Monday, March 27, 2006

Tony Blair's howler

Simon Jenkins launches into Tony Blair, and in particular into the speech that I linked to a few days ago. He contemptuously dismisses what he calls Blair's 'howler'.

Terrorism is not, as Blair keeps calling it, an ideology. It is a weapon, like a gun or a bomb. It can kill people and destroy property but it cannot win arguments or topple governments.
It certainly helped in Spain. But, no. Terrorism is not an ideology. But like a gun and a bomb, the important thing is whose hand puts it to use, and what consequences of that use are. And it is a fact that much of the terrorism in the world today shares an aim, and that aim is to damage the West as much as possible, and the justification for that aim derives from Islamic fundamentalism. Further, those that act to further that aim do so armed above all with their faith.

It is a fundamental mistake to assume that because terrorism in so many far-flung places does not have a centralised command it cannot be seen as one. But this weapon is powerful just because of that and because it resides inside the head. It really makes no difference whether the July 7th bombers had contact with al-Queda or anyone similar. They didn't need it. All that was needed was a word to catch fire in their heads, one that would draw on resentment, fear, alienation and cultural humiliation, one that would help them to glimpse a way out of the contradictions in their lives, and the weapon was forged.
Nor can I see how it serves any purpose to tar Muslim fundamentalism with this brush. Many (although not most) Muslims do not live in democracies and strongly disagree with Blair’s claim to superior “values”. They reject the West’s loose morality.
Unfortunately, that fundamentalism is a necessary (if not sufficient) condition for this weapon to exist. It is that particular vision of the world, one that sees past power and present weakness, one that has left far behind anything that could resemble the Enlightenment, one that sees no way out - this is the vision that empowers an otherwise ordinary member of this society, or others, to make a final play. And it is not, I believe, so much a rejection of Western values that they feel as a 'failure to thrive' in a 'Western' world.
Western democracy is one of the great constructs of human society. It has seen off the two ideological challenges in the 20th century, state fascism and state communism. To equate Al-Qaeda with such titanic forces is silly. As Lord Guthrie, formerly Blair’s chief of defence staff, points out in a new Policy Exchange pamphlet (Taming Terrorism: It’s Been Done Before), far tougher terrorist campaigns have been met and overcome in the past, without “declaring war”.
This is where I have had certain doubts. Considering the entities involved and their relative importance in the world, is it accurate or wise to call this a war? Concerning the accuracy, I am not sure and would like to leave it for a while. I don't want to get into definitions. However, I do consider that this 'process' we are living (or dying) through is but the difficult adjustment of a culture to the modern. Sort of the Luddites, writ large. But is it wise to give the idea, at least at home, that this is something that can be won with a battle? Obviously, it cannot. Will a great general, or army, do the job for us. No. Will there be a VI-Day? No. Does it not also play into the hands of Jihadist propaganda and allow them to paint the opposing sides as the Islamic version of David and Goliath? Doesn't it give them too much credit? So, while I do not doubt that this is a conflict about essentials (how to live), it should perhaps be fought more as a mopping-up than as a war.

Jenkins puts it like this:
To grant apocalyptic status to a loose and paltry network invites anyone with a grudge against the West to join in — or at least offer rhetorical support.
It is not the Bush/Blair rhetoric that opened up the field for anyone to join in. No. That had already happened before either came to power. However, I can see his point that they do conribute to it. He's wrong to attribute 'loose and paltry' to the movement. It misses the point, as I said above.

Jenkins rather lets the side (his side) down with his alternative approach.
But this community [he is referring to Blair's doctrine of international community] will only come into being if pursued through example and persuasion, not through war. Success lies in culture and capitalism, through the interpenetration of peoples and religions and the liberation of market forces.
Culture and capitalism are one strand, and the endpoint, of a far larger campaign, and in themselves are not enough. Jenkins has already claimed that the West's morality (which is that of capitalism) has been rejected. The result of that rejection is the application of violence, of terrorism. These cannot be faced down, as they must be, with culture and capitalism, with example and persuasion.

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