A copy of the Observer arrived with breakfast this morning and I was greeted by the headline Extremist religion at root of 21st Century wars – Blair. Now this is far from the first time I have been irritated by pronouncements from the Rev. Blair and while I hope this will be the last, I suspect I am due for more disappointment. I did have some hope that we might expect some apology for the belief in military intervention to force a somewhat limited perspective of liberal democracy on countries whose history and context is very different from ours. That hope was dashed on reading the article in more depth. Blair is now arguing that we should take on their religion as well as their politics. Having watched the RSC's masterful adaptation of Hillary Mantel's novels about Thomas Cromwell I can't help feeling that Blair was born out of his time. And to be clear I am not making a comparison with Cromwell, more Richie Rich in a Man for All Seasons although the put down line of for Wales still smarts.
We have here another issue with causality and the desire to create something easily identifiable that can be blamed for what is a complex emergent phenomenon that in part manifests as a religious issue. If you threaten people's culture and livelihood then the whole history of humanity says that people will fall back to ideologues to provide meaning and retaliatory response. The correct way to combat that is not to proclaim a competing ideology and its virtue, an act that will make things worse rather than better. Instead you have to change the dynamics of people's interactions and that means multiple small acts that make it difficult for the negative myth to prevail. Creating a talking shop has never worked, although it may make the owners and facilitators of those talking shops feel good about themselves and give some temporary but unsustainable succour. A little bit more honesty about the inequalities of our own so called democracy and a recognition of our own terrorist religious past might also help.
Jonathan Eyal, International Director of the Royal United Services Institution looks to be annoyed as well. To quote It was not the lack of sufficient knowledge about history and religion which led to the Iraqi debacle, but the lack of restraint among politicians who had all the relevant information at their fingertips. It is far too easy to blame things on religion, when religion tends to manifest more underlying aspects of the society of which it is a part.
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