Tony Blair poked his head above the sand today. Despite being a highly active figure in the game of geopolitics, he has often remained an elusive figure since his days in office, being rather selective about publicity despite the odd book tour, interview or talking head appearance. He has certainly not lived up to the hermit status of his fellow crusader in arms, W, who has been, until recently, content to utterly shut the world out in a denialist attempt to completely forget about his own presidency, or short of that, gloss over his greatest failings with folksy retro-mea culpa. His opening of his very own presidential centre last month was a stunning thing to behold.
Yes, the George W. Bush Presidential Centre, er, Center, replete with library, museum and a policy institute. What the content and style of all these wings are couldn’t be less clear given the metric tonnage of satire that accompanied the centre’s opening, with every American commentator going virtually catatonic over the chance to ridicule the idea of W of all people being the patron of any kind of intellectual or cultural establishment. While I expect the entire thing couldn’t contain less valid literature if a Nazi anti-literati squad had blown through with flame-throwers, there’s no easy way of knowing.
This is all an aside though, to what was probably even more startling, and that was seeing the man himself after nearly more than four years of a virtual media blackout. What had he been up to all these years? Honing his woeful history or geography skills? Confronting the guilt of initiating the deaths of millions of people in the Middle-East? Dragging his nation into a war-fuelled economic deficit the likes of which it is still struggling to get a grip on? Nope. Painting. Actual, honest to god, painting. The world was finally treated to a semi-eloquent W when he detailed how he would recreate the colour of Charlie Rose’s tie during the rarest of interviews.
It seems that the little fella is starting to come out of his shell though and is attracting attention for engaging in wounded veteran affairs. The suspicion is that short of an appearance in the International Criminal Courts, it would have been best for him just to lay very low for the remainder of his duration on the earth. While the same could have been said of Blair, he never gave us the chance to experience that kind of void of warmongering ego, and he was straight out of the gates of office and into the most sickeningly ironic posting that was ever conceived. Special Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle-East, an organisation that has no Middle-Eastern nation directly integral to its structure, with the UN, USA, EU and Russia somehow forming its key constituents.
Add to this the creation of his Tony Blair Faith Foundation and the launching of the Faith and Globalisation Initiative and you really start to feel that the only reason Blair gave up being Prime Minister of the UK, other than Gordon Brown glaring holes into the back of his head the entire time and the British people falling deeply out of love with him, is that it wasn’t enough. He clearly wants to rule to the world. Well, probably not, but he has thrust himself so heavily into the most critical aspects of the most critical of global affairs, in a manner that indicates to me an inhuman degree of megalomania.
Corroborating this is the substance of the manner in which he was today recasting his long shadow. In the aftermath of Woolwich and the brewing set of questions surrounding that incident, he has decided to announce, perhaps not for the first time, that he believes that Islam has a structural inclination towards radicalism and people need to be honest about this if the debate is to move forward, “…there is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology that is a strain within Islam. And we have to put it on the table and be honest about it… at the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists… by and large we don’t admit it”.
That on its own is not the worst of statements, and indeed is almost approaching a statement of the obvious. There is probably room for terrorism on the extreme end of any ideology. It’s what he said next that actually scares me. “The seeds of future fanaticism and terror, possibly even major conflict, are being sown. We have to help sow seeds of reconciliation and peace. But clearing the ground for peace is not always peaceful.” This is a statement that well-defines Blair’s world view in my opinion, and roughly translated means, “Conflict is subjectively acceptable and actually necessary under our terms.”
He tries to mediate this with the suggestion that security isn’t the only means to peace but then he actually hints at an even more dangerous aspect of his ideology. “We resisted revolutionary communism by being resolute on security; but we defeated it by a better idea: Freedom. We can do the same with this. The better idea is a modern view of religion and its place in society and politics. There has to be respect and equality between people of different faiths. Religion must have a voice in the political system but not govern it. We have to start with how to educate children about faith, here and abroad…”
He is a daydreamer. As I mentioned earlier, a crusader, someone who thinks he can actually engage with and manipulate the world to effect his notion of positive change. This may seem like a noble principle but is so deeply flawed that we are in fact now a decade into an intractable regional war, one that Blair has very individual responsibility for. I personally believe he is entirely missing the point anyway. There is a problem within Islam, a scripture-based anachronism that all religions suffer from, that Islam happens to be manifesting most strongly in the contemporary climate. But this isn’t the issue that can, or even should, be addressed by external forces.
It is completely shocking as an idea, although less surprising coming from Blair, that the Cold War was won by the West because of the power of FRRRRREEEEEEEEEEDDDOOOOMMM!!!!!!!!!! At least as far as the average American or Brit would understand the term. Any considered evaluation of the end of that era would take into account a host of socio-economic failings within, and ultimately a lack of military will to enforce, the Soviet model. And having been recently introduced to the thoughts of Vaclav Havel I can comfortably argue that a rejection of Soviet values is in no way an implicit acceptance of Western values. The same applies to Islam.
Blair’s hegemonic approach to this problem is nothing more than another significant component to the larger problem that people like Blair seem to have trouble identifying. Attacking the power of ideas is an extraordinarily difficult and dangerous thing to do. I’d be more comfortable with an approach that fundamentally undermined the conditions that best enable extremism. Poverty, ignorance and unemployment. Islam may suffer from containing certain references that are not compatible with the modern world, but Islam isn’t structurally geared towards radicalism, unless all religions are. It is probably more accurate to say that Islam can be part of the structure of radicalism, and, I would add, also happens to be the least effective part of that structure to pursue.
Empowering societies with functioning economies, sufficient employment and proper education, whatever the religious, ideological or cultural background, is surely the way to solve these problems. Not through necessary conflict or the imposition of entirely subjective standpoints as to how these other societies should operate. I can only hope that the rhetoric Blair uses in cases like these is a far cry from the manner in which he goes about his plethora of day jobs.