Mohammed Blair and the promulgation of orthodox Islam
Tony Blair runs a faith foundation, and he has a problem. As an abortion-supporting, embryo-destroying, contraception-using, gay-marriage-propagating, war-mongering, communion-abusing, Magisterium-defying convert to Roman Catholicism, he can't even persuade many of his co-religionists that he knows much at all about his own faith, let alone apprehend the theology of Islam. Yet in a keynote speech yesterday at Bloomberg HQ - Why the Middle East Matters - while he explained 'Islamism' via a tour of the 'Islamic world', through Pakistan and Afghanistan, wading through Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Yemen to Lebanon and to Syria, he decreed:
At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.So, it is not Islam which has given rise to the malignant Sunni-Salafi-Wahhabi strain of theology, but a "perversion" of the religion which "distorts and warps" and which "many Muslims abhor". In this, he agrees with the Prince of Wales, though Faith Minister Baroness Warsi maintains that these extremists are not Muslims at all; not even of the perverted, distorted or warped kind.
..In fact it is often the most devout who take most exception to what they regard as the distortion of their faith by those who claim to be ardent Muslims whilst acting in a manner wholly in contradiction to the proper teaching of the Koran.
..At this point it must again be emphasised: it is not Islam itself that gives rise to this ideology. It is an interpretation of Islam, actually a perversion of it which many Muslims abhor. There used to be such interpretations of Christianity which took us years to eradicate from our mainstream politics.
The reason that this ideology is dangerous is that its implementation is incompatible with the modern world – politically, socially, and economically. Why? Because the way the modern world works is through connectivity. Its essential nature is pluralist. It favours the open-minded. Modern economies work through creativity and connections. Democracy cannot function except as a way of thinking as well as voting. You put your view; you may lose; you try to win next time; or you win but you accept that you may lose next time.
That is not the way that the Islamist ideology works. It is not about a competing view of how society or politics should be governed within a common space where you accept other views are equally valid. It is exclusivist in nature. The ultimate goal is not a society which someone else can change after winning an election. It is a society of a fixed polity, governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable but which are, of their essence, unchangeable.
What is curious about Tony Blair's promulgation of Islamic theology is his understanding of religious orthodoxy and "proper teaching". The religion that is acceptable is that which coheres with the modern world - politically, socially and economically. The religion that is unacceptable is that which is "of a fixed polity, governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable but which are, of their essence, unchangeable".
This might explain his particular approach to Roman Catholicism: it is not, for him, Semper Eadem - a constant, catechised Catholic faith composed of infallible doctrines and immutable truths founded upon an unchanging gospel: it is a religion of "creativity" moulded through human "connectivity" and subject to the whims of democracy. For him, an "exclusivist" religion which is "governed by religious doctrines that are not changeable" is a perverted ideology. Ergo, traditionalist Roman Catholicism is a "perversion" of the faith; the orthodox Christianity which preaches "exclusivity" is one which "distorts and warps".
All of which makes one wonder why Tony Blair left the mutable ecclesiology, flexible doctrine, synodical governance and national expression of the Church of England. He appears in spiritual temperament to be far better suited to the shared experience of fellowship through diverse communion: his understanding of koinonia is plural, ecumenical and universalist, rather than uniform, exclusive and centralised.
And this naturally colours his approach to Islam: by making Mohammed more like Tony Blair, the Qur'an, Sunnah and Hadith become the 'Rough Guide to Islam' rather than the epitome of Islamic practice. The Islam that is 'acceptable' is an ecumenical Sunni-Shia chimera infused with Sufi love and peace and syncretised with Third-Way political thought, of which he becomes the self-declared spiritual moral authority and the self-appointed guardian of historical-theological truth. The example of Mohammed is not to be emulated literally, but reinterpreted spiritually in accordance with the enlightened values of the modern era. And there are many millions of moderate and enlightened Muslims who would agree with this, and of the need for someone to do for Islam what Martin Luther did for the Christianity in 1517. Except, of course, that historic reformation was initiated by an eminent theologian from within: Tony Blair is a discredited politician and quite extraneous to the theological and spiritual traditions he seeks to challenge.
However well-meaning he may be, a Blairite epistemology of Mohammed and appraisal of Allah are never going to have influence or effect change in any aspect of Islamic thought - any more than his personal beliefs will ever challenge the ecclesiology, res sacramenti or a single ex-cathedra pronouncement of the Church of Rome.