As sectarian violence re-erupts in war-torn Iraq, Tony Blair has again justified waging the catastrophic Iraq War. From the pulpit of his interfaith charity, he claims religious extremism is at the root of 21st century conflict — not western wars. Why does Blair excuse western violence while pushing an “interfaith” agenda where “religious extremists” take all the blame for global strife?
Tony Blair wants the world’s major faiths to play a role in globalisation. But what role? In 2008 he founded his eponymous interfaith foundation to promote “greater knowledge and understanding between people of different faiths,” and advance education in “faith and globalisation”. The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is a charity and ostensibly benevolent. But the former UK Prime Minister’s recurrent war cries to rally western governments to the cause of fighting “religious extremism” — which he hypes as the prime source of conflict in the 21st century — reveals an agenda and thinking that is warped and not conducive to peace, and completely ignores western culpability in starting wars and fomenting extremism. Blair is taking the same agenda that ushered in an era of war last decade to another arena — that of faith — where he believes the West should fight both through force and ideology. Given the tragic consequences of Tony Blair’s rhetoric and campaigns in the past, which he continues to justify, it is important to take a closer look at the implications of his post-politics “interfaith” crusade.
From Warmonger to Interfaith Luminary
Tony Blair is considered by many guilty of war crimes for his role in the invasion of Iraq. After George Bush, he was the most influential western leader calling for the unprovoked “pre-emptive strike” and subsequent invasion of a sovereign country based on the supposed imminent threat posed by non-existent weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) — which he told the world Iraq could deploy in just 45 minutes. The invasion and occupation led to the estimated deaths of somewhere between 100,000 and a million people. No WMDs were found and the war did nothing to make western countries safer; rather it inflamed violence, hostility and terrorism. Al Qaeda never existed in Iraq before that war, and now it does. And with renewed violence breaking out, the Iraqi people continue to suffer in the war’s wake. It is well-known now that the “intelligence” on WMDs used to justify this war of aggression was at best dubious and exaggerated and at worst a complete sham. It is also believed that Tony Blair knew, or should have known, that war would likely throw the country into chaos (the Chilcot inquiry is due to report on the decisions and policies leading up to the invasion, but it continues to be suppressed and key information is expected to be omitted). Whatever the case, Blair is not apologetic. This month he again defended the decision to go to war in a widely republished essay posted on his website, and once again called for more use of force in Iraq and the Middle East region to deal with religious extremists. Blair’s narrative ignores how Western Governments have encouraged extremism by waging foreign wars as well as directly supporting Islamist militias, which has gone on at least since the US armed and backed the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1970s, which helped to lay the groundwork for the formation of Al Qaeda. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), responsible for the latest spiralling violence in Iraq, has also been linked to US intelligence — which has been covertly supporting Sunni extremists in Syria to fight the Assad government. Syrian extremists now threaten Iraq. Some believe a deliberate “divide and conquer” strategy is at play here with the US backing both sides in Iraq’s current fighting.
Despite the culpability of Western countries in spurring conflict and fomenting extremists, earlier this year Blair claimed religious extremism is at the root of 21-st century conflict and said a “global strategy” was needed to counter it. He also blamed the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan on extremists, saying the coalition campaigns were “thwarted by religious extremism” in an attempt to exonerate himself. Religious extremism, though no doubt a source of conflict in the world, is clearly not the cause of major conflicts waged by great powers in recent history. It is strange to see Blair make this argument, while taking no responsibility for his part, and that of Western powers, in starting wars this century. The 2003 Iraq war was waged by western secular countries against Iraq’s Baathist secular government (which was itself formerly backed by the US) for political and economic objectives, not religious ones. Blair not only justifies such imperial incursions, but frequently calls for more. Last year he strongly supported intervening in Syria and arming rebels there (who now threaten Iraq) and this month he called for intervention in Iraq to deal with ISIS. Blair’s solution to the scourge of extremism? More use of force and interfaith “education”. It is for the latter that he founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Why does Tony Blair of all people preach about religious extremism being the root of conflict today from the pulpit of an interfaith charity he founded and named after himself?