Tony Blair’s speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles was revealing. His definition of the “arc of extremism” applies to himself perfectly. He “has an ideology, a world-view, deep conviction and the determination of the fanatic”. His discourse is full of a secularised missionary absolutism, founded on a Manichean world-view of “We” and “They”. The battle of the demons and angels in old Judeo-Christian apocalyptic literature turns into a conflict of good v evil in Bush’s universe, and into progress v reaction in Blair’s.
While constantly pointing the finger at Muslims and denying any part in the spread of terrorism, this arrogant rhetoric of neoliberal militantism, which goes hand in hand with military aggression on the ground, is terrorism’s chief recruiter and the greatest threat to Britain’s national security.
Today, Bush and Blair are not just giving Israel the green light to pursue its war on Lebanon. They are partners in this war aimed at reshaping the map of the Middle East. This is as though the region were a vacuum, or an empty desert – without a people, or memory – to be fashioned in light of their political fantasies and military strategies.
Blair appears intent on turning the clock backwards to the imperial Victorian age, or even to the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars of progress and enlightenment. Like al-Qaida’s sacred warriors, he is determined to transform the world into opposite trenches and raging battlefields for the sake of his “global values”.
So far, the lofty values that Blair preaches to the people of the Middle East in his fight for their “souls”, “hearts” and “minds” have ignited wars that rage to this day, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and God knows where next. Yet he still believes that “we are not being bold enough, consistent enough, thorough enough, in fighting for the values we believe in”. While evangelising about justice and progress, he has spearheaded the effort to block attempts by the UN, the Rome summit and the European Union to agree a ceasefire and put an end to the daily carnage in Lebanon.
Blair seems to inhabit an imaginary world he has constructed. He stands at its middle as the King of Salvation, blind to all the bitterness and suffering his absurd wars are creating. Those who exist outside this fantastic realm, he insists, are deluded: from the Arab street, indoctrinated by “years of anti-Israeli and therefore anti-American propaganda”, through to the British public, which he fears “sympathises with Muslim opinion”, including his MPs, his cabinet, and the Foreign Office.
It is no secret that British foreign policy has for decades been wedded to the Atlantic policies of the US. This state of affairs, which began in the aftermath of the second world war, assumed a definite shape with the Suez crisis in 1956, when Eden painfully realised that Britain was no longer the main player in the international arena. Today the observer finds it almost impossible to distinguish between what is said on Capitol Hill and Blair’s pronouncements from 10 Downing Street.
Heedless of the bottomless abyss he has created in Iraq, with its blood-letting, sectarian killing, torture and comprehensive chaos, Blair is preparing to open a new front in Iran, Syria and the entire “arc of extremism which stretches over the Middle East”. But the world can bear no more death and destruction.
First Published in The Guardian, Saturday 5 August 2006