All hail. For lo verily, the Prophet Anthony Blair, millionaire warmonger and late convert to Catholicism, hath descended from his spiritual retreat with Bono on Mount Davos and come amongst us, bearing not tablets of stone, but a column in The Observer containing his proposals on how the world and the Middle East might pursue peace in the 21st century.
Casting his compassionate eye across our troubled world, Saint Tony is saddened by a ‘ghastly roll call of terror attacks in the obvious places: Syria, Libya, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Pakistan.’ He is also appalled by acts of terror ‘ in places where we have only in recent years seen such violence: Nigeria, and in many parts of central Africa, in Russia and across central Asia, and in Burma, Thailand and the Philippines.’
At this point certain inconsistencies cannot help but catch even the most casual reader’s attention. Why does Blair’s indictment of contemporary violence only refer to the anti-government attacks in Egypt for example, and not the hideous slaughter of more than 1000 supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood by Egypt’s military government last year, in a coup that he supported? If Blair is so appalled by the ‘ghastly roll call’ of terror attacks in Syria, why was he calling for Western governments to arm the rebels last year?
Does he know that his great friends the Saudis, whose corrupt business investments he did so much to protect when he was in office, threatened Russia with ‘terror attacks’ during the Winter Olympics last year if Putin did not change his policy on Syria? What in fact, do the events that he describes actually have to do with each other at all?
That last question, at least, does have an answer. For the Prophet hath looked deeply into all these events and concluded:
The fact is that, though of course there are individual grievances or reasons for the violence in each country, 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. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion. There is no doubt either that this phenomenon is growing, not abating.
An abuse of religion, golly who would have thought it? So that’s why the Rohingyas have become a stateless and victimized minority in Burma. That’s why anti-Russian rebels in the Caucasus have been fighting for years against Russian domination. This is why Sunnis and Shiites are currently slaughtering each other in Iraq – something that they weren’t doing before the Prophet got together with his equally devout mate George Bush to plot the war that caused the collapse of Iraqi society.
Forget the corrupt oil politics that drive the insurgency in the Niger Delta. Or the poverty and corruption that fuels the maniacally violent Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. Forget authoritarian governance, police and military violence, politics, the unequal distribution of resources, the role of religion in forging political and ethnic identities within states and between – forget all that because all these manifestations of 21st century violence are all the result of a ‘perversion of faith.’
To put it as politely as I can, and far more politely than Saint Tony deserves, this is total and unmitigated nonsense. That reactionary religious extremism exists is indisputable. It is also clear that such extremism has increased its political influence, particularly in the Middle East.
But that does not mean that the wars and acts of violence in the 21st century are ‘religious’ conflicts, let alone that they are based on a ‘perversion of faith’, whatever that means. Religious conflict did not cause the Syrian Civil War, anymore than it has caused the wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, or the ongoing violence in Palestine, Lebanon or any of the other countries that Blair so gormlessly attempts to envelop in his dim thesis.
In fact there is no need to ‘pervert faith’ in order to use religion as a justification for violence or a political instrument. All religions contain messages of peace and violence that can be drawn upon depending on the circumstances. Religion can be a tool of political control by states and governments, and in some cases such control can be exercised by favoring certain sectarian groups at the expense of others, or by using religion to promote geopolitical influence beyond their borders.
But religion can also provide a potent mobilising ideology for revolutionary violence, and the fantasy of a just state founded on religious purity tends to acquire more momentum under oppressive regimes where no other ideological critiques are permitted, as has so often been the case in the Middle East. Religion can also provide a rallying call for resistance to occupation, as Britain and the United States have discovered in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is no doubt that the belief that religiously-justified violence is sanctioned by God can lead to some spectacularly cruel and fanatical acts of violence, but in strategic terms, most acts that fall within Blair’s ‘roll call of terror attacks’ stem from a template of modern revolutionary violence that can be both ‘religious’ or ‘secular.’
And however bloody some of these acts have been, they are no less fanatical than Blair and Bush’s catastrophic and disastrously misconceived wars, with their utter disregard for the potential consequences.
When Blair calls for greater western engagement in the Middle East on the grounds that ‘ All over the region, and including in Iraq…the same sectarianism threatens the right of the people to a democratic future,’ he entirely neglects to mention the extent to which the previous intervention in Iraq that he so fervently advocated has actually fuelled sectarian conflict, and created a vortex of violence that has sucked in Iraq’s neighbours.
All that is neatly obliterated by Saint Tony’s reflection on ‘my experience post-9/11 of how countries whose people were freed from dictatorship have then had democratic aspirations thwarted by religious extremism.’
And the solution? According to Blair, western governments must now set out to embark on a campaign to promote education and religious tolerance in the Middle East and across the world, against those who ‘disseminate hatred and division’ so as ‘not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths.’
Now resist the urge to be sick readers, and sing hallelujah, for as Saint Tony reminds us, the world has the ideal instrument for realising this agenda, in the shape of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.
So there you have it, the man who took his country to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq which his own foreign policy establishment once concluded were a major driving force behind acts of jihadist violence in Britain and beyond, who supported Israel’s wars in Lebanon and Gaza, who has never yet seen a war that he did not support, just wants us all to love each each other – and help him make even more money in the process.
And yet all this remains puzzling, not because Blair can make such stunningly shallow observations in the belief that they are profound thoughts – he has always done that. But the real mystery is why so many powerful people take his fatuous and ill-informed pronouncements seriously – and why a former bastion of British liberalism feels the need to promote the views of this contemptible and dangerous narcissist, whose own actions have proven again and again, that he actually doesn’t know what he is talking about.