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Home > Politics

Tone: Deaf

7 July 2006

The efforts of the past year by Blair's Muslim-led task forces to sort out Islamic extremism from the shoots up didn't come to an awful lot, and despite much of the fault for this lying with the government, Blair's attitude now seems akin to that of an exasperated parent whose children just won't stop crayoning the walls and making bombs in the kitchen. Having stuck to his automaton guns for so long, being Patient and Understanding and grappling with the awesomely frightening and perplexing issues at hand, he's run out of ways to mouth that he 'respects the view of people who are against the war in Iraq'. It's understandable for a head of state to find himself all out of ideas when it comes to something as insidious and amorphous as home-grown terrorism, but suggesting that Muslims should go into a quiet corner and work it out themselves... well, it's not a million miles from John Reid's cheery, hastily retracted 'ah, shut yer whinging and pick up a cricket bat' non-plan to deal with anti-social behaviour.

This week, Blair made one of his insistent declarations that are doubtless intended to demonstrate his strength and unflappability as a leader, but are actually becoming familiar canaries-in-the-coalmine of his escalating bonkersness. When he breezily claimed, in the immediate aftermath of Forest Gate-gate, that it wouldn't have the slightest effect on relations with the Muslim community and they'd all be throwing petals at policemen as per usual, the sound of hands being slapped to foreheads was deafening. This time he's going one further, and saying that when it comes to the idea that home-grown terrorism sprouts from foreign policy: 'The whole sense of grievance, the ideology is wrong, is profoundly wrong.'

Look at what he's saying there. He's not saying 'I as Prime Minister and ultimate decision-maker still strongly believe that there is no link between foreign policy and home-grown terrorism'. He's saying 'Look, mate, if you really think that there's a grain of truth in that monkeyshine then you're totally out to lunch, breakfast and dinner for about four days. Read a newspaper sometime, eh? *Sheesh.* How many times?' Phrasing is everything, as George 'bring 'em on' Bush belatedly realised. In this instance, and in a wholly unwarranted and potentially disastrous attempt to deflect criticism, Blair's managed to lay a guilt trip on people who are a) suffering considerably and b) essential to have on side in any anti-terror drive. The trouble is that while he may think he's just pointing out to the rest of us what he's convinced himself is the truth, he's actually filleting away the right to a voice of a defensive and distrustful minority group who already feel disenfranchised.

When people say that home-grown terrorism sprouts from our involvement in Iraq, they may or may not be right. It's logical enough, but you can't really prove it at this point. When people say that they *feel* or *believe* that home-grown terrorism sprouts from our involvement in Iraq, they can't *not* be right - we're in a completely different realm where what's correct has to be put aside for a moment. Whether or not they are, in the words of John Kerry, 'certain and wrong' is besides the point - a grievance, wherever it comes from and whatever it's directed at, is an issue in and of itself, something separate from its causes and effects to be dealt with independently. Grievances come from unhappy, anxious people, and a large part of the government's job is supposed to be listening to the unhappy and the anxious and figuring out how the unhappiness and anxiety might be assuaged. It's not so wishy-washy and mumsy as it sounds, not with something as deeply psychological and sociological as terrorism, whose mother is irrational grievance. When people have rational grievance, you'd better get in there and start listening and assisting and discussing in a real and appropriately serious fashion. Rational grievance left unattended to - or dismissed as irrational - may not beget terrorism directly, but it's one of the tiny little negative things the government and Muslim community alike need to seize upon as a likely catalyst. Dismiss someone's concerns as fantasist, poor-me poppycock, and you take away quite a big reason for them to give a damn about you and your crappy attempts to fight terrorism without admitting an ounce of fault.

Most Muslims who give up on Blair aren't going to become terrorists, but this dismissal of their legitimate grievances is going to speak volumes to one or two teenagers who've only just started to consume the news with clumsy voracity. After all, it doesn't take a politician to make the link between terrorists, who insist that it's about foreign policy, and peaceable members of the public, who insist that it's about foreign policy. To binary-minded US Republicans, if you denounce the war you're a terrorist sympathiser and traitor. Suck out the marrow of what Blair is saying, cross-reference it with that, and feel a bit fucking insulted.

It's the arrogance of politicians that people bemoan so often - that they know for a *fact* they're cleverer than the rest of us. They have greater intellect and a mountain of secreted knowledge to go with it. It must go to their heads a bit. Surely it must. That belief, in their ultimate rectitude and essential superiority, is what really separates politicians from the rest of us and makes them seem so aloof, so brutishly unattuned to our needs. Blair clearly doesn't have the foggiest how Muslims feel - he only knows how they are *meant* to feel given their current situation, and he just works with that. What you cannot really know, what you can't skim off a pithy summarisation of a classified document or even glean from a neatly processed set of survey results, or fully grasp from talking to tongue-tied individuals for a few moments, is how it feels to be someone else. How heavy it is to carry some views that others think mean you're halfway to being a terrorist.

Opportunities to really work with the Muslim community are being squandered, and it's all down to his galloping case of lock-truth when it comes to Iraq. He believed he was right, by God, and he's not going to go back on that. The trouble is that clutching this for so long has made it somehow a part of him, like a grotesque spare limb, slapping him in the face at the mere mention of a bit of an ideological issue with Iraq, and moving his chin up and down to flap the same vehement yet wearied rebuttal.

'It's about foreign policy, Mr Blair.'

'No - I say again and I will continue to say that it is not, nor has it ever been, about this country's foreign policy. Terrorists have long used the invasion of Iraq as an excuse to perpetuate their campaigns, and...'

'Er, Mr Blair, I mean the Foreign Office is on the phone. It's... about foreign policy.'


'Yes sir.'

'Well I still maintain that....'

It's becoming some sort of tic, a sort of emergent neurological disorder, this whiplash denial of rights along with truth. It will come to be named Blair's Palsy - a combination of standard unhealthy repression seeded in adolescence, the zero-compassion elements of clinical narcissism and the sense of always being completely correct. So like a bunch of little clinical narcissi with a spray of repression, tied with a delicate ribbon of fibs. We'll bung some on his political gravestone. In the meantime, no, we don't know what to suggest either, and we wish we did; but as they might have thought in 2003, knowing what *not* to do is possibly more important.

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

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