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Tony Blair is not just anti-Muslim, he is anti-modernity Open in fullscreen

Usaid Siddiqui

Tony Blair is not just anti-Muslim, he is anti-modernity

In classic orientalist fashion, Blair alludes to a false single model of modernity [Getty]

Date of publication: 11 April, 2016

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Comment: While Blair's attitude towards Muslims is patronising and uninformed, he turns a convenient blind eye to his cooperation with former dictators, says Usaid Saddiqui

In an op-ed for The Sunday Times written in the aftermath of the Brussels attack, former Prime Minister Tony Blair alleged that "many millions" of Muslims have an outlook that is "fundamentally incompatible with the modern world".

For Blair, "Islamism" produces "Islamist extremism" which does not affect just a few "crazies", but is prevalent across the Muslim world.

In classic orientalist fashion, Blair alludes to a single model of modernity which is quite simply false. Furthermore, in condemning Islamism for being responsible for extremism, he presents a simplified argument devoid of the global context in which Muslim extremist organisations operate.

Finally, the former prime minister conveniently forgets to mention his own complicity in working with anti-modern forces in the Muslim world that have hindered progressive change in the region.

More than one model of modernity

Contrary to Blair's intimations, modernity is not a monolith but arguably a multi-dimensional paradigm influenced by people in a specific time and space. Modernity in the western world is certain to take a different shape to that of Muslim societies, given their unique historical trajectories.

In classic orientalist fashion, Blair alludes to a single model of modernity which is quite simply false


"Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are firmly a part of the modern world and are grappling with the challenges of modernity in myriad ways," wrote Asma Asfaruddin, professor at Bloomington Indiana University, for the Oxford University Press Blog.

"Muslim academics, thinkers and social activists are spearheading hermeneutic and revivalist projects, mostly occurring below the global radar, that are shaping and being shaped by modernity (or, more accurately, modernities)… For there is more than one way of being modern, each being pegged to a society's particular historical trajectory and cultural specificity," argues Asfaruddin.

She poignantly adds that "the Western paradigm of secular modernity is hardly a universal one. It is, rather, a parochial model spawned during the specific concatenations of historical events in the European past".

War on Terror, not Islamism

Blair's conflation of Islamism with the rise of extremism in the Muslim world is a dangerous fallacy that categorises all political organisations that identify with Islam as inherently violent.

For example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which Blair blames for today's extremist violence by the likes of the Islamic State group, came to power through a democratically held election in 2012, arguably its first free and fair election in decades.

Contrary to popular belief, Muslims are firmly a part of the modern world and are grappling with the challenges of modernity in myriad ways

- Asma Asfaruddin


Throughout their nearly 90-year history, the Brotherhood has participated in local and regional elections, and has been consistently thwarted by military juntas enjoying steady support from western governments - including Blair's.

It is also worth remembering the Brotherhood has been condemned by groups such as al-Qaeda, which perceive it as an enabler in helping perpetuate western interests. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of the group, even wrote a book in which he condemned the Brotherhood for participating in electoral politics.

Global war on terror

More than any other phenomenon in the 21 century, the "War on Terror" - now in its sixteenth year - is chiefly responsible for much of the extremist violence we see today.

University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape's seminal work on suicide bombing - a tactic relentlessly employed by Muslim extremists - highlights the political nature of extremist activities with no definitive role played by the Muslim faith.

"What more than 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks around the world have in common is not religion, but a specific political goal to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland, or prize greatly," wrote Pape in 2005.

While Blair condescendingly lectures Muslims about modernity, the irony of his own favourable dealings with Muslim military leaders and despots appears to be lost on him

Professor of International Affairs and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, John Esposito agrees with Pape's assertions. Esposito is a member for the European Commission's European Network of Experts on Violent Radicalization. He writes that factors such as "moral outrage", "emancipation", "anti-imperialism" and "disenfranchisement" are found to be the main contributors to radicalisation in Europe.

According to Esposito: "Violence and terrorism in the name of Islam… is a product of historical and political factors…Focusing on reading the Quran… can obscure the importance of the policies of authoritarian and oppressive regimes and their Western allies."

Blair himself recently admitted that the US-led war on Iraq was partly responsible for the rise of IS. He played a central role in pursuing the invasion which killed millions, and gave oxygen to operations of extremist groups.

A friend of despots

While Blair condescendingly lectures Muslims about modernity, the irony of his own favourable dealings with Muslim military leaders and despots appears to be lost on him.

One such leader was Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Documents obtained after the Libyan leader's overthrow in 2011 revealed disturbing details of cooperation between Blair and Gaddafi during Blair's years in power. Libyan dissidents and their families living in exile were reportedly kidnapped and flown to Tripoli for rendition. Those kidnapped are said to have faced brutal torture.

In 2011 the Daily Telegraph reported that Blair held meetings with the Gaddafi regime - mainly through Saif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son - discussing the potential for future investment on behalf of his later employers, JP Morgan Chase.

In a speech to Bloomberg in 2014, the former UK PM voiced his support for the overthrow of the elected Brotherhood government from power in Cairo, while praising military coup leader and Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who he suggested should receive the West's full support where necessary.

"The revolt of 30 June 2013 was not an ordinary protest. It was absolutely necessary," said Blair. "We should support the new government and help."

Not surprisingly, Blair made no mention of the 500-1,000 people, including many Brotherhood supporters, who were killed in a single day by Sisi's forces during the summer of 2013.

The idea that while Blair maintains his own lucrative and diplomatic relations with Muslim dictators who have a long history of oppressing of their people, he would attempt to educate Muslims on the problems facing Islam, is laughable.

Rather than "millions" of Muslims requiring guidance, it is in fact the repugnant legacies of leaders such as Blair - waging war and supporting autocrats in the Muslim world - that require more scrutiny.


Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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