Editor’s Notes: Tony Blair’s finest hour

By David Horovitz July 29, 2005

What a ray of hope to witness a British prime minister acknowledge the grim challenge posed by terrorists, and begin to grapple with the process of beating them

For the lamentable Ken Livingstone, whose outrageous defense of Palestinian suicide bombers shames the city that made the calamitous mistake of electing him mayor, what we know, and endure, as terrorism isn’t that at all. It is, rather, an understandable response to Israel’s military might and what the mayor declares to be our decades of indiscriminate slaughter of Palestinians.

For the state-funded British Broadcasting Corporation, what we know as acts of terrorism are actually bombings, blasts, explosions – anything but the terrible ‘t’ word. Except, that is, for a first few hours, when those acts take place in London and reporters have a brief window in which to use English accurately, before the Orwellian language police move in to restore draconian rule by euphemism.

For many members of the British media, and a (probably smaller) proportion of the British public, the indiscriminate 7/7 bombings of civilians in London and the thankfully unsuccessful follow-ups two weeks later, were indeed terrorism, but year upon year of Palestinian jihadist killing of Israeli civilians are, somehow, not.

But, commendably, for the British government, as Prime Minister Tony Blair made plain this week, terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. It has no justifiable pretexts. It has no legitimacy. And it no less deplorable and unacceptable in one part of the world than in another.

At the time of the July 7 blasts, I described them in The Jerusalem Post as a watershed event that would require the British people to regard each other ‘with a new, sorry suspicion’ and their government to strategically confront Islamic extremism as never before. In short, 7/7 would prove to be Britain’s 9/11. Where Blair personally is concerned, I know now that I was wrong; he didn’t need 7/7 to blast the point home; 9/11, as he said this week, was his ‘wake up call.’

Other people got a rude awakening, too, that day, Blair went on, adding bitterly: ‘Do you know what I think the problem is? That a lot of the world woke up for a short time and then turned over and went back to sleep again.’

The long press conference Blair held at Downing Street on Tuesday was a remarkable event, a riveting instance of a prime minister exposing himself to a relentless grilling by a frequently hostile press, and resolutely and robustly defending his policies at the certain price of further antagonizing his critics and the likely consequence of alienating supporters.

The combination of discomfort and determination was palpable even in his sentence structure. Time and again, Blair accompanied his substantive comments with phrases of self-justification, even pleading.

A passage that centered on the need to confront terrorists ‘at every single level, and not just their methods, but their ideas,’ for instance, began with this elaborate defense: ‘I want to say this to you, and I may offend people when I say this, but I am going to say it nonetheless.’

An answer that included the no-nonsense assertion that ‘America is not acting to suppress Islam’ concluded with the apologetic ‘I know this is a difficult thing to say, but it has to be said, I think.’

And most tellingly for us, his ringing declaration that terrorists have no ‘justification for killing people in Israel’ was bookmarked by the prime ministerial equivalent of ‘I know you’re not going to like this but I’m going to say it anyway.’

His full quotation ran as follows: ‘And one other thing I want to say whilst I am on the subject, if I might: neither have they [terrorists] any justification for killing people in Israel, either. Let us just get that out of the way as well.’

Question after question, however politely formulated, attempted to prise from Blair an admission that US-British policy in the Middle East in general, and on Iraq in particular, had served as a red rag to a terrorist bull that would otherwise have passed the UK quietly by. But the three-term premier earnestly and repeatedly dismantled that and associated arguments.

He demolished the diabolical historical revisionism that cites Afghanistan and Iraq as the catalysts for 9/11, noting acidly that 2001’s Black September attacks predated both those instances of Western intervention.

He ridiculed the terrorists’ purported concern, and that of the terrorists’ sympathizers, for the well-being of the Iraqi people: ‘If it is concern for Iraq, why are they driving a car bomb into the middle of a group of children and killing them? he asked simply. ‘Why are they every day in Iraq trying to kill people whose only desire is for their country to become a democracy?

Warming to his theme, he wondered angrily: ‘Why are they trying to kill people in Afghanistan? Why are they trying, every time Israel and Palestine look as if they could come together in some sort of settlement, … [to] wreck it? Why are they killing people in Turkey? What is their excuse there, or in Egypt, or in Saudi Arabia? They will always have a reason and I… say we shouldn’t compromise with it… We shouldn’t even allow them the vestige of an excuse for what they do.’

To the reporter who asked Blair whether he recognized that the presence of ‘occupying armies’ could ‘justifiably increase the grievance of people living in the Middle East,’ he gave an unyielding ‘No,’ and continued: ‘What is happening in Iraq is that ordinary, decent Iraqis are being butchered by these people with the same terrorist ideology that is killing people in different parts of the world.’

THE STABILITY of Labor’s hold on power in Britain stems from the fact that the potential leftist opposition party, the Liberal-Democrats, are relative lightweights, while the right-wing Conservatives are rudderless at home and firmly in step with him on foreign policy. But explicit in the punch and counterpunch of the press conference was the swell of misgiving among journalists, as among the clergy, students, teachers, unions and others in Labor’s natural constituency, about Blair’s alliance with President George W. Bush, and the fact that al-Qaida is now exacting its murderous price on both sides of the Atlantic.

Blair, though, evidently will not be moved. Immensely more articulate than Bush and most of Israel’s limited advocates, his verbal onslaught on terrorism was more pointed and effective than most any heard these past few years: ‘There is no justification for it, period,’ he said. ‘And we will start to beat this when we stand up and confront the ideology of this evil. Not just the methods but the ideas. When we actually have people going into the communities here in this country and elsewhere and saying ,’I am sorry, we are not having any of this nonsense about it is to do with what the British are doing in Iraq or Afghanistan, or support for Israel, or support for America, or any of the rest of it.’ It is nonsense, and we have got to confront it as that. And when we confront it as that, then we will start to beat it…

‘We have got to be prepared to confront the ideas of these people as well as their means, their ends as well as their means. If you don’t do that, you never get to the heart of this, because what will always happen is that there will be people there who, if it is accepted as a matter of course – ‘Yes of course Israel shouldn’t exist, yes American foreign policy is evil, yes what happened in Iraq or Afghanistan was designed to suppress Islam’ – if people accept those as ideas, it is far less of a step into the extremism of terrorism.’

Blessedly, he also made the point that the purported pretext for a resort to terrorism by the Palestinians is unfounded – negating Livingstone’s empathy for the use of martyrs’ bodies as bombs because all peaceful routes to freedom have been stymied.

‘The fact is,’ Blair noted, ‘that there is another way that people can make progress in the Middle East… The way forward is to stop the terrorism and then get into a negotiation, and this is why I think it is so pernicious, this terrorism, and why you have got to take it on head on in all its aspects. It is just a lie when they say that people have got no option but to engage in terrorism. They do have an option…

‘Now we all may have our criticisms of the State of Israel, on the policy of the Government of Israel from time to time,’ Blair allowed, ‘but the fact of the matter is we have got an international engagement that can allow us to have two states – Israel confident in its security, an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state. Now the only way that we can get this done is to push that political process forward, and terrorism tries to stop us doing that.’

SO LUCID. Terrorism not as the justified response to a failed political process, as London’s mayor and so many skilled Palestinian spinmeisters would have a gullible world believe. But terrorism as the root cause of that process failing – the terrorism that destroyed Israel’s mid-1990s attempt at peacemaking, and that marked the Arafat regime’s response to Israel’s disinclination to commit national suicide in the Clinton-era Camp David process.

Encouragingly, too, Blair sketched out some of his government’s initial thinking on ways to counter terrorism – not only via the kind of concerned international effort that Israel, the US and others (including even, wonder of wonders, France) are discussing, but also the specific threat of the UK’s home-grown variety, which no global exchange of intelligence or vast physical barrier can thwart.

‘The list of options,’ he said, included ‘increased pre-charge detention for terrorist suspects; the use of intercepts as evidence; whether to create the specific offence of attending a terrorist training camp; the powers that are necessary to deal with these extreme bookshops and the publications that can incite terrorism; the use of the Internet to promote and encourage terrorist activity.’

The supplicant tone of some of Blair’s remarks was depressing. How sad a reflection on the political environment that it required real bravery for Blair to puncture attempts at drawing moral equivalency between bombers and those who would stop them. How dreadful that it required real bravery for him to place Israel on the same list as other nations victimized by the terrorists. How shameful that some prominent public figures (step forward Benedictus XVI) evidently lack the guts, and that others (Mr. Livingstone, you rightly presume) lack the intellectual honesty to do so.

But what a ray of hope to witness a British prime minister acknowledge the grim challenge posed by the bombers, and begin to grapple with the process of beating them.

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