    • truebearing

      Successful democracies are entirely dependent on the moral make-up of the people. Muslims are the least likely to succeed of any group i can imagine.

    • Jeff Ludwig

      Wasn’t Saddam a Baathist-type? I think you’ve missed something.

      • MLCBLOG

        Saddam was a success??

        • Jeff Ludwig

          No. My point was to contradict Naresh’s statement to the effect that “our foreign policy should always prefer such [Baathist-type rule] to any Islamist rule….” So, I was saying that Saddam existence as a terrible murderer and despot disproves Naresh’s assertion. MLCBLOG, you and I are on the same page…..

  • Allat

    The only way to reform this belief system and protect its victims would be for its adherents to accept that their prophet was turned by the devil during the satanic verses fiasco. This scenario is improbable and so we must prepare for another kind of peace.

  • Gee

    Islam is a fascist cult. They meet the definition of fascism to a “T” and there is no ambiguity about. There is no ‘radical Islam’ and there is no ‘moderate Islam’. That is akin saying there is radical and moderate fascism.

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  • margstar

    Too little, too late.

  • mollysdad

    What Blair’s speech is predicated upon is the notion that human rights (including religious freedom) must have priority over democracy, and that democratic processes are a means to a substantive end which is fixed by the requirements of securing human rights. If democracy leads to the overthrow of human rights, then there is a theoretical case for ending it, restricting it, or excluding certain contingents from participating in it.

    This suggests a religious premiss. If anyone says that God requires Muslims to impose, and the nations to receive, shari’a as the law of the land on pain of incurring God’s displeasure, then the curse of God is upon him.

    • NAHALKIDES

      And of course the notion that human rights have priority over the will of the majority is the principle this nation was founded on. Western politicians are probably so scared of recognizing this principle that they don’t dare enunciate it with respect to the Muslim world, for fear they would have to start respecting individual rights in America and Western Europe again.

      • MLCBLOG

        I think you are not exactly correct here. We were founded on the greatest good for all, not the overturning of principles for the sake of someone’s hurt feelings. Things are really skewed from that aspect. Individual rights is not the be all and end all. We were designed to remain as a cohesive society that could benefit all of or, that is, the most people.

        • NAHALKIDES

          The idea you are extolling is called “social utility” – the greatest good for the greatest number – and it is most emphatically not the idea that animated the American Revolution. You need to read Locke, Jefferson, etc. until this is clear to you. The Founders understood that the only legitimate purpose of government is the protection of the individual’s rights; in doing this, the individual was given recompense for agreeing to obey society’s laws and society benefited from the creative flourishing of its individual members.

          Your idea, taken to its logical conclusion, means that a sufficiently large majority is entitled to dispose of the lives of the minority any way its sees fit. Nothing would stop such a majority from declaring that its happiness required the minority’s execution and the expropriation of their property.

  • al_kidya

    Why do so many politicians seem so painfully uneducated on political Islam? Even retired politicians, who’ve had plenty of time to do a lot of research…? It’s truly puzzling. Excellent analysis, Daniel.

    • iluvisrael

      Most pols don’t have the guts to call islam what it really is – a bloodthirsty death cult incompatible with democracy.

    • Hank Rearden

      Agree. Nice that Blair is saying it, but he didn’t DO it when he was in office. Just how complicated an idea is this?

  • thult

    Tony Blair was/is a huge buddy of Jorge W. Bush! Remember, it was Jorge who declared, “Islam is a religion of peace!” It was also Jorge who embraced and promoted AMNESTY for ILLEGAL ALIENS, based on “Compassionate Conservatism,” which supersedes the U.S. Constitution and our American notion of LAWS! Jorge Bush, with his uncontrolled spending, set the pattern for Barack Hussein Obama’s spending and the TOTALITARIAN upending of that same U.S. Constitution.

    People, it’s NOT the “rule of law,” a Constitution, right versus wrong, or even Democracy that matters! It’s all about CONTROL!

  • hrwolfe

    Nixon professed as much in his book The Real War where he correctly stated that Americans (and westerners) expect 3rd world countries to to have Jeffersonian ideals, heck they’ve yet to had the trash picked up yet by civil government. They must evolve before they can develop that rationale, until then they respect a strong leader who establishes rule of law or stability. That is what should have been hung on to in Iraq and Afghanistan, the end game in Vietnam proved that.

  • Michael Copeland

    Yes, Mr. Blair, “There is a problem within Islam”. Ordinary basic Islam neatly fits the UK government’s definition of “violent extremism”.
    http://libertygb.org.uk/v1/index.php/home/root/news-libertygb/6183-extremism-there-is-a-problem-within-islam

    • kikorikid

      Our paradymes(sp) and models may become
      extremely accurate with a high degree
      of explanatory efficacy. It helps.
      It does not change or effect the
      Islamist outlook a bit. We can stop
      armed Jihad, with force, but we can’t
      change it with a model shift.

      • Jeff Ludwig

        But with a paradigm shift, we might get something that looks more like justice than what we have now. The 9/11 murderers still have not had their cases resolved. Maj. Hasan is still appealing. Years elapse…. justice at present is thwarted. So there needs to be a paradigm change whereby a truer perspective allows us to take more vigorous action against society’s enemies both within and without.

  • Ellen_L

    There is even more of a problem understanding the difference between democracy as mob rule and a constitutional republic that sets rules for governing and for respecting the rights of individuals. Self rule begins with individual liberty not with the mob determining how everyone must believe and behave. The first step is a constitution that outlines liberty and government limits then one can elect people to administer it. That was the biggest mistake of the Bush policies and fed into today’s problems. And it was obvious at the time – there is no excuse like unforeseen consequences – they were predictable. Of course, ignoring the law altogether and having no firm principles like the current administration is even worse.

  • Edgar Davidson

    Blair’s speech brought the antisemitic Israel haters out in force today on all the radio phone-ins in the UK where it was discussed. The ‘quality’ of the debate is well summed up by a letter that was published in today’s London Evening Standard:

    http://edgar1981.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/blairs-speech-on-islamist-threat-brings.html

    • Daniel Greenfield

      a chorus of Iraq and Israel while the next bombing, the next grooming gang awaits

  • zoomie

    a moderate muslim is pleased when a radical muslim kills you

    • ricpic

      Yes. The truth is awful. But refreshing to hear.

  • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

    Thanks for the Blair-update. It’s accurate and a respectful read of Blair’s awakening. Now there’s a social democrat I don’t mind losing elections to … as least I can respect the guy.

    • truebearing

      His awakening wil inexorably push him to the Right. Facing reality has that effect.

      • http://libertyandculture.blogspot.com/ Jason P

        Indeed! It used to be called “mugged by reality.”

  • wileyvet

    Did you know that Muhammad said that the Devil resides in your nose at night, so you have to flush 3 times in the morning to get him out? Also, Muhammad said that if you fall asleep during prayer, the Devil urinates in your ear. He also told his followers to drink camel urine and that non muslims have 7 intestines. Pretty weird, huh? This is a small sample, among hundreds, of the thinking that infests the minds in the cult of Mohammad, whose followers today demand that no examination or criticism of THEIR prophet ever be made.

  • WJM

    Daniel … Great analysis but you did leave out the part where Blair stated that we need to work with Vladimir Putin to counter Islamists rather than to fight him over the Crimea. Shadi Hamid, a fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said that Mr Blair’s speech demonstrated ‘some of the most embarrassingly simple-minded analysis I’ve seen from a mainstream politician.’ Hamid’s point, of course, was that Russia is authoritarian and we should be working with the peaceful Islamic nations which are not. Hamid sounds like John McCain. I’m with Blair

  • philbest

    Blair’s speech is an encouraging sign, and Greenfield’s essay on it is very helpful.

  • ricpic

    Is there any chance that Blair’s emphasis on religious tolerance will save a single Christian life in the mideast? Not now. Forget now. Five years out. Ten years out. There has to be a will behind a way and I barely sense a pulse in the West.

  • Horace Yo

    There is at last some hope. Blair has probably seen enough Islam up close recently (his sister in law converted to Islam whole hog). Also he’s an intelligent man and lives in a country that’s being badly ravaged by Islam and finally sees it.
    I hope he can withstand the brutal attack he’s going to come under now. Maybe the unspeaking George Bush (“Islam is a Religion of peace”) will come out of his shell and see the light too. The Saudi paymasters will be very angry about this.
    Maybe Obama will quit sending aid to the Jihadis in Syria.

  • Lanna

    Nobody knows better than Tony Blair and the UK how Islam has been a negative factor in their communities, and bringing them over to the UK to work. Look how many chances they’ve had to be part of working communities, and neighborhoods where they can work and create their own businesses…Instead they are ungrateful and want to push surrounding peoples into their culture and religion…Live and Let live…what a radical ideology. I am encouraged by Blair’s speech and reflections of truth about the Muslim Brotherhood, after awhile there is only so much deception they can get away with.

  • Jeff Ludwig

    First I heard of the “Blair Doctrine.” Thanks for providing this report/evaluation. As usual, I find all your points persuasive.

  • guest

    The only thing is, there’s no such thing as religious freedom.

    There is only freedom.

    And freedom means an absence of coercion.
    Or freedom from force.

    It’s amazing that we have leaders respecting and promoting
    religion in the midst of full blown religious war.
    It’s truly amazing.

    Blair could have chosen to reflect upon simple freedom,
    as mentioned. Or he could have chosen rule of law, or
    the delegation of the use of force restricted to government.

    Or a myriad of rational options. But he chose to promote the
    ridiculous notion of religious freedom which will undoubtedly
    encourage muslims everywhere to pursue the deadly pursuits
    of mohamed.

    It’s almost like they want chaos and bloodshed. One thing’s
    for sure, they and we will get it. Sad.

  • MLCBLOG

    Wow! This view seems to me to be truly and subtly revolutionary in its way, but wait! haven’t I been enamored of Tony before and been let down? Interesting. Great food for thought. Thank you.

    • Daniel Greenfield

      I’m not nominating him for anything. I’m just pointing out a valuable shift penetrating the mainstream discourse.

  • theoprinse

    Tony Blair is hardly really informed of the historic (MI6, Zia ul Haq) and philosophic (Averroes) backgrounds of the danger islam. TB is silent of the secret muslimship of Husein Obama and John Brennan. Caroline Glick has a better plan with the one state solution for Gaza and w-bank. TB has after only 25 comments in 2 days closed further reactions.

  • antioli

    The Muslim Brotherhood was a democratically elected. But they betrayed the revolution and oppressed the Egyptian people. The people have the right to demand removal of the Islamic dictatorship of the Brotherhood and regain the democracy they originally voted for.

  • Long Ben

    Our very best allies are and should be those who allow for freedom of conscience.
    Just what percent of the muslim world is that?