Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Blair blather


When Tony Blair took over Labour leadership after John Smith's death, his energy and willingness to talk about his ideas impressed some of us. And there was no doubt that it was this ability to communicate that enabled him to bring the Labour Party to power after a 18 year lapse. But soon it became clear, as in the case of former US president Bill Clinton, that Blair is a smooth talker, that he had mastered the art of sound bite and nothing more. Every time he spoke in that earnest tone of his, it was clear to everyone that he was putting on an act, that his beliefs were shallow even when they were not false. But that was just a step away from falsehood. Because Blair and Clinton -- heirs to the pop culture era of the 1960s and 1970s Europe and America -- apart from being showbiz politicians were also deeply insincere, and their smart talk hid a deep hollow.
Blair exposes his Mephistophelean -- no, not Faustian -- soul fully in the piece he has written in the January-February, 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs. He makes a desperate attempt to defend and rationalise the war on terror in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. A close reading of this piece reveals his intellectual inconsistencies, intellectual dishonesty in all its nakedness.
He fudges, glosses over errors and crimes, glides from one shallow statement to another. And he displays the brazen confidence and the garish polish of a political villain. But his villainy is not the heroic kind. In comparison, the much hated Saddam shows a better sense of honour and courage.
He starts off his piece glibly: "Our response to the September 11 attacks has proved even more momentous than it seemed at the time. That is because we could have chosen security as the battleground. But we did not. We chose values. We said that we did not want another Taliban or a different Saddam Hussein. We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas."

He thinks that no one would ask him to distinguish between the Taliban, who were religious fundamentalists, and Saddam Hussein, the crude, authoritarian socialist. He does not have the courage to acknowledge that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and September 11. The issue with Taliban was that they were sheltering Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda, who were suspected to be behind the September 11 attacks. The connection was tenuous, but there was some probable connection there. In the case of Saddam there is no such connection. So, he begins the piece on a false note even as he speaks of values.

Then he puts on the most hypocritical Micawberish humility in his attitude towards the Koran: "To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance.
Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. "

But he betrays his unconscious and inevitable prejudice of a Westerner when he writes "Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking." Non-semitic religions are referred to as "pagan". But he does not use 'pagan' in a derogatory sense like medieval Jews, Christians and Muslims would have used it. The medievalists were sincere. Blair is not. But he has to pretend that he is not anti-Muslim or anti-Islam as many ordinary Europeans are. He wants to show himself to be above the common crowd, but the teflon politician that he is , he slips. And he does not even know that he has slipped.

Then he tries to display his intellectual -- actually, rhetorical -- skills in explaining the problem of discontent in Arab and Muslim countries. He writes: "Muslims began to see the sorry state of Muslim countries as symptomatic of the sorry state of Islam. Political radicals became religious radicals and vice versa."

Then he goes on to unravel the contemporary Middle East history, and the political developments that contributed to it: "Those in power tried to accommodate this Islamic radicalism by incorporating some of its leaders and some of its ideology. The result was nearly always disastrous. Religious radicalism was made respectable and political radicalism suppressed, and so in the minds of many, the two came together to represent the need for change." This is mere gibberish because there is n clarity in the point that he is trying to make.

He would not admit in his pseudo-profound analysis the role played by the democratic, modern Western governments, especially that of Britain and the United States. It was the Anglo-Saxon democracies that propped up the reactionary political regimes, which had co-opted religious extremism. And more importantly, it was the democratic West in its fight against totalitarian communism, that had shamelessly used the religious radicals in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, and in the Balkans. And he observes in passing: "Sometimes political strategy comes deliberately, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it probably came by instinct. It has an ideology, a worldview, deep convictions, and the determination of fanaticism. It resembles, in many ways, early revolutionary communism. " But nave Muslims all ver the world believed that the West was a friend of Muslims in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, Chechnya and the Christian-dominated Balkans.

Blair believes that his smooth rhetorical glide will help cross the ravines of Western mendacity and realpolitik, all in the name of values.

And then comes the first hint of mistakes committed: "For sure, it is arguable that de-Baathification went too quickly and was spread too indiscriminately, especially among the armed forces." So, authoritarian socialism, which is secular, is better that religious extremism. But he would not admit it openly. He would not want to recognise that there are secular forces in the Arab world, and those forces do not owe their existence to the tolerance and patronage of the crooked foreign policies of Britain and the US.

Nowhere is Blair capable of speaking like a mature adult, who can see reality and its inescapable contradictions in the face. He has to blabber and he does so without hesitation: "The debate over the wisdom of the original decisions, especially about Iraq, will continue. Opponents will say that Iraq was never a threat, that there were no weapons of mass destruction that the drug trade in Afghanistan continues. I will point out that Iraq was indeed a threat, as two regional wars, 14 UN resolutions, and the final report of the Iraq Survey Group showed. I will remind people that in the aftermath of the Iraq war, we secured major advances in tackling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, not least a new relationship with Libya and the shutting down of A. Q. Khan's nuclear weapons network. I will recall that it was the Taliban who manipulated the drug trade and housed al Qaeda and its training camps."

The Blair piece shows one thing: there is no ideological clarity in the West today as there was during the Cold War. Blair pretends to admire Islam, but he is not willing to admit that the deprivation of the Arab and Muslim people is a result of Western machinations. The West wants to co-opt Muslims of the world. It is a noble idea indeed. But there is great intellectual confusion because Western intellectuals do not understand the sophisticated and complex cultural and intellectual traditions of Islamic civilisation. They believe that the Graeco-Roman, Judeaeo-Christian heritage is sufficient to handle the world, including the Muslim world. The resistance to this intellectual hegemony is finding a savage expression in Islamic extremism.

This is something much too complicated for the blithe and glib Blair.

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