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Blair fans the flames of intolerance

Still smarting from an attempt at a citizen’s arrest earlier this month for war crimes over the illegal invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair is now recycling noxious neo-con, pseudo-theories in telling us that modern wars are predominantly the result of religious conflicts.

Blair, who is thought to be worth around £45m, was given space in The Observer to provide us with some amazing new wisdoms. The ex-New Labour prime minister – now a Middle East “peace envoy” and head of the Faith Foundation – says:

The battles of this century are less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology, like those of the 20th century – but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference.

Pointing to the many places around the planet where violence has erupted between people of different faiths, Blair notes that this is a growing phenomenon and that acts of terrorism are motivated by an “abuse of religion”.

So has Blair introduced any new insights into an understanding of the undoubtedly traumatic conflicts that are taking place around the globe?

Well, no.

He’s reprocessing discredited ideas from the American right-wing, with whom he is so well connected. Leaving aside for one moment that religion IS actually a form of ideology, the notion of cultural or religious clash as the driving force behind conflict is in no way a brain wave conceived in the mind of the ex-PM.

The “theory” of cultural clash goes back to the hey-day of colonialism. It was revived in the 1990s by the conservative US magazine, Atlantic Monthly, whose owner David Bradley was "dead certain about the rightness" of invading Iraq.

Its best-known advocate was political scientist Samuel P. Huntingdon, who in 1992 proposed his “clash of civilisations” thesis, a year after the first Gulf War. He wrote:

... the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. ... The clash of civilisations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilisations will be the battle lines of the future.

Huntingdon’s thesis was countered by many distinguished scholars, including Amartya Sen, Noam Chomsky and Paul Berman. The most incisive critic was the late Palestinian scholar, Edward Said. In The Clash of Ignorance, written in 2001 he argued that Huntingdon’s theory was an example of "the purest invidious racism, a sort of parody of Hitlerian science directed today against Arabs and Muslims".

Blair does not mention Islam by name. But his references to sectarian and terror attacks are to areas where mainly Islamic-inspired groups have been at work. And by remaining silent about results of the post-Anglo-American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, he conveniently leaves out his own role in stoking the flames of conflict.

In Iraq, for example, while the Saddam regime undoubtedly suppressed the Shia population, sectarian violence was non-existent. Thanks to the “regime change” policies pursued after the invasion, inter-communal killings are a daily occurrence.

But getting back to Blair’s claim. Were the two main wars of the 20th century in which some 100 million soldiers and civilians died really caused by a clash of “political ideologies”? Of course not. In 1914, the world’s big imperialist powers went to war over a division of the world’s resources. And behind World War II were the clashing economic and political interests of the ruling classes of Europe, America and Asia.

Could Blair’s latest ignorant spouting be an attempt at resurrection in advance of the publication of the Chilcot inquiry into the run-up to the invasion of Iraq? He and many others are said to be nervous about its potential findings.

Finding scapegoats is the name of the game and not only for Blair. Bigotry of any kind – religious, nationalist or racist – is indeed on the rise, fanned by the reactionary policies of the mainstream parties. The reasons are not hard to fathom. Their purpose is to divert attention and energy from the inability of the system to satisfy the peoples of the world’s deepest needs and aspirations.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
27 January 2014

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Your Say

Rick Crane says:

Yes, on hearing this it seems obvious to me that this was an unsubtle attempt to point the finger elsewhere and try to justify his actions (Iraq), ahead of the Chilcot inquiry.

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