Tony Blair is Wrong about the Muslim World... or is He?

I've chosen to focus on Tony Blair's attitude towards the Muslim world and Islam because he expresses views which many other Western leaders have also expressed in recent years (i.e., not only the infamous “neocons”). The other thing is that he has spoken openly and frequently on these subjects since his fall from power.

Take President Obama, for example. Much of what Tony Blair says may well be endorsed by Barack Obama. Though if Blair's views -- on Islam and the Muslim world -- aren't endorsed by Obama himself, then they certainly are by other Democrats; as well as by various -- perhaps many -- Republicans.

As just hinted at, because Blair is no longer in power, he can afford to speak a bit more openly and honestly about Islam and the Muslim world. However, along with that freedom comes Blair's tendency to outrightly contradict himself on these issues.

The Chasm Between Islam and the Actions of Muslim Extremists

At the heart of Tony Blair's position on Islam (as with so many others) is his belief in the chasm which exists between Islam itself (or the Koran itself) and the beliefs and actions of Islamic extremists and terrorists. 

People like Blair believe in this chasm as a matter of faith. In other words, such people have a profound belief is the disjunction between Islam (as the “religion of peace”) and the endless violence and killings carried out by Islamic groups and Muslim individuals. 

Yet Tony Blair has also explicitly stated that the U.S. and UK want to bring about “a new Islam”. In Blair's biography,  A Journey, he says:

“The idea would have been to have worked for gradual reform and the appearance of a new Islam over time.” (349) 

Blair also states that this project for a “new Islam” failed. Instead, just a paragraph later, he says that the alternative requires “a myriad of interventions deep into the affairs of other nations”. What's more, it “requires above all a willingness to see the battle as existential”. Indeed it requires us “to shed the blood” (349).

Tony Blair's Many Self-Contradictions

So is it or isn't it about Islam itself? 

Well, it depends which page you're reading. It also depends on when and where Tony Blair was speaking. 

On page 348 of A Journey, for example, he says that the U.S. and UK are engaged in “a fundamental struggle for the mind, heart and soul of Islam”. Yet not many pages later Blair tells us that “[this] isn't really to do with Islam or indeed religion”. 

Again, on page 365 Tony Blair says that “we were confronted with a new battle – one about culture and religion more than politics per se”. Yet on page 368 (only three pages later) he says that “[this] isn't really to do with Islam or indeed religion”.

There is more of this Blairite doubletalk and obfuscation.

For example, in the following Blair says that it is about Islam (he's said this even more explicitly recently):

“... we had not counted on the deep grip this [Islamic] extremism could exercise on the imagination, will and way of life of its adherents.

“The fact was that even many who were not extremists nevertheless shared a sense that they were justified in fighting us...” (364)

What Blair also fails to realize is that Muslim regimes can be in favor of Islamic extremism and even terrorism and at the very same time as not being in favor of any extremism and terrorism which threatens their own regimes or power. (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Syria and Iran are all good examples of this phenomenon.) 

It continues.

For example, after telling us that Islamic extremists have “sympathisers [who] reach further along the spectrum than we think” (348), and that these sympathisers also “understand why [terrorism] is happening” (as well as that they “buy into bits of their [the extremists/terrorists] world view”), Tony Blair then informs us that “a large number, probably the majority” of Muslims “condemn the terrorists”.

Muslim individuals and groups like CAIR and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) do indeed condemn Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism simply because they know that this is what's expected of them. And they do so in order to protect and advance Islam in the West. After all, if these officially-moderate Muslim groups and individuals praised both Islamic terrorism and extremism, that would result in their immediate political suicide (in Western states). And what would be the point of that for these groups and individuals?

Tony Blair also tells us that “[w]ithin Islam, other, deeper forces were at work” (346). Moreover, those “deeper forces” against Western democracy, etc. “turned it into a powerful radicalising potency” which “was peculiar to Islam”(346).

At other times Blair and many others have tried to convince themselves – as well as other people - that Islamic terrorists are just violent criminals who want to kill people for the hell of it. (This is what's being said about ISIS, Boko Haram,al-Shabab, etc.; though not about Hamas and Hizb’allah.) Either they are telling us that, or they are saying that Islamic terrorists are responding to all the “perceived wrongs” which have been committed by the West over the years.

Nonetheless, in this instance at least Tony Blair has the decency to admit that Islamic “terror” is indeed “inspired by a belief in Allah” (342). Thus Blair isn't relying here on the common Marxist meme that all the religious actions and beliefs of Islamic terrorists and extremists are mere epiphenomena of deeper political, economic, or social (i.e. “material”) wrongs. Blair, on this page, isn't relying on the alternative psychological account (or copout) which says that Muslim terrorists and extremists are just criminals or psychotics either....

But not too fast! 

Islam still isn't (really?) to blame. 

Rather, what these Muslim extremists and terrorists have is a “perverted” and “delusional and demonic” belief in Islam and the Koran. Though those beliefs are still “nonetheless so inspired” (342) by both Islam and the Koran.

Foreign Leaders or Foreign Peoples?

One common view of neocon foreign policy is that neocon politicians and theorists believed that the problem with the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere was that whereas the peoples of these places and states were responsive to ideas of freedom and democracy, the leaders and the regimes weren't. (Remember Tony Blair's self-contradictory position earlier.) In fact that was something that Jean Kirkpatrick, for example, explicitly stated in her writings.

Yet Tony Blair seems to turn all this on its head. 

Blair now tells us that “the leaders [of the “Middle East”] would be open to the West, but their societies would not be”. (387)

Moreover, according to Blair, the “discourse between leaders in that world and in ours could agree on the need to root out extremism, but the discourse on their streets would frequently represent that extremism”.

The problem, then, is not one of regimes and leaders; but one of, as Blair puts it, Islamic “societies” and the “discourse on their streets”. Yet, as I said earlier, didn't most (all?) neocons in the past say the exact opposite of that? Didn't many of the famous names of neoconnism argue that Muslim and other societies are open to the West and democracy but that their leaders/regimes aren't? 

The neocons certainly said that about the Soviet Union -- and they were right! However, they also said it about the Muslim world and I think that they were -- and still are -- wrong.

The peoples of the Soviet Union -- at least in part -- proved to be responsive to democratization and freedom (or at least to the overthrow of communism); whereas the peoples of the Muslim world -- on the whole -- weren't and still aren't amenable to democratization and freedom. And the reason for that, in short, is that communism had only existed in the Soviet Union for around seventy years when that system finally perished in 1991; whereas Islam has been around in the Muslim world for up to 1,400 years. Not only that: very very many people in the Soviet Union -- the majority -- were deeply unhappy with communism from the very start; whereas the vast majority of Muslims in the Muslim world are, if not devout Muslims, then at least strong tribal Muslims. 

That is the overall reality of the Muslim world today. And it's a reality which Tony Blair and so many others seem either unable or unwilling to face.

(Strange as it may seem, I've previously written a piece -- 'Is Tony Blair or Islam to Blame For Iraq?' -- for American Thinker which argues that Tony Blair isn't (completely or even largely) to blame for what's happening in Iraq at the present time.)

I've chosen to focus on Tony Blair's attitude towards the Muslim world and Islam because he expresses views which many other Western leaders have also expressed in recent years (i.e., not only the infamous “neocons”). The other thing is that he has spoken openly and frequently on these subjects since his fall from power.

Take President Obama, for example. Much of what Tony Blair says may well be endorsed by Barack Obama. Though if Blair's views -- on Islam and the Muslim world -- aren't endorsed by Obama himself, then they certainly are by other Democrats; as well as by various -- perhaps many -- Republicans.

As just hinted at, because Blair is no longer in power, he can afford to speak a bit more openly and honestly about Islam and the Muslim world. However, along with that freedom comes Blair's tendency to outrightly contradict himself on these issues.

The Chasm Between Islam and the Actions of Muslim Extremists

At the heart of Tony Blair's position on Islam (as with so many others) is his belief in the chasm which exists between Islam itself (or the Koran itself) and the beliefs and actions of Islamic extremists and terrorists. 

People like Blair believe in this chasm as a matter of faith. In other words, such people have a profound belief is the disjunction between Islam (as the “religion of peace”) and the endless violence and killings carried out by Islamic groups and Muslim individuals. 

Yet Tony Blair has also explicitly stated that the U.S. and UK want to bring about “a new Islam”. In Blair's biography,  A Journey, he says:

“The idea would have been to have worked for gradual reform and the appearance of a new Islam over time.” (349) 

Blair also states that this project for a “new Islam” failed. Instead, just a paragraph later, he says that the alternative requires “a myriad of interventions deep into the affairs of other nations”. What's more, it “requires above all a willingness to see the battle as existential”. Indeed it requires us “to shed the blood” (349).

Tony Blair's Many Self-Contradictions

So is it or isn't it about Islam itself? 

Well, it depends which page you're reading. It also depends on when and where Tony Blair was speaking. 

On page 348 of A Journey, for example, he says that the U.S. and UK are engaged in “a fundamental struggle for the mind, heart and soul of Islam”. Yet not many pages later Blair tells us that “[this] isn't really to do with Islam or indeed religion”. 

Again, on page 365 Tony Blair says that “we were confronted with a new battle – one about culture and religion more than politics per se”. Yet on page 368 (only three pages later) he says that “[this] isn't really to do with Islam or indeed religion”.

There is more of this Blairite doubletalk and obfuscation.

For example, in the following Blair says that it is about Islam (he's said this even more explicitly recently):

“... we had not counted on the deep grip this [Islamic] extremism could exercise on the imagination, will and way of life of its adherents.

“The fact was that even many who were not extremists nevertheless shared a sense that they were justified in fighting us...” (364)

What Blair also fails to realize is that Muslim regimes can be in favor of Islamic extremism and even terrorism and at the very same time as not being in favor of any extremism and terrorism which threatens their own regimes or power. (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, Syria and Iran are all good examples of this phenomenon.) 

It continues.

For example, after telling us that Islamic extremists have “sympathisers [who] reach further along the spectrum than we think” (348), and that these sympathisers also “understand why [terrorism] is happening” (as well as that they “buy into bits of their [the extremists/terrorists] world view”), Tony Blair then informs us that “a large number, probably the majority” of Muslims “condemn the terrorists”.

Muslim individuals and groups like CAIR and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) do indeed condemn Islamic terrorism and Islamic extremism simply because they know that this is what's expected of them. And they do so in order to protect and advance Islam in the West. After all, if these officially-moderate Muslim groups and individuals praised both Islamic terrorism and extremism, that would result in their immediate political suicide (in Western states). And what would be the point of that for these groups and individuals?

Tony Blair also tells us that “[w]ithin Islam, other, deeper forces were at work” (346). Moreover, those “deeper forces” against Western democracy, etc. “turned it into a powerful radicalising potency” which “was peculiar to Islam”(346).

At other times Blair and many others have tried to convince themselves – as well as other people - that Islamic terrorists are just violent criminals who want to kill people for the hell of it. (This is what's being said about ISIS, Boko Haram,al-Shabab, etc.; though not about Hamas and Hizb’allah.) Either they are telling us that, or they are saying that Islamic terrorists are responding to all the “perceived wrongs” which have been committed by the West over the years.

Nonetheless, in this instance at least Tony Blair has the decency to admit that Islamic “terror” is indeed “inspired by a belief in Allah” (342). Thus Blair isn't relying here on the common Marxist meme that all the religious actions and beliefs of Islamic terrorists and extremists are mere epiphenomena of deeper political, economic, or social (i.e. “material”) wrongs. Blair, on this page, isn't relying on the alternative psychological account (or copout) which says that Muslim terrorists and extremists are just criminals or psychotics either....

But not too fast! 

Islam still isn't (really?) to blame. 

Rather, what these Muslim extremists and terrorists have is a “perverted” and “delusional and demonic” belief in Islam and the Koran. Though those beliefs are still “nonetheless so inspired” (342) by both Islam and the Koran.

Foreign Leaders or Foreign Peoples?

One common view of neocon foreign policy is that neocon politicians and theorists believed that the problem with the Middle East, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere was that whereas the peoples of these places and states were responsive to ideas of freedom and democracy, the leaders and the regimes weren't. (Remember Tony Blair's self-contradictory position earlier.) In fact that was something that Jean Kirkpatrick, for example, explicitly stated in her writings.

Yet Tony Blair seems to turn all this on its head. 

Blair now tells us that “the leaders [of the “Middle East”] would be open to the West, but their societies would not be”. (387)

Moreover, according to Blair, the “discourse between leaders in that world and in ours could agree on the need to root out extremism, but the discourse on their streets would frequently represent that extremism”.

The problem, then, is not one of regimes and leaders; but one of, as Blair puts it, Islamic “societies” and the “discourse on their streets”. Yet, as I said earlier, didn't most (all?) neocons in the past say the exact opposite of that? Didn't many of the famous names of neoconnism argue that Muslim and other societies are open to the West and democracy but that their leaders/regimes aren't? 

The neocons certainly said that about the Soviet Union -- and they were right! However, they also said it about the Muslim world and I think that they were -- and still are -- wrong.

The peoples of the Soviet Union -- at least in part -- proved to be responsive to democratization and freedom (or at least to the overthrow of communism); whereas the peoples of the Muslim world -- on the whole -- weren't and still aren't amenable to democratization and freedom. And the reason for that, in short, is that communism had only existed in the Soviet Union for around seventy years when that system finally perished in 1991; whereas Islam has been around in the Muslim world for up to 1,400 years. Not only that: very very many people in the Soviet Union -- the majority -- were deeply unhappy with communism from the very start; whereas the vast majority of Muslims in the Muslim world are, if not devout Muslims, then at least strong tribal Muslims. 

That is the overall reality of the Muslim world today. And it's a reality which Tony Blair and so many others seem either unable or unwilling to face.

(Strange as it may seem, I've previously written a piece -- 'Is Tony Blair or Islam to Blame For Iraq?' -- for American Thinker which argues that Tony Blair isn't (completely or even largely) to blame for what's happening in Iraq at the present time.)