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Iraq: Three years on

Last Tuesday, a little more than three years after the first strikes against Iraq, Mr Blair gave a foreign policy speech. I’m not one for deconstructing speeches at great length, but he has said a few things I disagree with.

the defining characteristic of today’s world is its interdependence

That, to be frank, is bollocks. Mr Blair isn’t interested in interdependence. In fact, he want to lose the interdependence that’s been foisted upon him, as he doesn’t want to have to rely on other countries for supplies of, well, anything – least of all, oil. And in many ways, that’s sound foreign policy. The world is an unpredictable place, you can never be sure that your friends today will be your friends tomorrow. So to start waffling on about ‘common global policy based on common values’ is utter rot. The peoples of the world are never going to have common values. People are always going to think different things; the challenge is to live alongside one another, not to try and make everybody adhere to the same ‘common values’.

He says we shouldn’t ‘extremism, conflict or injustice go unchecked’. Whose extremist, whose conflict, and whose injustice? We don’t have ‘common values’. One man’s extremist is another’s moderate. And if we’re not letting conflict go unchecked, who’s checking up on the Iraq war? And what’s injustice? There’s plenty of that in this country. Our value system says that treating the poor worse than the rich is less terrible than treating women worse than men. Perhaps those in the Middle East disagree. That doesn’t mean we should carpet bomb them, it means we should discuss (celebrate?) our differences.

The consequence of this thesis is a policy … that is active not reactive.

We’re now admitting to bombing countries based on what they might do in the future. Whatever happened to that one ‘common value’ of innocent until proven guilty?

This world view – which I would characterise as a doctrine of benign inactivity – sits in the commentator’s seat, almost as a matter of principle.

Would we not rather benign inactivity than malignant activity, the logical conclusion of which is a world permanently at war?

The easiest line for any politician seeking office in the West today is to attack American policy. A couple of weeks ago as I was addressing young Slovak students, one got up, denouncing US/UK policy in Iraq, fully bought in to the demonisation of the US, utterly oblivious to the fact that without the US and the liberation of his country, he would have been unable to ask such a question, let alone get an answer to it.

And, perhaps, if we in this country had this ‘pro-active’ stance whereby we attack anyone we don’t feel quite fits into the ideals and values we hold true to ourselves, then Mr Blair may not have been able to mock such a student. Attacking a country provokes a response from that country and its allies. Hitler learned that around about 1935, when he decided that Poland didn’t quite fit into his world vision. When will Blair realise it? When will it ‘click’ for him that ‘pro-active’ warfare is nothing short of a race to world instability? And why does he feel he can engage in such activity, and yet roundly denounce similar action in the Israel – Palestine conflict?

Ministers have been advised never to use the term “Islamist extremist”. It will give offence. It is true. It will. There are those – perfectly decent-minded people – who say the extremists who commit these acts of terrorism are not true Muslims. And, of course, they are right. They are no more proper Muslims than the Protestant bigot who murders a Catholic in Northern Ireland is a proper Christian. But, unfortunately, he is still a “Protestant” bigot. To say his religion is irrelevant is both completely to misunderstand his motive and to refuse to face up to the strain of extremism within his religion that has given rise to it.

Yes, but you would call him ‘Protestant’, not ‘Christian’. Just as the KKK were the KKK, and not ‘Christian’. Why, then, associate a whole religion with the terrorists rather than being more specific? The answer is straightforward: The majority of the electorate identify with Christian values, and so to attack Christianity is to attack the electorate. Only a minority identify with Muslim values, and it’s politically convenient to associate a religion with the cause, rather than to deal with the underlying issues. You would never class the actions of that Northern Ireland Protestant as religious, but rather as political. To class the actions of Muslims as political gives them a degree of validity, which means they have to be argued against and tackled. That’s hard. Much easier to say ‘Muslim bad’, and demonise the set of people, then the majority, believing as they are told to believe, will support any action against ‘the baddies’.

I recall the video footage of Mohammed Sadiq Khan, the man who was the ringleader of the 7/7 bombers. … There was something tragic, terrible but also ridiculous about such a diatribe. He may have been born here. But his ideology wasn’t. And that is why it has to be taken on, everywhere.

But by ‘taking it on’, Mr Blair means criminalising it, killing it. Not reasoning with it. Not arguing the points on their merits. Is it wrong to say that the West persecutes Muslims? No, there’s evidence of it in the newspapers most days. Is the right response to attack Britain? No. But does that mean we should simply destroy the West-hating ideology, or that we should rather engage with it, tackle the issues, and move forward?

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.

Yes! Yes! Yes!

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;

No! No! No! You don’t ‘defeat ideas’ by telling people that they’re wrong. You explain to them. You let them make their argument, and you engage with it, recognise the kernel truths, and point out the flaws. Terrorists know Mr Blair finds their beliefs abhorrent – that’s the raison d’etre behind their terrorism. How’s that approach going so far?

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.

This just returns to the original point: Why should all the world be the same? Why can’t we have some nations we would view as ‘progressive’, and some we wouldn’t? Who are we to cast judgement over the beliefs and values of those so far removed from ourselves?

Anyway, enough from Blair. A couple of Grauniad folks have had their say on the speech, and they know rather more about these things than I. Dan Plesch, like me, thinks he’s wrong. Harry Hatchet thinks he’s right. Perhaps I’m wrong, and Harry’s right. I’m really in no position to judge.

But something that’s clear to me is that this is all political bickering. It’s undoubtedly essential bickering, deciding the future foreign policy of the country, but, as with most policies in politics, it’ll be changed by this time next year. One thing that won’t change is the reality of the situation for people who’ve lived it. People like Karzan Sherabayani. For him, Iraq isn’t a three-year problem, it’s a thirty-year one.

One of the most powerful pieces of television I’ve seen in a long time is his seven-minute report on his return to Iraq, after exceptionally cruel treatment under Saddam’s regime. It was first shown on More 4 News on Monday, then on Channel Four News on Tuesday. You have the ability to watch it any time, here. Please, please do watch it. Iraq shouldn’t be about politics, it should be about people. And Mr Sherabayani really brings this home.

This post was filed under: News and Comment, Politics.

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