Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Tony Blair in Foreign Affairs

Published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Foreign Affairs is a blue ribbon periodical. As I read Tony Blair's contribution, written in the best Queen's English, I wonder how well any of our recent presidents, Republican or Democrat, might fare attempting to do the same thing. Something tells me that when Tony Blair's name appears as the author, he wrote it himself. He made the outline, maybe bounced the ideas off a few close confidants, then went to work and put the words together himself.

I could be wrong, but I don't think American presidents go about their work the same way. Ours is the land of soundbites, PR gestures and public figures wearing hats or jackets to symbolize something or other, aided by a cadre of ghost writers, handlers, makeup artists and special effects people. (From recent reports, President Ford may have been an exception. But he didn't get elected, did he?)

The roots of the current wave of global terrorism and extremism are deep. They reach down through decades of alienation, victimhood, and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world. Yet such terrorism is not and never has been inevitable.

To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance.

Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones.


Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it probably came by instinct. It has an ideology, a worldview, deep convictions, and the determination of fanaticism. It resembles, in many ways, early revolutionary communism. It does not always need structures and command centers or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.

In the late 1990s, the movement's strategy became clear. If it was merely fighting within Islam, it ran the risk that fellow Muslims -- being as decent and as fair-minded as anyone else -- would choose to reject its fanaticism. A battle about Islam was just Muslim versus Muslim. The extremists realized that they had to create a completely different battle: Muslims versus the West.

That is what the September 11 attacks did. I am still amazed at how many people say, in effect, that there is terrorism today because of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They seem to forget entirely that 9/11 predated both. The West did not attack this movement. It was attacked.

For this ideology, we are the enemy. But "we" are not the West. "We" are as much Muslim as Christian, Jew, or Hindu. "We" are all those who believe in religious tolerance, in openness to others, in democracy, in liberty, and in human rights administered by secular courts.

This is not a clash between civilizations; it is a clash about civilization. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace the modern world and those who reject its existence -- between optimism and hope, on the one hand, and pessimism and fear, on the other.

The man does more than put words together well. He is also a clear thinker. I find what he says to be inspiring. He makes me want to continue the struggle against ignorance. He makes me feel I am not alone believing that there can be redemption for the world. Reading this piece makes me look forward to a new year in a way that nothing else has done. Sometimes I have a hard time embracing optimism, and Tony Blair is a great antidote to that sinking feeling.

(H/T Medienkritik blog, where the comments thread is already eviscerating Blair for what he wrote. Oddly, the words I find most likely to bring about reconciliation instead of conflict are the very words being criticized. I won't use the word bloodthirsty, but I'm tempted. Oops, I guess I already did.)

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