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Blair on the battle of ideas

Posted by Richard on March 24, 2006

Tony Blair and his Labor government have many faults, but I’ll give the man his due — he understands the nature of the current global conflict and articulates it better than anyone. Mary at Deane’s World and Harry at Harry’s Place (whose observations and comments you should go read) quote approvingly from Blair’s March 21 foreign policy speech, and with good reason. It was the first of three planned foreign policy speeches, and in it, Blair discussed global terrorism and the importance of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was on fire:

This terrorism will not be defeated until its ideas, the poison that warps the minds of its adherents, are confronted, head-on, in their essence, at their core. By this I don’t mean telling them terrorism is wrong. I mean telling them their attitude to America is absurd; their concept of governance pre-feudal; their positions on women and other faiths, reactionary and regressive; and then since only by Muslims can this be done: standing up for and supporting those within Islam who will tell them all of this but more, namely that the extremist view of Islam is not just theologically backward but completely contrary to the spirit and teaching of the Koran.

I don’t know if Blair’s right about the Koran, but he sure nailed it on the backwardness and the need to confront those backward ideas directly. Blair went on to reject the notion that we should ask ourselves why they hate us and the idea that this conflict is one we can choose to avoid:

This is not a clash between civilisations. It is a clash about civilisation. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace and see opportunity in the modern world and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand; and pessimism and fear on the other. And in the era of globalisation where nations depend on each other and where our security is held in common or not at all, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future here in Britain. We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is an isolated series of individual incidents rather than a global movement and would go away if only we were more sensitive to its pretensions; this too is a policy. It is just that it is a policy that is profoundly, fundamentally wrong.

Blair touched on an important point regarding the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan:

The fact is: given the chance, the people wanted democracy. OK so they voted on religious or regional lines. That’s not surprising, given the history. But there’s not much doubt what all the main parties in both countries would prefer and it is neither theocratic nor secular dictatorship. The people – despite violence, intimidation, inexperience and often logistical nightmares – voted. Not a few. But in numbers large enough to shame many western democracies. They want Government decided by the people.

Blair touched on something very important above, but didn’t fully pursue the thought. It’s a crucial idea that the Islamofascists seem to understand clearly, but the critics and pessimists just don’t get: once the vast majority of the people buy into the concept of democratic government — even a Sharia-based or Shia-dominated democratic government — the reactionary theology of the Islamofascists has already lost. Their version of Islam can’t tolerate people choosing, period — even if you make the "right" choice, the very idea that it’s up to you to decide between competing ideas undermines their entire belief system and will eventually destroy it.

Eventually. But we may have to be patient, and we’re not very good at that. Granted, it’s not easy to be patient with a new, democratic government that threatens to execute someone for changing his religion.

Blair expressed his frustration with the critics, nay-sayers, and defeatists, and called on us to have patience and courage:

That to me is the painful irony of what is happening. They have so much clearer a sense of what is at stake. They play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party. Every act of carnage adds to the death toll. But somehow it serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder, rather than the act of wickedness that causes it. For us, so much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong, that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now.

What happens in Iraq or Afghanistan today is not just crucial for the people in those countries or even in those regions; but for our security here and round the world. It is a cause that has none of the debatable nature of the decisions to go for regime change; it is an entirely noble one – to help people in need of our help in pursuit of liberty; and a self-interested one, since in their salvation lies our own security.

Across the Arab and Muslim world such a struggle for democracy and liberty continues. One reason I am so passionate about Turkey’s membership of the EU is precisely because it enhances the possibility of a good outcome to such a struggle. It should be our task to empower and support those in favour of uniting Islam and democracy, everywhere.

To do this, we must fight the ideas of the extremists, not just their actions; and stand up for and not walk away from those engaged in a life or death battle for freedom. The fact of their courage in doing so should give us courage; their determination should lend us strength; their embrace of democratic values, which do not belong to any race, religion or nation, but are universal, should reinforce our own confidence in those values.

Read, as they say, the whole thing.

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