Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister and internationally respected peacemaker, is making a speech in which he deals with the rise of Islamic extremism and our failure to tackle it. He is right (I am sure) that Islamic extremism is on the rise, though how one measures this exactly is not clear; he is right that this is something that the nations of the West would rather not face; but his prescribed remedy strikes me as utterly wrong.
He has this to say, which seems right:
We have to take sides. We have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time. We have to have an approach to the region that is coherent and sees it as a whole. And above all, we have to commit. We have to engage.
But this of course raises the obvious question: what practical steps would this engagement entail?
My own view is that in taking sides against Islamic extremism, Britain and her friends should do everything in their power to shun Saudi Arabia, the number one source of extremism in the world, and do everything in their power to stop the exportation of Wahhabi ideology from the desert kingdom to Europe. But as a realist, I see absolutely no hope of anything like this happening soon. Britain and her friends will keep on licking the boots of the Saudis and selling them weapons, weapons which the Saudis and their friends use to kill people we should be supporting, such as democracy activists in Bahrain and Christians in Syria.
But Mr Blair’s advice goes in quite a different direction. He suggests we team up with Russia and China, and he also seems to think that the army coup in Egypt (against a democratically elected government) was a good thing. And yes, this means “putting aside” differences over Ukraine.
Mr Blair’s advice strikes me as staggeringly naive as well as thoroughly immoral. He is proposing that we should combat Islamism in alliance with Vladimir Putin and the Chinese leadership. Yes, it is true they are anti-Islamist, but they are anti-Islamist for all the wrong reasons. Mr Putin did not crush Chechnya, and the Chinese do not oppress their Muslim-majority regions, out of love of democracy and liberty. Quite the opposite: the Russians and the Chinese are nationalists and imperialists. Their nationalism and imperialism are ugly doctrines. Are we to oppose Islamism by conniving at the immoral policies of Mr Putin? Does Mr Blair not realise that Russian policy in Chechnya has not solved the problem of Islamism, but made it hideously worse, providing the Islamists with an entire martyred country?
It seems to me that the most effective way of fighting Islam is firstly to realise that this is an ideology (as Mr Blair correctly states) and thus better fought with ideas not guns. Moreover, a strict adherence to our own beliefs, especially our belief in liberal democracy is not simply the best way to approach the problem, it is the only way. Teaming up with Putin and the Chinese, exponents of regimes that are deeply opposed to our way of life, let it be noted, would be a betrayal of all those who are struggling for democracy in Ukraine, Russia and China, not to mention Tibet. But an alliance with the Russians and Chinese would also expose the West as hypocritical and incoherent, opportunistic and self-interested.
We need to challenge Russia and China: an alliance with these powers against Islamism would do more harm than good. We cannot fight Islamism in alliance with those who repress democratic aspirations, threaten neighbouring countries (Ukraine and Taiwan), imprison (or worse) journalists who disagree with them, wage or threaten to wage aggressive wars, and practice the death penalty.