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Home > Politics

Notes on Tony Blair's contribution to the conference at the Foreign Office

They stood shoulder to shoulder. Blair spoke about democracy and hope. Bush grunted his approval. What follows is a short gloss on Blair's words...

21 November 2003

TB:

And once again we are reminded of the evil these terrorists pose to innocent people everywhere, and to our way of life, once again we must affirm that in the face of this terrorism, there must be no holding back, no compromise, no hesitation in confronting this menace, in attacking it wherever and whenever we can, and in defeating it utterly.

1. Terrorists do not pose an "evil" to innocent people; they pose a danger or threat. To talk in terms of evil is to stray from politics into theology.

2. Likewise, the promise - thrice affirmed - to "defeat it utterly" is absolutist theological talk. There is no such thing as "utter defeat" on earth. Blair's words belong in Paradise Lost, not in a press conference.

TB:

Because it is in a free, democratic and stable Iraq that not just the violence, but the wretched and backward philosophy of these terrorists will be defeated and destroyed.

Yesterday, as some of you will have heard, the president of the United States delivered a powerful, telling speech extolling the virtues of freedom, justice, democracy and the rule of law, not just for some people but for all the peoples of our world. Today the fanatics of terror showed themselves to be callous, brutal murderers of the innocent, and the contrast could not be more stark.

3. Again, note the abstractions. It is a battle of philosophies - the "wretched and backward philosophy" of the terrorists versus the Platonic "virtues" of Bush.

4. When looking at the "stark contrast" between Bush and Al Qaeda, it might be more useful to think in terms of presentation and PR strategy rather than philosophy. Both sides in this conflict are carrying out killings under the banner of deeply held principles. America has, for example, killed many more Iraqi civilians than Al Qaeda has killed Americans, but because they are killing them in the name of "freedom, justice, democracy and the rule of law" it's okay, and we can all sleep at night with clear consciences.

This "stark contrast" should probably be drawn up properly. Here's my contribution to get the ball rolling: America uses Black Hawk helicopters and their soldiers have pension plans. The terrorists use missiles fired from carts pulled by donkeys, or bombs strapped round their own guts.

5. Iraqi body count as of 21/11/03:

Reported Minimum: 7898

Reported Maximum: 9729

NB. In the current occupation phase this database includes all deaths which the Occupying Authority has a binding responsibility to prevent under the Geneva Conventions and Hague Regulations. This includes civilian deaths resulting from the breakdown in law and order, and deaths due to inadequate health care or sanitation.

TB:

There is only one response that is possible or rational: to meet their will to inflict terror with a greater will to defeat it; to confront their philosophy of hate with our own of tolerance and freedom.

6. The abstraction goes hand in hand with a facile reductionism: theirs is a "philosophy of hate" - they have a "will to inflict terror". They have a "desire to frighten us". The way that terrorism is being presented here is terrorism for terror's sake. Frightening acts are carried out simply because they are frightening; like the terrorists have a kind of Halloween logic. You might just as well say that baseball is played simply in order that a ball can be hit by a bat.

TB:

And these attacks have been building for years, they came to their height, okay, on September 11, but that actually wasn't the first attack that al-Qaida was perpetrating against America and other countries, and you look round the world today and I tell you in virtually every place there is trouble and difficulty, these terrorists are making it worse, whether it is Kashmir, whether it is Palestine, whether it is Chechnya, wherever it is, and they are prepared to kill anyone, they are prepared to shed any amount of bloodshed, because they know how important this battle is.

7. Yet more simlification, abstraction... all terrorism is the same: "these terrorists" are operating in Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya. Right. "They are prepared to kill anyone... because they know how important this battle is." THERE IS NOT ONE BATTLE. Oh for Christ's sake.

TB:

their case is that we are in Iraq to suppress Muslims, steal their oil, to spoil the country. Now we know, you know, that all those things are lies.

8. Two out of three ain't bad.

TB:

people have the right to protest and to demonstrate in our countries and I think that is part of our democracy

9. You think?

TB

There is something bizarre about having got rid of Saddam in Iraq from the government of Iraq, when we have already discovered just so far the remains of 400,000 people in mass graves, there is something bizarre about these situations happening, and people saying that they disagree when the effect of us not doing this would be that the Taliban was still in Afghanistan and Saddam was still in charge of Iraq.

10. I think what most ticks people off is that these are situations CREATED by American foreign policy in the first place. The reason why people were marching yesterday was because America is swanning around the world, dishing out arms and cash where it suits, then bombing the fuck out of foreign countries to try and solve the problems it has caused. And then dressing up the whole money-driven charade as a crusade for democracy.

TB:

What has caused the terrorist attack today in Turkey is not the president of the United States, is not the alliance between America and Britain, what is responsible for that terrorist attack is terrorism, are the terrorists.

11. Yet more theology: so terrorism, like God, is its own cause? Its existence is caused purely by its own being? This is nonsense. Could anyone possibly say less on the subject of terrorism than to say "terrorism causes terrorism"? I don't think so.

TB:

the best security we can have is not just through our armed forces and intelligence services, magnificent though they are, but actually through our values, through the spread of those values of freedom, and justice and tolerance throughout the world.

12. Onward Christian Soldiers.



Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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