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Tony's Trans-Tasman Terror Talk
Irfan Yusuf is a regular and prodigious Webdiarist. His last piece was Sobering thoughts on an allegedly American newspaper. The following article is a very thoughtful follow up to Stephen Smith's The hot air of Tony Blair, comparing as it does the message of Blair in New Zealand to his message in Australia.
by Irfan Yusuf
During his recent visit to New Zealand, British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke of climate change, closer bilateral relations and the strong historical ties between Britain and New Zealand. But not of Iraq.
And who could blame him. Even when visiting Australia, a most willing partner in the Iraq expedition, both Blair and visiting US Secretary of State Rice faced anti-war protests.
Australians are getting nervous about their role in the Iraq war, hoping it doesn’t make them a target for terrorist attacks. Australians can well understand Kiwi elation at the release of a hostage from Iraqi kidnappers. Australian Douglas Wood came close to execution on a number of occasions.
Add to this reports from the Washington Post that 25,000 Iraqis have died in sectarian clashes since the bombing of a Shia Muslim shrine on February 22. Coalition forces claim they are needed to maintain security and order in Iraq. The record shows they are failing miserably.
It seems unbelievable that Mr Blair can have a completely different rhetorical focus on either side of the Tasman. His message to the Australian Parliament focussed on the fight against terrorism through the promotion of common values.
This message was especially poignant with news of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Christian convert, facing a possible death sentence. Rahman has since been released from custody.
Mr Blair's message of common values was especially relevant to conservative politicians on either side of the Tasman. He suggested preaching is most effective when you show your message is identical to the true beliefs of your audience.
Hence: “… we have to win the battle of values as much as arms. We have to show that these are not Western, still less American or Anglo-Saxon, values, but values in the common ownership of humanity, universal values that should be the right of the global citizen.”
Those who seem to treat us with scepticism are not the enemy. Often, their scepticism is a product of how they perceive our actions.
“Ranged against us are the people who hate us; but beyond them are many more who don't hate us but question our motives, our good faith, our even-handedness. These are the people we have to persuade.”
Blair correctly isolated “Islamist extremism” as our immediate enemy. Yet these extremists are just as much enemies of Muslims as they are of non-Muslims. Most victims of Islamist-inspired terror attacks are Muslims. At least 10% of victims of the London attacks were from Muslim backgrounds, including a 21 year old British woman with the surname Islam.
At the same time, Islamist extremists are seeking Western recruits through convincing mainstream Muslims in the US, UK, Australia and other Western countries that Muslims are second class citizens because of their faith.
The overwhelming majority of Muslim citizens are sensible enough to reject this propaganda. Although in Australia, there are times when the rhetoric of Liberal backbenchers (and, in recent times, senior ministers including the PM and the Treasurer) must make Aussie Muslim wonder whether extremists might have a point.
In New Zealand, editors of conservative pro-Creationist magazine Investigate have attributed sinister political intentions to Muslims in at least one of their editorials. The magazine’s March edition claimed Islamic political theory only recognises God as ruler and that "there are only two states in the world: Muslim and infidel". It then suggested that Muslim migrants "don't respect the nation-state model. Where there's a conflict of allegiance, the nation state will always lose."
Conservatives wishing to score short-term political points would do well to consider Mr Blair’s message and understand that their Islam-bashing rhetorical gymnastics serve the cause of the very “Islamist extremists” Blair calls upon us to fight.
Further, their antics lead Muslims in Australia and elsewhere to “question our motives, our good faith, our even-handedness” in the very manner Blair identifies.
Writing in The Australian, Greg Sheridan described Blair’s speech as a ringing endorsement of the neo-Conservative policies dominant in the Bush administration.
Yet Blair’s speech should be read as a warning to pompous neo-Cons who constantly lecture us on the supremacy of “Judeo-Christian tradition” and the need to do away with pluralism and multiculturalism.
These same people are usually found spurting out hatred for all things even remotely related to Islam, openly marginalising Muslim communities living in Western countries and projecting images of nasty Muslims joined in a huge conspiracy to destroy Western civilisation.
Tony Blair is in effect saying that certain basic values are universal to all peoples, cultures and religions. And his claims are not empty rhetoric.
At the recent Commonwealth Day service held at St Andrews Cathedral in Sydney, one of six affirmations read by clerical representatives stated:
“The Commonwealth believes in democratic political processes, international peace and the rule of international law.”
How appropriate that these words were read not by a bishop or a pastor but rather by Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, Secretary of the Board of Imams of Australia.
Tony Blair’s message is simply this. We are fighting a war against terror. Not a war against Islam. And certainly not a war against Muslims. But don’t bother telling that to some people in the Howard government.