Tony Blair’s belated enlightenment

Tony Blair’s belated enlightenment

In quite a salient speech on April 23, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair seemed to have finally discovered America.

Mr. Blair curiously argued that the West, blinded until now as to the religious nature of the conflict in the Middle East, must take sides: it should support those who stand on the side of open-minded pluralistic societies, and combat those who wish to create intolerant theocracies. This columnist is not certain if Mr. Blair’s “West” included the country he governed at 10 Downing Street. There is always virtue in confessions of self-blindness, though they are most noble when they are timely.

The enlightened Mr. Blair suggested that the protracted conflict over Israel-Palestine is not the cause of Islamism, but rather vice-versa: dealing with the wider impact of Islamist ideology could help solve the Israel-Palestine conflict.

According to an even more enlightened Mr. Blair, what distinguishes violent terrorists from seemingly non-violent Islamists – such as the Muslim Brotherhood – is simply “a difference of view as to how to achieve the goals of Islamism.” So, attempts to draw a distinction between political Islamist movements and radical terrorist groups are mistaken. That was age-old wisdom, no doubt.

Mr. Blair of 2014 believes that the religious ideology of certain groups like the brotherhood, which may appear to be law-abiding, “inevitably create the soil in which religio-political violence is nurtured.”

More boldly, Mr. Blair considers “Islamism to be a major threat everywhere in the world, including increasingly within Western nations.” Even more boldly, he thinks that the challenge of Islamism is spreading across the world and it is “the biggest threat to global security of the early 21st century.”

Although he spoke as if he were the leader of a major Western power in the 20th century and not the 21st, his words reflected the truth most Western leaders prefer to ignore today – like he once did.
Because of the seriousness of the threat of this religio-political ideology, Mr. Blair argues that the West should vigorously support anybody whose interests lie in opposing Islamists, “from General el-Sisi in Egypt to President Putin in Russia.”

More importantly, the enlightened Mr. Blair is concerned about the damage being caused by denial about Islamism. Welcome to the world, Mr. Blair, but we were expecting you to arrive about a decade ago.

Mr. Blair’s belated enlightenment must have angered his one-time partner on the once popular worldwide political show, “Tonight-we-make-Turkey-the-bridge-between-the-West-and-Islam,” especially with his arguments that “Islamism is the biggest threat to global security” and that “the West should vigorously support even General el-Sisi and President Putin.”

Years before his awakening, Mr. Blair argued that “Turkey’s future was in the EU” and that “Turkey would help bridge the gap between Europe and the Islamic world.” Mr. Blair can be right if he meant “a few centuries” when he spoke about Turkey’s future in Europe. But his words in 2014 tell us that “the bridge” collapsed before it was built.

Mr. Blair was (at least partly) wrong when he said that “both Israelis and Palestinians trusted Turkey [for a happy ending],” or that “the Palestinians would learn from the unique experiences of Turkey.”

Yes, Hamas trusts Mr. Blair’s ex-partner, but it may take a few decades before Israelis can trust any Turkish prime minister. And global indicators on democratic culture and freedoms suggest that Turkey has learned from the unique experiences of Hamas, rather than the opposite.

In this column in 2008, I asked Mr. Blair and his queen: “How would you like your Islamist?”

And recommended: “You can have it straight, as Islamist-Islamist. Or packed in light green paper with a nice label on top that reads ‘Muslim democrat.’ Strategically speaking, you can have it in the shape of a bridge that is supposed to ‘bridge’ to the West and the straight version, the ‘Islamist,’ and call this one the ‘Bridge Islamist.’ Or your 100 percent organic, environmentally friendly Islamists. Or your ultra-ultra moderate, zero-calorie Islamists.”

Now Mr. Blair tells us the Western world must fight all. Six years later, I have another recommendation for Mr. Blair: Open “The Club of Repentant Westerners Who Never Understood Islamism on Time.” Big membership guaranteed.