This is slow going, but keep in mind that this is taking place within a mainstream discourse and in that context there are significant gems in here.
Blair clearly denounces the Brotherhood, urges a recognition of Islam linked to politics as the problem and suggests substituting Religious Freedom for Democracy as the X factor in Muslim reform.
He even mentions Muslim Brotherhood penetration of Europe.
“The Muslim population in Europe is now over 40m and growing. The Muslim Brotherhood and other organisations are increasingly active and they operate without much investigation or constraint. Recent controversy over schools in Birmingham (and similar allegations in France) show heightened levels of concern about Islamist penetration of our own societies.”
There are plenty of flaws in his speech, I pointed out some of them, but there are some important things as well.
Tony Blair, is often closer to Bush when it comes to stating the nature of the problem, but he still ends up missing it by a mile. His latest speech gets a few things right.
Islam is ultimately a product of the Middle East, so when Blair states that…
The Middle East is still the epicentre of thought and theology in Islam. Those people, fortunately not a majority, in countries like, for example, Indonesia or Malaysia who espouse a strict Islamist perspective, didn’t originate these ideas. They imported them…
He’s right. But he neglects to dig into the details and explain the role of the Saudis and the petro-trade in that. Blair has compromised himself too much in his dealings with petro-states to state the plain truth on that.
And he’s also right when he states that…
But there is something frankly odd about the reluctance to accept what is so utterly plain: that they have in common a struggle around the issue of the rightful place of religion, and in particular Islam, in politics…
It’s a widely known fact that isn’t discussed by those in authority for very specific reasons, namely the mandate not to in any way describe Islamic terrorism as Islam. And Blair pays tribute to that fallacy.
It is crucially important in this description not to confuse the issue of religion and politics, with the question of religiosity. Many of those totally opposed to the Islamist ideology are absolutely devout Muslims. In fact it is often the most devout who take most exception to what they regard as the distortion of their faith by those who claim to be ardent Muslims whilst acting in a manner wholly in contradiction to the proper teaching of the Koran…
The distinction is largely absurd. Religious fundamentalism is religiosity. This is a spectrum between secularism and fundamentalism.
It’s likely that Blair knows that he’s spouting nonsense, but again there’s a great fear of admitting that Islamic violence and power is not an aberration, but simply Islamic religiosity.
A Muslim who believes in the supremacy of Islamic law is more religious than one who does not.
Then Blair dumps in some silly stuff about globalization.
I do so because underneath the turmoil and revolution of the past years is one very clear and unambiguous struggle: between those with a modern view of the Middle East, one of pluralistic societies and open economies, where the attitudes and patterns of globalisation are embraced; and, on the other side, those who want to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society and the political economy.
We might call this latter perspective an ‘Islamist’ view, though one of the frustrating things about this debate is the inadequacy of the terminology and the tendency for any short hand to be capable of misinterpretation, so that you can appear to elide those who support the Islamist ideology with all Muslims.
This is 90’s nonsense.
Has Blair noticed that globalization has spread Islam quite effectively into the West and that his government had quite a lot do with it?
The petro powers have become empires of Islam largely due to globalization. Islamic terrorists aren’t fighting globalization, they’re riding the beast.
To his credit, Blair does say some unsayable things.
The first is the absolutely rooted desire on the part of Western commentators to analyse these issues as disparate rather than united by common elements. They go to extraordinary lengths to say why, in every individual case, there are multiple reasons for understanding that this is not really about Islam, it is not really about religion; there are local or historic reasons which explain what is happening. There is a wish to eliminate the obvious common factor in a way that is almost wilful.
That’s not really the striking part. This is.
The second thing is that there is a deep desire to separate the political ideology represented by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood from the actions of extremists including acts of terrorism. This stems from a completely laudable sense that we must always distinguish between those who violate the law and those we simply disagree with.
But laudable though the motives are, which lead us to this distinction, if we’re not careful, they also blind us to the fact that the ideology itself is nonetheless dangerous and corrosive; and cannot and should not be treated as a conventional political debate between two opposing views of how society should be governed.
Blair’s linkage of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam to terrorism is a sharp reversal of the current mode to pretend that there is a peaceful political Islam.
Why has Blair essentially denounced the Brotherhood? It’s an interesting question. The UK seems to be stumbling in that direction. It may, ironically, be Saudi, and perhaps Egyptian guidance.
Because the West is so completely unfamiliar with such an ideology –though actually the experience of revolutionary communism or fascism should resonate with older generations – we can’t really see the danger properly. We feel almost that if we identify it in these terms, we’re being anti-Muslim, a sentiment on which the Islamists cleverly play.
Again, an important point for the kind of audience he is speaking to. It may not be a big deal for us, but it’s not what you expect to hear from a former Labor PM who has spent a while in the Middle East.
Imagine Bill Clinton delivering this sort of speech. Or Hillary.
This is where, even though at one level the ideology coming out of Shia Iran and that of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood may seem to be different, in reality they amount to the same thing with the same effect – the holding back of the proper political, social and economic advance of the country.
Again, a basically progressive view and somewhat of a misreading. Blair then claims that this explains why all attempts at intervention have failed…
It is that there is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world – politically, socially and economically – and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle. This is the distorting feature. This is what makes intervention so fraught but non- intervention equally so. This is what complicates the process of political evolution. This is what makes it so hard for democracy to take root. This is what, irrespective of the problems on the Israeli side, divides Palestinian politics and constrains their leadership.
It seems a little like, “Yes, the sky is blue”. But maybe for some in his audience this really is a lifechanging revelation.
But the shift here is somewhat important.
It means 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. Where there has not been revolution, we should support the steady evolution towards them.
If you think of the recent obsession with Muslim democracy, then this is a major shift. Blair is saying that we should support countries and regime change based on Freedom of Religion.
If this were to seriously take root, it would be a game changer…
Blair summarizes events in the region…
The Muslim Brotherhood Government was not simply a bad Government. It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country. The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new Government and help.
Syria. This is an unmitigated disaster. We are now in a position where both Assad staying and the Opposition taking over seem bad options. The former is responsible for creating this situation. But the truth is that there are so many fissures and problems around elements within the Opposition that people are rightly wary now of any solution that is an outright victory for either side. Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period.
Libya. We bear a responsibility for what has happened. Their urgent need is for security sector reform. We have made some attempts to do so. But obviously the scale of the task and the complications of the militia make it very hard. But Libya is not Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not impossible to help and NATO has the capability to do so.
Iran. We should continue to make it clear, as the Obama administration is rightly doing, that they have to step back from being a nuclear threshold state. The next weeks will be a crucial phase in the negotiation. But I do not favour yielding to their demands for regional influence in return for concessions on their nuclear ambitions. The Iranian Government play a deliberately de-stabilising role across the region.
Elsewhere across the region we should be standing steadfast by our friends and allies as they try to change their own countries in the direction of reform. Whether in Jordan or the Gulf where they’re promoting the values of religious tolerance and open, rule based economies, or taking on the forces of reaction in the shape of Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, we should be supporting and assisting them.
This is a brief summary. Aside from Egypt and Syria, there’s nothing interesting to see here.
Finally, we have to elevate the issue of religious extremism to the top of the agenda…
That’s certainly an interesting ingredient in a Blair Doctrine with ‘religious extremism’ replacing dictatorship. Notice that Blair makes few mentions of the old democracy-dictator paradigm.
On this issue also, there is a complete identity of interest between East and West. China and Russia have exactly the same desire to defeat this ideology as do the USA and Europe. Here is a subject upon which all the principal nations of the G20 could come together, could agree to act, and could find common ground to common benefit. An international programme to eradicate religious intolerance and prejudice from school systems and informal education systems and from organisations in civic society would have a huge galvanising effect in making unacceptable what is currently ignored or tolerated.
I’ve commented on this in the past. It’s an illusion. China and Russia exploit Islamic terrorism for their own benefits. Russia certainly. But Blair’s statements will certainly cheer some commenters here.
The question to be asked is, does Blair intend to move into a higher profile? The Labour Party is a mess, but he is widely hated. This is a big speech filled with big ballpark ideas. Is Blair just staying relevant or is he thinking of diving back into politics?
For all its many, many flaws, I have trouble imagining even a former GOP president or nominee delivering a speech that gets this many things right about the problem.