Hands off my Islam, Mr Blair!Tony Blair rarely invites genuine debate about his policies. He is what is known in the business of State control as a ‘conviction’ politician. A typical postmodern political operator. Just like his corporate buddies, Blair is not so much in the business of selling you policies, as selling you to the brand – President Blair PLC. There may be ‘public consultation’ on some matters, but how often is this little more than a PR stunt, a feigned act of democracy, an invitation to tinker with administrative detail while the ideological core of the idea remains beyond critique? Not that Tony is simply a liar. Boss Blair is at his best as arch-manipulator, appealing to beliefs, ideas and attitudes at the point where self and culture are closely intertwined – national solidarity, pragmatic morality and even the affable managerialism which he so claims to be his style.
Blair’s conviction politics is clearly evident in his most recent assertion, to work with Muslim communities to uproot "perverted and poisonous misrepresentations" of Islam. Here Blair is appealing to the British cultural trope of compromise and moderation, made heady by nationalistic appeals to solidarity. After all, in this climate, who could disagree with the idea of fighting extremists who espouse violence? Yet seen from outside the illusions of Blairspeak and patriotic fervour, one cannot deny that Blair’s pronouncements deflect blame from his role in fermenting the cycle of terror and counter-terror. Here is a man whose hands drip with the blood of countless thousands of innocent Iraqis. The reality is Tony Blair is as much an violent extremist, as much an absolutist, as any global Jihadi.
Blair’s intention, along with his neoconservative friends in the White House, is to sell the world to corporate consumer greed. He sells our schools and hospitals to private contractors, or should I say he sells us privately financed public services to in the name of ‘consumer choice’. He wants to sell us GM crops, which benefit only bloated corporations, who care nothing for human health and the environment. In short, Blair champions the PLC, the institution that cares nothing for lives destroyed in the name of profit, even if it means having their friends in the Whitehouse (helped by its poodles) bomb the opposition into submission.
Like his corporate buddies, Blair’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. His government tightens laws on gun ownership in Britain, whilst the UK remains the second biggest manufacturer and exporter of arms in the world. And when his arguments don’t fit ‘the facts’, Blair simply changes the facts. We invaded Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction; sorry, I mean the threat of WMD programmes; no, I mean we went to war to depose that evil tyrant Saddam Hussein. The man has the gall of a Klingon!
His latest sales tool is nationalism, appealing to the deep sense of shock which all people living in Britain have experienced in the wake of the London bombings. Honing this latest weapon, Blair now calls on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as “British people”, to condemn the London atrocities, whilst his minions deny any links between these terrible acts and British foreign policy. At the same time, he wants Imams working in the UK to speak English and understand civic life, as if somehow speaking Urdu or not knowing how to claim social security makes you a potential threat to national security.
In Blair’s new world, post 7/7, there can be no divided loyalties, as if our first loyalty should be to ‘nation’ rather than to justice, reason and even God. This is a debased nationalism. Like the colonial leaders and political absolutists of old, what Blair wants more than anything is docile subjects. And just like the crooks that once ravaged Muslim lands, Blair knows that the communities that call themselves ‘Muslim’, just like the ‘British’, are not real communities, based on daily social contact, but imagined communities where ideas play a crucial role in identity formation. King-of-spin Blair is on familiar ground, of course, and he sincerely and passionately believes he can influence Muslims in Britain and elsewhere to support his ideas on ‘moderation’.
The fact is, we’ve heard it all before. Over the pond in the USA, the report of the Rand Corporation extolled a similar vision of Muslim moderation, and no doubt for similar reasons. The “moderate” vision of Islam postulated in this ill-informed document is a political conformist, a perfect Western consumer and docile citizen. Muslims who want the US military out of the Middle East, at gun point if necessary, and Muslims who oppose globalising corporate capitalism and its cultural accoutrements as fundamentally immoral – they are the Islamic extremists. Anything that even smells of Rand will get short shrift from the overwhelming majority of British Muslims, have no doubt of that.
Muslims condemn violence against innocents, which is why so many of us feel as much anger towards Blair as we do towards the London bombers. Indeed, the trail of blood on both counts leads back to 10 Downing Street, second home to Britain’s corporate and largely Islamophobic media. After 9/11, the fishing expeditions and press-pack panics surrounding extremists didn’t so much marginalise lunatics like Abu Hamza – in fact, they probably gave him a degree of credibility that comes with notoriety. Instead, outside the media gaze, a tiny minority of passionate and newly politicised Muslim youth were censored. And when people can’t talk openly about ideas, particular when these people are young and impressionable, they fester in secret places. The truth is, you cannot sanction or marginalise people who are prepared to take their own lives at the same time as others. The best defence against the rubbish thinking of global jihadis is talk, and that's not some woolly liberal view, but an idea already put into practice by hard-headed Muslim scholars.
In Yemen, Muslims leaders directly challenged extremists and defeated their ideas using nothing more than reasoned debate. Instead of rooting out and clamping down, they took known extremists, sat them down and changed their minds in open discussion. "The pen and the tongue that God has granted you can achieve more than all the weapons in the world,” proclaimed Judge Hamoud Al-Hitar, a truth Blair routinely exploits to his political advantage. Yet no Yemeni scholar telephoned Tony Blair to buffer his arguments - a truly God-fearing Muslim does not tell lies. None took special courses in English before instigating the debate. And they didn’t pledge allegiance to anything or anyone in this world- only Almighty Allah.
The mistake now would be for British Muslim leaders to be seen walking hand in glove with Blair in the management of post-7/7 Muslim communities. The consequences could well prove to be extremely divisive, even disastrous. British Muslim youth, already politicised and made street-wise by events post-9/11, may well view such a compromise as a betrayal. It is enough that our leaders already sit up and beg as killer Blair showers them with Lordships and knighthoods – it is sad Iqbal Sacranie didn’t take a leaf out of Benjamin Zephaniah’s book, and send his knighthood back. This is a tough time for Muslims in Britain, but let not the fear of reprisals or a false sense of shame drive us into hasty and divisive alignments. Help the police catch criminals, by all and every means, but we alone can and should sort out our own religious affairs without having to drop a knee to Tony and his puppet masters in Washington and the Stock Exchange.