Tony Blair currently is the representative of the Quartet (the UN, EU, USA and Russia) with a “mandate is to help mediate Middle East peace negotiations and to support Palestinian economic development and institution-building in preparation for eventual statehood.”
Given the importance of Middle East peace and the relationship between Israel and Palestine we may induce that Tony Blair has a position of some importance.
He recently distinguished between Islam and Islamism. In itself the distinction is important, but his choice of words is confusing. It is better to distinguish, see the dictionary:
- Islam, with Islamists or muslims who adhere to peace, and who regard the Koran or Qur’an as the holy book, with the Jihad primarily for personal self-perfection,
- Political Islam, that employs Islam also for political purposes,
- Islamic Terrorism, that also uses violence, terrorism and perhaps even war, with the violent interpretation of Jihad.
Tony Blair intended to distinguish 1 (and a bit of 2) from 3 but his term “Islamist” quickly generates confusion. It is better to stick to the above three categories. Political Islam might be dangerous itself when there are muslims who think with Von Clausewitz that “war is a continuation of politics by other means”. Thus 2 could be split up in 2a (pacifist) and 2b (potential war), but that isn’t quite relevant here yet.
Geert Wilders in 2001 had the same view as Tony Blair in 2014. See this broadcast in Dutch, when Wilders was still a member of the VVD Party, and argued: Islam as a religion is okay and it is only the violent minority that is the problem. In 2004 Wilders resisted Turkey’s entry in the EU, was evicted from the VVD that tried to find a middle ground, and started his own party PVV. I myself would tend to support the entry of both Russia and Turkey and to dress down the EU to a trade area.
Nowadays, though, Wilders argues that it is the very nature of Islam that causes the excesses. According to Wilders since say 2007 the distinction between 1, 2 and 3 is an illusion. He has seen the light, and all the peaceful muslims still carry the seeds of violence, whence Islam better be expelled from Europe. He may not have thought further whether it is such a good idea to allow Islam even in the bordering countries … It is useful to mention Hans Jansen, retired scholar of Arabic. In the past Jansen corrected Wilders in going too far, but Jansen has radicalised as well and has now been elected to the EU Parliament for Wilders’s party PVV.
What can we expect from Tony Blair ? Will he maintain the distinction 1, 2 and 3, or will his choice of words enable him to radicalise and become the British Geert Wilders ?
Tony Blair already has shown the ample capacity to be inconsistent but hide this in rhetorics. As a politician for Labour he adopted neoliberal economics and continued with Thatcher’s demolition of Britain. Under Blair the financial sector in the London City really expanded. He joined up with George W. Bush in the falsehoods about Iraq. You might want to read my response to 9/11 to check that I am not commenting from hindsight.
Are we supposed to think that a politician like Tony Blair would be unaware of the importance of words ? My impression is that Blair now chooses the words “Islam” and “Islamist” with purpose. He allows for the possibility that the distinction may quickly become blurred. This however is only speculation, and Tony Blair might defend himself by saying that he isn’t such a good politician as we take him to be.
We may wonder what the power base of Blair actually is. He isn’t welcome at his own Labour party anymore. Matthew Norman suggests about David Cameron: “There was a time when he almost openly worshipped Mr Blair as a political demigod”. Similarly the United States might feel obliged to their partner in the Iraq misdeed.
The following are some links for further study. Keep in mind: While our oil money comes in the hands of political regimes that have different purposes than developing the Western model of democracy, also the political leaders in the West may have their own delusions.
(1) This is Tony Blair’s April speech. One paragraph: “For the last 40/50 years, there has been a steady stream of funding, proselytising, organising and promulgating coming out of the Middle East, pushing views of religion that are narrow minded and dangerous. Unfortunately we seem blind to the enormous global impact such teaching has had and is having.”
(2) This is the video at the Guardian: “Tony Blair warns in a keynote speech that the West must ‘take sides’ against radical Islam. The ex-British prime minister claims the spread of extremism is hampering efforts at ‘peaceful co-existence’ while warping the true message of Muslims’ faith. Blair was speaking to Bloomberg in London on Wednesday.”
(3) This is the page at the BBC: “Tony Blair: ‘West should focus on radical Islam'”.
(5) I was annoyed that the speech event apparently was sponsered by the Michael Milken Institute. See this video and this one. Young readers may not recall this, but Michael Milken opened up the junk bond market, got fined for $600 million and excluded from the market but apparently had still proceeds left over to create the Milken Institute. Why not use the remaining money to dig a big hole to hide from shame ? Money makes the world go round, with failed Prime Ministers speaking for failed institutes …
(6) There is now the Blair Foundation with the idea of “face to faith”: “We provide the practical support to help prevent religious prejudice, conflict and extremism. We work with those of faith and none who are committed to peaceful co-existence.” Does this imply that the world religions don’t do enough on peace ?
(7) Tony Blair speaks about 40 million muslims in Europe. This number is from Pew Research that properly includes Russia in the definition of Europe with a total of 750 million people. For the EU of 500 million the number is closer to 10-15 million.
(8) My own proposal to reduce religious tensions is to study the issue from the angle of the education in mathematics, see my booklet The simple mathematics of Jesus.
(9) Wilders has now perhaps 10-17% of the Dutch vote. However, he holds political discussion at ransom. Other parties treat him and his case with utmost care. Namely, when there would happen a terrorist attack in Holland again, then Wilders can say that he has been warning all the time, and his rating would rise high. The best response to Wilders’ strategy is a full employment policy, that reduces social tensions, and that takes the sting out of possible terrorist attempts.