Arun Kundnani writes: Tony Blair’s speech this week at Bloomberg in London reveals a growing support for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. A decade ago, Blair was justifying wars in the Middle East on the grounds that they would launch a democratic revolution and sweep away Arab despots. In his latest speech he embraced Arab despots whose regimes, he says, are necessary bulwarks against Islamism. Blair’s change in emphasis reflects a wider shift in neoconservative thinking over the past decade, while the underlying analysis remains as flawed as ever.
At the heart of Blair’s argument is a single formula that he uses to explain the politics not only of the Middle East, but of Muslim populations around the world. Muslims everywhere, he says, are caught in an “essential battle” between two ways of thinking about Islam.
In this “Titanic struggle”, one side is modern, pluralistic, and supportive of religious freedom and open economies. On the other side are the “Islamists”, who reject the separation of religion from politics and, like communists and fascists before them, want to impose their particular interpretation on the rest of society.
It is, of course, a hopelessly simplistic formula. Yes, reactionary interpretations of religion must be opposed. But the revolutionary upheavals in the Middle East are ultimately about freedom from authoritarian political structures and the economic marginalisation generated by neoliberal economics (Blair’s “open economies”). [Continue reading…]