Well, Gordon Brown certainly had an ‘interesting’ introduction to his new life as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 3 British troops killed in Iraq on Thursday 28 June (the day after his assumption of power), 2 car bomb plots somewhat miraculously foiled in London in the early hours of Friday 29th and the dramatic Cherokee Jeep bomb attack on Glasgow Airport Saturday afternoon (30th).
British troops are being killed or injured in Iraq now on a fairly regular basis; so there may or may not be any significance in the timing of the Basra roadside bombing. But there is much speculation about the supposedly-linked London and Glasgow attacks and what their meaning might be. A number of commentators are of the view that the car bombs are some kind of message from al-Qaeda to Gordon Brown.
Quite what that ‘mesage’ might be is harder to fathom – especially since there has yet to be any kind of statement from a recognised agent of the terrorist network. Nor has there been any indication so far that the police have relevant information on either motive or instigating source from the suspects they are interrogating.
Certainly Brown has signalled that ‘change’ is going to be his motif in a wide range of policies. And, while he is on record as openly supporting the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he has never appeared the hawkish warmonger that Tony Blair has at times. He is unsullied by all the shenanigans – ‘dodgy dossiers’, 45-minutes-to-impact declarations, etc – that Blair used in building up his justifcations for going to war. He is not identified with the failed Iraq policy in the way Blair is; and he is clearly much more cautious about the wisdom of allying Britain to American causes.
So perhaps it would be easier politically for Brown to withdraw Britain from the Iraq debacle. And, perhaps, as some commentators have suggested, the London and Glasgow attacks are al-Qaeda’s way of putting pressure on Brown to do just that.
However, while we must wait patiently either for al-Qaeda to make an announcement or the police and security services to tell us who planned the attacks and why, I’d like to host an alternative possibility…
The message wasn’t so much for Gordon Brown; it was for Tony Blair.
Tony Blair: MIddle East Envoy
In the last weeks of Blair’s premiership, George W Bush lobbied hard for Blair to take on a new position as the envoy of the ‘Quartet’, the loose confluence of ‘big influencers’ (the USA, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia) hoping to mediate an eventual 2-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict scenario. With Israel and Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas approving of the choice of Blair, Bush was able to overcome Russian resistance to get Blair the job.
However, reaction in the Middle East to Blair’s appointment was extremely mixed. A representative of Hamas, who have taken Gaza off Abbas and Fatah by force, said, “It was not helpful in solving the conflict in the Middle East” – arguing that Blair’s position mirrored that of Israel and the United States. It is conceivable that Abbas’ support for Blair’s appointment might have more to do with getting Western aid for his struggle with Hamas than a real appreciation of what Blair might be able to contribute to the the Middle East peace process (such as it is).
The biggest problem for Blair is that he is ‘damaged goods’ – the Americans’ stooge who sold his country into war and the Middle East into further devastating turmoil for the privilege of praying with George Bush. (Probably a ridiculous and untrue caricature (in part, at least); but that is how many see him.)
Theoretically Blair’s role is to be limited – initially – to Palestinian governance, economics and security. However, on past form, his ORANGE will soon drive him to go beyond that brief and try to establish himself as a pivotal player in the region.
The irony is that Blair is a skilled negotiator and has some most notable successes to his credit. Only at his final Prime Minister’s Questions was Ian Paisley paying tribute to Blair’s role in the Northern Ireland peace process. He persuaded Bill Clinton that NATO had to intervene in the Yogoslav wars of the 1990s; and one can but marvel at Blair’s persuading almost every Muslim government in the world to sanction the American invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.
For a while I really did wonder if Blair was capable of 2nd Tier thinking. It was quite astonishing the way he went meta to – beyond – his own neo-Roman Catholicism to study the Qur’an in such detail that he could use Islamic precepts to justify the American invasion to Muslim leaders.
It was something few world leaders could have – or would have – done. Nelson Mandela is the only one who springs readily to mind. Certainly Bush wouldn’t even have tried. But Blair was phenomenally successful!
Yet, less than 2 years later – possibly substantially less if some reports are to be believed! – Blair shackled himself to Bush, locked into the Iraq venture. It seems a RED/orange vMEME harmonic – short-sighted but ambitious – possibly with a sense of BLUE righteousness playing in the mix led Blair into the most incredibly bad judgement.
Over half a million lives later, countless injured and hundreds of thousands of refugees, Bush asks the Middle East to accept Blair as his new envoy. Something like the Devil dispatching his right-hand demon…?
Last week on Radio 4’s Today Jeremy Bowen, the veteran BBC correspondent, while believing Blair is more likely to fail than succeed, put forward the view that, if Blair could offer the Palestinians an economically-viable and truly-independent Palestinian state, they would be unlikely to hold Iraq too much against him. However, Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs doubted Blair would be able to make that kind of offer : “It’s a most unfortunate idea. It implies Tony Blair still has no notion of the repercussions of British intervention in the Middle East. It will do Mahmoud Abbas no good and could harm him. Tony Blair will be associated with an approach that wants a Palestinian state that is no more than useful to the Israelis and ends up enabling and sustaining the occupation.”
What Bowen, for all his experience, seems to miss is the concept of Muslim brotherhood. Which makes Iraq a very hard thing to forgive indeed.
Brotherhoods – Muslim and Christian
Many Muslims see themselves as part of a worldwide brotherhood – drawing inspiration from such verses as:-
“Verily, this brotherhood of yours is but a single brotherhood.” (Sura 21:19); and
“The believers are but a single brotherhood.” (Sura 49:10).
Such a brotherhood transcends citizenship of any one nation. It’s driven by a harmonic of purple/BLUE – so that such Muslims do ‘the right thing’ for those to whom they belong, regardless of the cost to themselves or non-believers. The extent of this commitment is perhaps best summed up by this extract from the Sahih Bukhari:-
“A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of a discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Volume 3/Book 43/Number 622)
And the Qur’an allows that violence can be used against oppressors of Muslims – eg:-
“And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith….
And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (Sura 2: 191, 193)
From these teachings, we can understand why young men from Blackburn and Leeds go off to Aghanistan to shoot their fellow Britons or become suicide bombers in Iraq…or even Glasgow. Their Muslim brothers come before their country; they are simply doing their religious duty.
Of course, Christianity also embodies the idea of brotherhood – eg: 1 Peter 2:17 – and the notion that obeying God comes before obeying men – eg: Galatians 1:10. And, while the New Testament generally advocates non-violence, more than a few ‘Christians’ down the centuries – armed also with examples from the Old Testament such as the God-ordered genocide of the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 20:17) – have disobeyed their earthly rulers to commit violence in the name of Jesus. The Muslim suicide bomber is not that far from the fundamentalist Christian shooting medical staff involved in carrying out abortions. Their BLUE vMEME perceives itself to be serving God.
Thankfully, most Christians and most Muslims see more in their sacred texts that lead them to disavow violence in most circumstances.
Nonetheless, the very notion of brotherhood being above nationhood, strikes deep chords in believers. In a Mori poll after the 2005 London bombs, 53% of Muslims questioned thought that “the war in Iraq is the main reason London was bombed”. In a Pew poll a year later 35% of Muslims under 30 questioned believed suicide bombings to defend Islam were justified and 13% termed the 7/7 bombers ‘martyrs’.
When Tony Blair said in a Channel 4 documentary this evening that British Islamists were ‘absurd’ to protest that they were being oppressed by the United States and Britain, citing several ‘civil liberties’ available in these countries but not many Muslim ones, he was either being disingenuous or had missed the point. It is the (BLUE) duty of these people to feel oppressed because their Muslim brothers are oppressed.
From initial impressions, it would appear that the foiled London car bombings were hardly the work of seasoned al-Qaeda operatives – while Glasgow appears to be the work of rank amateurs. (For certain there would have been terrible death and destruction if the plans had succeeded; but their bombs were fairly primitive in construction, suspects have been tracked down with almost unbelievable ease and the Glasgow incident would border on the farcical but for its tragedy!) At this stage it is possible these weren’t trained terrorists but al-Qaeda sympathisers who simply got themselves too wound up and finally turned endless hours of rhetoric shared on mobile phones and the internet into hastily thrown together missions.
And the catalyst? Probably not Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister. That had been an inevitability for many months. But possibly Bush getting his way with Blair’s appointment – which did take some by surprise.
New thinking needed
Given the Bush/Iraq bag ‘n’ baggage he brings with him and the very limiting conditions the Americans and Israelis are likely to impose on any tentative negotiations, is it possible Blair can make any positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian impasse?
Of course, you should never say ‘never’. But he needs some new thinking if he’s to have any chance. He needs to shed the Bush’s poodle image and display more of that meta-thinking that enchanted Muslim leaders 6 years ago.
However, the world is a very different place to how it was 6 years ago. Blair needs to find ways to change the terms of the debate away from talk of ‘oppression’ to concepts such as co-operation, co-existence and even collaboration. If he (and others) can do that, then that removes the cause of the brotherhood to defend itself and isolates the extremists who are hellbent on establishing Sharia Law across the earth. Most Muslims are happy to co-exist providing they can pursue their religion and live more or less according to Muslim values. (Both domination and co-existence can be justified from the Qur’an – as indeed they can from most sacred texts.)
There is a small but growing number of people across the divides in Jerusalem who are beginning to see just what it is that really separates them. Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck has been working with ‘Emergence activist’ Elza Maalouf to facilitate workshops with open-minded Israeli and Palestinian influencers and thinkers. Together they are learning about the fallacies of 1st Tier thinking and how to surmount those limitations.
Now, if only Tony Blair would tap into what they’re doing, then he might have something new, daring and radical with which to challenge the old, old preconceptions….!