Tony Blair's Undiplomatic Outburst
Just days after leaving 10 Downing Street for his new role as Middle East envoy, former Prime Minister Tony Blair gave vent to his frustration over the festering threat of homegrown terrorism in the U.K. In his remarks, recorded before both his departure from office and the latest terror episodes in London and Glasgow, Blair characterized British Islamist radicals as "absurd" and opponents of his extensive domestic surveillance programs as "loopy loo."
Blair's public angst, while perhaps understandable, doesn't bode well for his new role as diplomat to the Muslim world. Worse still for the Britain of his successor Gordon Brown, Tony Blair seemingly fails to grasp the depth of discontent within the U.K. Muslim community:
"The idea that as a Muslim in this country that you don't have the freedom to express your religion or your views, I mean you've got far more freedom in this country than you do in most Muslim countries.
'The reason we are finding it hard to win this battle is that we're not actually fighting it properly. We're not actually standing up to these people and saying, 'It's not just your methods that are wrong, your ideas are absurd. Nobody is oppressing you. Your sense of grievance isn't justified.'"
Blair's exasperation isn't merely a damning indictment of his own record. In a world where perception often is reality, it gives short shrift to the simmering discontent in the large, concentrated and often impoverished Muslim communities in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe. As I wrote last August ("Homegrown Terrorism in the U.S. and Europe"):
Whereas the small but diverse American Muslim community came to the U.S. primarily to pursue economic opportunity and escape political oppression, across the Continent the legacy of European colonialism has helped produce large, monolithic and increasingly restive Islamic populations with a multi-generational sense of grievance. Those different motivations and distinct histories, and not the supposed goodness or badness of America or Europe, explain today's gulf in domestic terror threats on either side of the Atlantic...
...Recent opinion surveys support the anecdotal data. A July 2006 study of Muslims in Britain, France, Germany and Spain by the Pew Research Center found that unemployment topped their list of concerns, followed by Islamic extremism. (Not surprisingly, the British voiced the greatest worry over radical Islam in a follow up survey in August.) A more startling statistic involved national and religious self-identification, as 81% of Muslims in the UK, 69% in Spain, 66% in Germany and 46% in France viewed themselves as Muslims first and citizens of their respective countries second. (The Pew findings were consistent with those of a recent Channel 4 documentary in the UK.) These levels of Muslim primary self-identifications exceeded levels in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia.
Terrorist ideology and violence, of course, can never be accepted, excused or otherwise rationalized. But with his ham-fisted comments, Tony Blair may have just made the job of fighting the threat of Islamic terrorism at home and abroad even more difficult.
For more on the history, demography, economic status and public opinion of British and European Muslim communities, see "Homegrown Terrorism in the U.S. and Europe."