What Blair didn’t say (Part 9)
In a recent Ephems entry I remarked, not for the first time, on the media’s repeated assertions that Tony Blair (in the words of a Guardian columnist, chosen at random) “famously [sic] insists that there is no connection at all between the actions of his government in Iraq and the threat to the UK from international terrorism.” I pointed out that ‘no, he doesn’t, actually, and never has, however ‘famous’ the allegation that he does. He is even on the public record as stating that he has never said such a thing.’ And I quoted the prime minister’s words at a press conference on 26 July this year in which he explicitly denied having said what he is constantly accused of saying.
Since no-one, to the best of my knowledge, has so far been able to come up with chapter and verse for Blair ever having denied any connection between the invasion of Iraq and the threat to the UK from terrorism, I naively thought that this might be the end of the matter, if not in the national press — I can’t assume that all the editors at Wapping and Canary Wharf (or wherever they are now) read this blog attentively twice a day — then at least in the Ephems community. I should have known better. My post prompted a lively debate on what Blair had and hadn’t said, what exactly he had meant by what he had said, and what might or might not constitute a ‘connection’ between Iraq and the terrorist threat in Britain. My assertion that he had set out his position on the issue quite clearly at the July press conference was scornfully dismissed as deliberate evasion.
One contributor came close to citing two specific speeches by Blair in which he allegedly —
simply and robustly denied that his policies had caused global terrorism or made terrorism worse (see speeches 21 March 2006 on global terrorism and 26 May 2006 at Georgetown on the Downing Street website.) To give an analogy, when asked if by opening the door he wasn’t fanning the flames, he simply says ‘I didn’t light the match.’ I suppose there are also degrees of obfuscation ranging from ‘not making absolutely clear’ to ‘rendering totally unintelligible’.
To enable you to make up your own mind whether Blair’s words on this subject in the two speeches mentioned can reasonably be construed as denying any connection between Iraq (and other foreign policy actions that have angered Muslims) on the one hand, and the threat of terrorism in Britain on the other, and whether the passages in question amount to obfuscation by unintelligibility, here they are:
Speech of 21 March 2006, London: ” A Clash about Civilisation”:
I also acknowledge … that the state of the [Middle East Peace Process] and the stand-off between Israel and Palestine remains a, perhaps the, real, genuine source of anger in the Arab and Muslim world that goes far beyond usual anti-western feeling. The issue of “even handedness” rankles deeply. …So the statement that Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine or indeed Chechnya, Kashmir or half a dozen other troublespots is seen by extremists as fertile ground for their recruiting – a statement of the obvious – is elided with the notion that we have “caused” such recruitment or made terrorism worse, a notion that, on any sane analysis, has the most profound implications for democracy.
…we must reject the thought that somehow we are the authors of our own distress; that if only we altered this decision or that, the extremism would fade away. The only way to win is: to recognise this phenomenon is a global ideology; to see all areas, in which it operates, as linked; and to defeat it by values and ideas set in opposition to those of the terrorists. The roots of global terrorism and extremism are indeed deep. They reach right down through decades of alienation, victimhood and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world. [My emphasis — BLB]
The other is as follows:
Speech of 26 May 2006 at Georgetown University, Washington DC: third of three foreign policy speeches:
In the first [of three speeches], I argued that the global terrorism that menaces us, can only be defeated through pulling it up by its roots. We have to attack not just its methods but its ideas, its presumed and false sense of grievance against the West, its attempt to persuade us that it is we and not they who are responsible for its violence. In doing so, we should stand up for our own values, asserting that they are not Western but global values, whose spread is the surest guarantee of our future security….
Let us go back to the immediate issue: Iraq. We can argue forever about the merits of removing Saddam. Our opponents will say: you made terrorism worse and point to what is happening there. I believe differently. I believe this global terrorism will exploit any situation to further its cause. But I don’t believe that its cause is truly to be found in any decision we have taken. I believe it’s cause is an ideology, a world-view, derived from religious fanaticism and that had we taken no decisions at all to enrage it, [it] would still have found provocation in our very existence. They disagree with our way of life, our values and in particular in our tolerance. They hate us but probably they hate those Muslims who believe in tolerance, even more, as apostates betraying the true faith. [My emphasis — BLB]
I have no time for Tony Blair, whose policies and actions in Iraq and whose assault on our civil liberties at home have shamed his and my country. In my strongly held view, the sooner he steps down, the better for (almost) all of us. But the many genuine and grave charges against him are undermined by the inclusion of accusations that won’t stick. One of these — there are others, unfortunately — is surely the canard that he has “famously” or “consistently” denied any link between Iraq (etc.) and terrorism: or that at best he has ducked the issue by obfuscation and evasion. The passages quoted above acquit him, it seems to me, of all such charges. Not only is his position on this issue made very clear: it is also right. The foreign policy issues to which many Muslims angrily object are indeed linked to terrorism in the sense that they are exploited in order to incite people to commit criminal acts of violence and then to try to justify them when they have been committed. But the link is not a causal one: the invasion of Iraq, and the west’s failure to resolve the numerous other conflicts around the world involving Muslims, have not caused the terrorism, and if they had not been available to be exploited for terrorist purposes, other issues would have been used with the same consequences. Above all, it would be intolerable for any government to shrink from policies or actions that it believes to be right, necessary and in the country’s interests, purely for fear that they could be exploited by a small minority at home to incite and justify the indiscriminate murder of innocent people. We can never let the murderers’ blackmail dictate our country’s policies at home or abroad. There are other and better ways of tackling the terrorist threat, and other and better reasons for tackling the root causes of Muslim anger whenever it is peacefully expressed. For once, Tony Blair has got it right.
But I don’t expect anyone else to agree!