Wow, Tony Blair sure is back in the news in a BIG way! First the Gordon Brown-bashing memoirs, then having eggs and shoes thrown at him in Dublin on Saturday and being a star guest yesterday on the inaugural showing of the new breakfast programme, Daybreak. And, of course, in the Sunday Telegraph both he and Brown were bashed by former Chief of the General Staff General Sir Richard Dannatt for failing to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq adequately. (Dannatt was in uncompromising mood, blaming Blair and Brown explicitly and personally for needless deaths.)
Perhaps the most interesting set of comments to emerge from the seemingly endless round of interviews the former prime minister has conducted were those to do with ‘radical Islam’ and the threat that would be posed by a nuclear Iran.
Talking about radical Islam in general, he described it to ABC News as “…the religious or cultural equivalent of [Communism] and its roots are deep, its tentacles are long and its narrative about Islam stretches far further than we think into even parts of mainstream opinion who abhor the extremism but sort of buy some of the rhetoric that goes with it.”
Blair told the BBC: “There is the most enormous threat from the combination of this radical extreme movement and the fact that, if they could, they would use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.”
Referring back to 9/11, he said: “If these people could have killed 30,000 or 300,000, they would have.”
Blair’s undoubtedly right about the threat the extremists and terrorists pose in the name of fundamentalist Islam. However, there is a need to be clear about just what Islam, in its most fundamental form, says and requires and how those use it who would dominate others and destroy those they can’t dominate, all in the name of Islam.
There are some similarities with the way the Mediaeval Crusaders twisted elements of the Christian religion to justify horrific atrocities in and around Jerusalem. Their actions were abominable but they didn’t make Christianity as a religion abominable. Nor do the modern fundamentalist Christians in the southern United States who, in God’s name, periodically shoot dead a doctor who carries out abortions. On a personal note, I was a radical fundamentalist Christian for 7 years and I never found anything in either the Bible or the teachings of my Pentecostal church to indicate I needed to go kill some abortionists.
So we need to be very careful about using phrases like ‘radical Islam’. What the terrorists did on 9/11 was abominable but that doesn’t make Islam abominable.
Blair unwittingly illustrates how complex this issue of separating out the religion from those who claim to be its followers when he referred to radical Islamists as “regressive, wicked and backward-looking”. Sounds to me like he’s using what cross-cultural researcher John Berry (1969) called an imposed etic – treating other cultures as though they should be operating from our values and then judging them negatively because they don’t. So they take Islam’s requirement for women to dress modestly to the extreme of the burka… But consider this: in the wake of the 1995 Bradford riots, one Muslim rioter told a friend of mine that it was all about driving the pimps and drug dealers out of the Manningham area. He concluded with: “Our women can walk the streets safely at night now. Yours can’t.”
Better to wear a burka or have prostitutes and drug dealers on your street corner…?
Can we deal with the terrorists?
Blair may be confusing the nature of fundamentalist Islam with those who seek to dominate and destroy in its name but he’s ‘bang-on’ in describing the determination and ruthlessness of such people. Personally I have no doubt that some of them would indeed use nuclear, biological and/or chemical weapons if available when a high value target could be attacked.
Large-scale acts of destruction so appalling they defy credulity pepper the history of our planet when the BLUE vMEME is seeking to establish its one right way to be. From the Jewish genocide of the Amorites and the Hittites in Biblical times through the Catholics and Protestants torturing and murdering each other in their thousands in the early Renaissance (eerily paralleled in the Sunni vs Shia atrocities in the districts of Baghdad) to the industrial-scale death machines of the Nazi concentration camps, to Pol Pot’s extermination of the Cambodian intelligentsia in the 1970s and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Just some of BLUE’s handiwork, made that much worse when RED-driven demagogues – eg: Adolph Hitler, Slobodan Milošević – use PURPLE tribalism and racism to reinforce the notion that they are doing the ‘right thing’.
An al-Qaeda suicide bomber setting off a suitcase nuke in Manhattan or central London is not just a figment of the 24 scriptwriters’ fevered imaginations. It really could happen; but, in real life, it’s doubtful there would be any Jack Bauer to save us at the very last second.
It’s a delusion to think you can deal with peak BLUE. You can’t because it only recognises one right way in that scenario and any deviation from that one right way is a corruption and must be eliminated. It’s that simple. That absolute.
As I argue in the Global feature, Killing the Terrorists, you simply cannot negotiate with peak BLUE. You can only kill it. Utterly. Completely. And without mercy.
For a year or so now, views have been expressed by certain American politicians and senior military figures that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable on a purely military basis…so it’s time to talk to the Taliban. And it was reported a few days ago that Afghan president Hamid Karzai has now set up a ‘High Peace Council’ to do just that.
Such moves will be seen by hard BLUE as signs of weakness, reflecting the moral corruption of both Karzi’s government and the whole American ethos. To the extremists amongst the Taliban, the American (and British) ringing of hands over dead and maimed soldiers plays badly when contrasted with the implacable fortitude of their brave suicide bombers and confirms to them that they are morally superior…that they are right.
American commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus’ approach is perhaps more realistic. Those Taliban who renounce violence are invited to rejoin mainstream (if there is yet such a thing!) Afghan society. He’s not rushing to talk to the extremist leaders. Rather, he’s whittling away at the edges of the Taliban camp, offering a way out for those are not quite so absolutely sure of their cause and/or are simply sickened by the brutality of the war.
Movements rarely stay static in terms of every member consistently adhering to its tenets absolutely for the rest of their lives. Circumstances change and many will adapt to the changing circumstances. In the early 1990s it happened in both South Africa and Northern Ireland that positions amongst a body of members (the ANC and the Provisional IRA respectively) began to shift significantly. As Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck demonstrates with the Assimilation-Contrast Effect (ACE) (2003), without taking any pressure off the unremitting hardliners, this is the time to negotiate with the more reasonable.
It’s interesting that the Basque terrorist group ETA announced a truce this Sunday gone in a manner that was so reminiscent of the IRA in 1994 – fumbling, half-hearted, non-specific…reflecting the internal struggles and convulsions to get it this just far from the usual violence. It’s to be hoped the Spanish government responds with a multi-level approach – courting the ‘reasonables’ to the negotiating table while continuing to try to kill the extremists.
Similarly a multi-level approach is required in Afghanistan…
- The war must be pursued – there must be no let up militarily for the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Ironically, Gordon Brown was right in November last year when he said that our soldiers were fighting them in Afghanistan so that there would be less likelihood of having to fight them on our own streets, in the ruins of our own bombed cities.
And when the tide turns, those who insist on fighting on must be destroyed. Utterly.
- Petraeus’ idea of escape routes for those Taliban whose commitment to their cause is shaky needs to be expanded upon. And they should be given every support in integrating into whatever it is Afghan society is becoming – including engagement in the political process.
- The Afghan economy and social and political infrastructure needs support and direction in developing. This is what we should have been doing during the wasted years in Iraq.
- The form of government Afghanistan develops needs to respect its traditions, respect the overwhelmingly-dominant religion, Islam, and reflect the tribal nature of the country – what Don Beck calls Stratified Democracy – rather than be tied to the Western dogma of one man/one (secret) vote.
What about moderate Muslims?
There are hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world who have no interest whatsoever in the establishment of a global Muslim caliphate. Many would be appalled at the thought of living under Sharia law.
Like Christians and Jews, they will be of varying degrees of ‘devotedness’, ranging from those who visit the mosque only when pressured to by family and are really quite partial to Western ‘sins’ such as non-marital sex and getting ‘blathered’ (on alcohol) to those who take the Qur’an and Hadith quite literally and wouldn’t dream of not following all the rituals every day as required of a good Muslim. Those towards the latter end of that spectrum may well want the government of their country to be more influenced by notions of religious morality in its lawmaking but they’re not about to take up arms and plant bombs in furtherance of such desires.
In terms of Tony Blair’s unfortunate use of the term ‘radical Islam’, this is ‘moderate Islam’. So what has Blair got to say to them? For that matter, what do we have to say to them? It’s one thing to fight back against so-called radical Islam but how do we engage with moderate Islam? If Blair’s worldview is not to slip into the ‘Crusader mentality’ which so bedevilled George W Bush’s first responses to 9/11 and we want to avoid the West vs Islam ‘clash of cultures’ war some (such as Samuel Huntington, 1993) have mooted, then we have to find means to enable moderate Muslims to interact positively with the West and its libertine culture without disrespecting Islam.
There are obvious and not-so-obvious shifts taking place naturally anyway. You only have to walk around certain parts of Birmingham and north London on a Saturday night to see young Muslim men drinking coke while their white mates down pints of beer and young Muslim women dressed more modestly than the white girls at the next table…but only a little more modestly!
But we could do with managing such processes more deliberately so that the engagement and integration is smoother – eg: helping the young Muslim man who’s started dating a non-religious white girl deal with the reaction his family is likely to experience. Or creating more facilities to help devout Muslims carry out as many of their prayer rituals as possible without serious disruption to their work.
Of course, pretty much everything recommended above costs money at a time when the Capitalist world is still teetering near the edge of global bankruptcy; but, from a 2nd Tier perspective, we’re looking to develop longer-term strategies for a safer world. From the macro – isolating and/or destroying the Taliban – to the micro – a Muslim/non-Muslim romance, it needs to be done.
Contrary to some of the stereotypes that get bandied about in the media, there are serious Muslim intellectuals, academics, clerics and politicians grappling with these very issues and who are only too keen to engage with their Western counterparts in developing ways to deal with them.
Bafflingly, sometimes it is the Western counterparts who are slow to engage.
In April this year I wrote Why is the West ignoring a leading moderate Muslim? This concerned the publication the month before by Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, a leading Islamic scholar, of a detailed 605-page fatwa against suicide bombings and terrorism. It said that terrorism cannot be justified under any pretext through allusion to any real or alleged instances of injustice and there is no space for terrorism in Islam. I wrote the Blog in frustration at how little political and media attention had been paid to this groundbreaking fatwa. That the Blog was republished by ul-Qadri’s people on his institution’s web site perhaps reflects their frustration too…?
Has Tony Blair, in his concern about ‘radical Islam’, been talking to this pillar of ‘moderate Islam’ who is deeply concerned about the attempted hijacking of his religion by extremists to justify terrorism?
Well, have you, Tony? If not, why not? This enquiring mind wants to know!
The Iran Question
In one of his interviews, Blair said that Iran was one of the biggest state sponsors of radical Islam and it was necessary to prevent it by any means from developing a nuclear weapon.
“I would tell them they can’t have it and, if necessary, they will be confronted with stronger sanctions and diplomacy. But, if that fails, I’m not taking any option off the table….I’m saying I think you cannot exclude [military action] because the primary objective has got to be to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”
2 years ago I wrote Iran: Jaw, Jaw or War, War as an Integrated SocioPsychology commentary on an Israeli air force exercise to test their capability to bomb the Iranians’ principal nuclear facility at Bushehr. At the time I was castigated for the piece by one of my A-Level Psychology students who is half-Iranian…but I stood by it then and I stand by it now.
Regardless of the ‘right’ of one country to develop nuclear weapon capability when others have it, a nuclear Iran is simply not practicable. The Israelis will not tolerate the concept – and, given Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s overt hostility to the state of Israel, who can blame them?
What is important – and this is what I think Blair is getting at – is that it is a coalition of countries that restricts, forcibly, if necessary, Iran’s nuclear ambitions. An Israeli attack on Iran, however ‘surgical’, would destabilise the little steps various elements in the Middle East are taking towards a workable, comprehensive peace beyond the current armed truces. It might even result in all-out war.
Far better that the ‘Quartet on the Middle East’ (United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia), for which Blair holds the position of Envoy) manage the Iran-constraint policy. Preferably by diplomacy. By sanction where necessary – as has proved necessary. By force, if no other way.
Blair is absolutely right.
And the Quartet must act strongly enough to keep the Israelis out of it.
Welcome back, Tony Blair…?
Not that he ever really went away…but he’s certainly been dominating the news this past fortnight in a way he hasn’t since Gordon Brown moved into 10 Downing Street.
Back in 2001 I was mightily impressed with Blair. He sold the American invasion of Afghanistan to the world – even learning enough about the Qur’an to justify it to the leaders of Muslim states in terms of their own values. It was a remarkable job. (I doubt George W Bush would have even known where to start!)
I was so impressed that, for a time, I wondered if Blair was able to self-actualise into YELLOW thinking. But then came Iraq. (Even now it appears his RED won’t let him be shamed by admitting he was wrong on Iraq.)
Blair was a giant of his times, setting the style of the modern British political leader – David Cameron and Nick Clegg still come off like Blair wannabees on occasion! As has been said many times, perhaps more froth than substance; but a very artful persuader nonetheless.
His return to the daily headlines is welcome – not least for the fact it’s a timely reminder to the Labour leadership contenders what a charismatic party leader should look and sound like.
The fact he’s chosen to major on ‘radical Islam’ as one of his key themes is good in one respect. He’s solid steel on the need to tackle the extremists at a time when most Western leaders are more focussed on the body bags being flown home than what might happen if the extremists aren’t stopped.
But his language and choice of terminology is still regressive from where he seemed to be in 2001. If the extremists are really to be stopped, then they need to be isolated from the broad body of Muslim opinion using ACE-based strategies. Strength is just one (very important) tool. The broad body of Muslim opinion rejecting terrorism and its advocates unequivocally is arguably more important in the longer-term.
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri’s fatwa is a foundation stone to that strategy. Tony, pick up the phone and give him a call.