Referring to wars and violent confrontations from Syria to Nigeria and the Philippines, Blair, writing in the Observer, argues that “there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.”
Blair, in cahoots with George W. Bush, started the biggest “war on terror” chapter of all, the Iraq invasion. While he should be having second thoughts on that, I think he’s shifting the blame in a way that will win the hearts of rabid secularists but won’t get to the bottom of the problem.
First, any religion or ideology which is political at the core is going to resort to violence sooner or later to meet its goals. That’s just reality. In Christianity, resorting to violence goes against the idea of the Founder. In Islam, where establishing a political entity is part of the plan and public and private morality are one in the same, it’s only a matter of when and how.
For example, when the Caliph was the Sultan of the Ottoman Turks, everyone knew who was in charge, what religion he was in charge of, and what his goals were. Europe lived five centuries in dread of “the Turk”. After the Ottoman Empire ended with World War I, the authority issue in Islam went into play, and the Balkanisation of the Middle East (another European legerdemain) only fuelled conflict. Today we see the spectacle of Saudi Arabia, on the one hand encouraging Wahhabi/Salafi Islam and on the other brutally suppressing wannabe power challengers who take it to heart. For Islam, if we do jihad isn’t the question; who’s in charge is, and that leads to many of the complexities we see in the Middle East.
Those complexities, however, were beyond the pay grade of either Bush or Blair:
On Saturday, Jonathan Eyal, the international director of the Royal United Services Institute, took issue with Blair’s analysis and any implication that western governments were not informed before invading Iraq of the sectarian violence that was likely to be stirred up.
“Predicting when religious differences may descend into outright violence is never easy,” he said. “But it’s just fallacious to claim that those who ordered and led the 2003 Iraq war lacked access to the necessary information about the complexities of that country’s ethnic and religious divisions, or could have ever assumed that they could complete their intervention without rekindling religious bloodshed.”
He added: “It was not the lack of sufficient knowledge about history and religion which led to the Iraqi debacle, but the lack of restraint among politicians who had all the relevant information at their fingertips.”
Indeed. Today our NSA and its British counterpart gather huge amounts of data, ostensibly, to insure that we thwart any terrorist attacks. But the effectiveness of our data collection is limited by the wisdom of our leadership. Instead of creating a diversion by raising the spectre of “religious extremism” in front of a secularised audience, Blair and others would do well to exercise some real, thoughtful leadership and not show that they are really no better–and in many ways worse–than the people they lord over.
In the meanwhile he and other need to take a cue from another “extremist” religion–Roman Catholicism–and recite what Catholics do at the start of every Mass:
I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;…