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Tony Blair Finds the Trouble Within Islam

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Did you see that former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair is criticizing Islam for harboring "the seeds of future fanaticism and terror-- possibly even major conflict"? This from a man whose responsibility for the killing of upwards of 100,000 Muslims in the Iraq War is exceeded only by that of US President George W. Bush. As they say in New York, Now that's some chutzpah!

To be fair, while Tony Blair may have been derided as "Bush's Poodle" for his "Me too, Mr. President" foreign policy, no one ever said he was stupid. So, for instance, when an article appears under his name, I can actually believe that he wrote it (which would not be the case with his master). And some of his reasoning in The Trouble Within Islam--his response to the brutal, ideological murder of British soldier Lee Rigby on a street near his London barracks--is strong enough that it's worth applying to the Iraq War that Blair championed. Of the Rigby murder, he writes, "There are two views of its significance. One is that it was an act by crazy people, motivated in this case by a perverted notion of Islam, but of no broader significance. Crazy people do crazy things, so don't overreact. The other view is that the ideology that inspired the murder of Rigby is profoundly dangerous. I am of the latter view."

And a reasonable view it is. But Blair is seemingly oblivious to the fact that with a couple of substitutions--"Iraq War" for "murder of Rigby" and "western values" for Blair's "Islam"--we would have a reasonable take on the debate within the Islamic world over how to understand the wars the "West" has waged on it: Has it all just been a matter of Bush or Blair, or Obama or Cameron? Or is this really some kind of war between the "West" and Islam, as the bellicose fundamentalists say it is? (Or maybe even between Islam and Christianity, given Blair's religious turn. Since leaving office he's converted to Catholicism and founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, as well as the Faith and Globalization Initiative.)

Unfortunately for their "moderate" opponents, one of the strongest arguments the military-minded Islamists have is the mere fact that an article like Blair's can still appear in "serious" publications in the UK and the US. This is a man who waged a war on Iraq to deny them possession of "weapons of mass destruction of the sort that the US and UK themselves flaunt--weapons that Iraq denied it possessed and, in fact, did not possess. It's a commonplace in much of the world that, had Blair (or Bush) been the leader of a small country, he'd be mustering his arguments before a war crimes tribunal these days, rather than pontificating in the media about other people's moral and ideological shortcomings.

Here in the US, we seemingly live comfortably with the idea that if you wrongly kill one person, you're a terrorist, but if you kill 100,000 you can still be a world leader. Such is not the case everywhere, though. Certainly the Islamic world, which Blair now exhorts to change, shows little sympathy for the legacy of Anglo-American military operations that he did so much to promote. Last year, for instance, Pew Research found only 15 percent of the population of five surveyed Muslim countries favorably inclined toward the US. And in Pakistan, our "ally," where illegal, quasi-secret, drone-based American missile strikes have been going on for years, Gallup found only 4 percent of respondents expressing approval of US leadership, with 92 percent disapproving.

Blair is probably fairly on the mark in writing that, within the current Islamic world, "At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but their worldview goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit." Unfortunately, he appears totally obtuse to the degree to which his actions have broadened the base of that worldview. The man who made the case for invading Iraq now complains that "Iran continues its meddling there"--with apparently not even a sense of irony. Give George Bush credit for keeping his mouth shut, anyhow.

Should the murder of Lee Rigby be deplored and denounced by all reasonable people? Of course. But we're not likely to turn many heads in the Middle East on that question, when people with far more blood on their hands are doing the preaching. Political reality is such that Tony Blair or George Bush is very unlikely to pay any price for the lives they wasted. But perhaps we might at least adopt a modest goal of not letting them do any further damage.

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Tom Gallagher was a UN Election Officer in East Timor and an Election and Voter Registration Supervisor in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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