By making religious ideology culprit for the “war on terror,” Tony Blair aims to write out of history the horrific consequences of his actions which brought so much death, destruction and instability to Iraq.
It passes all understanding why the man who must take a large part of the responsibility for two catastrophic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should be allowed to lecture the people of the world on how to avoid “wars and violent confrontations”.
But, normally keen to stress his role in history, in a characteristically shameless article in the Observer, Tony Blair is keen to downplay the impact of the “war on terror” he championed.
His thesis that the main cause of conflict in an arc that extends from Pakistan through Africa and to South East Asia is extremist religon is presented as a call for tolerance. Some have suggested it represents a “mea culpa moment.” Really it amounts to an attempt to absolve himself and the other organisers of the war on terror of responsibility for the disastrous results of their decisions in the Middle East and Central Asia.
The argument that religious ideology is the main driver in these regions or any other is plainly false. The most significant political movement in the Middle East in the last few years was the struggle for democracy sparked off by the Arab Spring. This was an entirely political movement which brought together people of many religons and none in a common fight for basic freedoms.
Wind the clock back a few years and we find that religion played a minor part in politics in many of the countries Tony Blair lists in his article. Although there were religious divisions and tensions in some of them, they rarely erupted into violence. At the beginning of the last decade Al Qaeda’s influence was limited largely to Afghanistan and Pakistan, now it has spread from Central Asia across the Middle East and parts of Africa.
What has changed in that time? The near collapse of a series of states and an escalating cycle of sectarian violence did not originate in “a perversion of faith,” as Blair asserts. Just as superficial is his view that the internet as a purveyor of extremist ideas is a root cause of the upheaval we are witnessing. The question is where have the pressures towards fragmentation come from, what is the source of the immense bitterness and alienation that has led to civil wars and failed states?
Two things come to mind immediately. It’s no surprise that Tony Blair doesn’t even mention the trauma that was unleashed on the Middle East and Central Asia by the ‘war on terror’.
The West’s shock and awe policies devastated Afghanistan and Iraq and traumatised the regions generally. Up to a million people lost their lives and four million were displaced as a result of the invasion of Iraq alone. A report in the Guardian outlines the terrible toll of malnutrition on children in Afghanistan – a consequence of nearly thirteen years of war. On top of the immense dislocation caused to civil society by these wars, anger and bitterness against the west has multiplied many times.
To make matters worse, as has been admitted by military insiders who took part in “war on terror” invasions, the west deliberately stirred up religious tensions in their attempts to overcome popular opposition to occupation.
In addition to a decade and more of western military intervention, must be added the frustration and disappointment in the wake of the Arab Spring defeats. Here again, a large part of the blame lies with the west. From Egypt to Bahrain and Yemen the popular democratic movements have been violently suppressed, each time by regimes with the active backing of the US and its allies. While Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt, the revolution failed to take apart the deep security apparatus that had protected his regime for decades. The SCAF military dictatorship continues to be backed, resourced and advised by the US and its allies.
The idea that the solution to the problems of the Middle East and beyond is a campaign of education about tolerance and moderation from the likes of Tony Blair is beyond satire. The implication is that the problem of these regions lies with the people themselves — in other words, blame the victims of the “war on terror” for their own suffering.
Tony Blair has clearly decided that attack is the best means of defence. This latest intervention is no doubt partly motivated by concern at what the much awaited Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq war may reveal. Blair’s office is briefing that the report will confirm he did give assurances to George W Bush in April 2002 that Britain would support the US in the illegal pursuit of regime change in Iraq. This may be part of a pre-emptive campaign to predict worse criticisms of Blair than will actually be in Chilcot’s report — a classic spin technique.[More]