Tony Blair’s authoritarian discourse

Print Friendly

Tony BlairOn 8th December the Prime Minister delivered a major speech on ‘The Duty to Integrate: Shared British Values’. Mr Blair please note ¬†you cannot create cohesion at home, and conflict overseas.

Considering it followed recent reports of British Jews fighting in an illegal army of occupation (The Guardian, 5 December) and the Protestant Michael Stone attacking Stormont (The Guardian 24 November), it strangely focused entirely on Muslims!

Madeleine Bunting had described Blair’s speech as ‘his last opportunity to influence the public debate on integration and diversity’.

At the outset the Prime Minister declared where he stood: “For the first time in a generation there is an unease, an anxiety, even at points a resentment that our very openness, our willingness to welcome difference, our pride in being home to many cultures, is being used against us; abused, indeed, in order to harm us. I always thought after 7/7 our first reaction would be very British: we stick together; but that our second reaction, in time, would also be very British: we’re not going to be taken for a ride”. Was this Rev. Blair writing in the St Albion Parish News?

Madeleine Bunting had hoped he would make a clean delinkage between terrorism and the integration and diversity agenda. Four days earlier, drawing on ideas given to her by Prof Tariq Modood, she wrote, “They have nothing to do with each other, so nail the myth – perpetrated by politicians and commentators – that integration is an anti-terrorism strategy. The least integrated are isolated, non-English-speaking mothers and grandmothers – hardly bomb-making material. Conversely, integration measured in education, employment or social life is no immunisation from the appeal of Islamist extremism – as the CVs of last year’s London bombers showed.”

However the Prime Minister was clever. He redefined integration in his own terms: “when I talk of integration it is about values. It is about integrating at the point of shared, common unifying British values. It isn’t about what defines us as people, but as citizens, the rights and duties that go with being a member of our society”.

His line of argument was that the July 7 bombers were driven to commit their criminality because they hated British values.
So it was disappointing to see the Prime Minister still seeking a single, simplistic “cause” for the actions of the July 7 bombers – in this instance their “values”. As the recent Demos reports points out, “rather than grasping for a single narrative explanation for terrorism, it is important that policy-makers and practitioners recognise [this] complexity and develop policies that are broad based enough to encompass the full range of issues”.

The Prime Minister ought to have said that he recognises the concerns of Muslims with British foreign policy and that their views will be taken into account in policy making. Again, as Demos noted, “Building meaningful partnerships with Muslim communities will require the government to take their grievances seriously, which could open up difficult discussions and disagreements for the government, not least around foreign policy and the war in Iraq”.

The Prime Minister use of language, such as Britain “being taken for a ride” or its good nature “abused” is also important to note. This is reinforcing barriers of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – that somehow there are sections of society that are an alien intrusion into a healthy body politic. Violence has been inflicted on the good-natured, wholesome British body by an alien virus. Within the context of British politics, he is cleverly shifting the focus from the pain that his government foreign policy has caused on others, to the pain inflicted on “us”. Collective anger is thus redirected.

His reference to the niqab saga and reference to Turkey and other Muslim countries was characteristically barrister-clever. “But perhaps less well-known is the strength of the debate in Muslim countries. In Turkey, there has recently been a fierce controversy over the Muslim headdress of women. In Tunisia and Malaysia, the veil is barred in certain public places. But it is interesting to note that when Jack Straw made his comments, no less a person than the Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt made a strong approving statement; and it really is a matter of plain common sense that when it is an essential part of someone’s work to communicate directly with people, being able to see their face is important. However, my point is this: we are not on our own in trying to find the right balance between integration and diversity. There is a global agonising on the subject.”

Surely Mr Blair is not unaware of the history of Kamalism in Turkey of Bourguibaism in Tunisia? Would not an Oxbridge education given him some feel for pliant clergy? ArchbishopThomas Cranmer and his sovereign, Henry VIII, and all that?

The Prime Minister however takes the biscuit by requiring religious groups ‘to prove their commitment to integration’ before being awarded taxpayers’ cash. Given the nebulous nature of the term ‘integration’, how on earth is this commitment to be measured? The state is to somehow acquire the ability to decipher the will and desire of civil society organizations! What will happen-and is happening – is that opportunistic groups will sprout up to get their hands on the dosh.

In November 2006, his Minister Ruth Kelly had drawn out the landscape: “There are also some people who don’t feel it right to join in the commemorations of Holocaust Memorial Day even though it has helped raise awareness not just of the Jewish holocaust, but also more contemporary atrocities like the Rwanda genocide. That’s also their right. But I can’t help wondering why those in leadership positions who say they want to achieve religious tolerance and a cohesive society would choose to boycott an event which marks, above all, our common humanity and respect for each other. When society’s core values are transgressed, it can, as a minimum, lead to resentment. But at worst if we fail to assert and act to implement our shared values this makes us weaker in the fight against extremism and allows it to flourish”.

So it seems that the test for integration will be things like signing up to the Holocaust Memorial Day and not calling for a more inclusive International Genocide Day. If you insist, then no cash for public service work – even though you are tax payers!

What will be the other tests, Rev. Blair?

The script of the Blairite tragedy’s last act is a paternalistic and authoritarian discourse.