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Friday, August 04, 2006

Axis of Alliteration

Not so much "The Hand Of History" (Tony Blair, 1998) as...

"Talk To The Hand" (Terminator 3, 2003).

With his use of alliteration over the years (The Peoples' Princess, The Hand of History, The Arc of Extremism etc) Tony Blair would go far in advertising. (BTW if he was alive today and still plotting revolution, Lenin would be holding down a day job in advertising: What Is To Be Done?, Two Steps Forward- One Step Back, Better Fewer- But Better would make great billboard slogans.)

As it is, Tony is merely a top level marketing man for the Bush Admin and like any marketing campaign, it looks like a "tipping point" may have been reached, as The Friday Thing recognises:


Tony Blair's very pleased with his shiny new 'arc of extremism',
isn't he? After testing it at the G8 summit in July he used the
conflation of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah no fewer than three times
in the speech he gave in Los Angeles this week.

Something was clearly needed to replace the 'axis of evil', Iraq
having left the group with nervous exhaustion and not being due
to rejoin for the reunion tour until its second breakdown has
really taken hold. The 'axis of evil' rolls off the tongue, the
'axis' part summoning images of the World War II's Axis powers of
Germany, Japan and Italy. The 'evil' part metaphorically dresses
Iranians, North Koreans and Iraqis in stormtrooper uniforms
making it morally easier to shoot, cluster bomb and waterboard

The 'arc of extremism' is an altogether more contrived outfit, a
bit like The Monkees being the US's answer to the Beatles. The
band's name belies the fussy pedantry evident in much of New
Labour's thinking and language. But Blair loves a clever label,
even one as unmemorable as this. The simple, literal approach of
'Four Poofs and a Piano' is not for the likes of him.

But it confers almost nothing to the mind in terms of mental
imagery. Pause for a minute and try to picture an 'arc of

No, us neither.

It makes you wonder just what names got discarded in the
obviously-nothing-better-to-do brainstorming session that came up
with it. It's hard to think of anything worse. The 'cat's cradle
of calamity?' 'Trellis of terror?' 'Minestrone of mayhem?'

In the same speech, on the subject of the ongoing unpleasantness
in Lebanon, Blair said: 'We will continue to do all we can to
halt the hostilities'. Or at least all that can be done from
beside Cliff Richard's swimming pool in the Bahamas. Has nobody
told him they have sun and duty free shops in Tel Aviv and
Beirut? (At least, we're assuming Beirut still has them - the
Israeli airforce bombed the city's Rafik Hariri International
Airport back in July.)

The struggle against Hezbollah and global terrorism in general,
says Blair, 'is about hearts and minds about inspiring people,
persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand
for'. The thing is, as Rory Bremner once memorably said, it's
hard to win people's hearts and minds 'when you leave their
hearts in one place and their minds in another'.

It all boils down to 'a struggle between what I will call
Reactionary Islam and Moderate, Mainstream Islam,' said Blair, as
if cluster bombs are able to distinguish between Muslims of
either flavour. In case he hadn't noticed - apart from Israel -
the Middle East has had a moderate, mainstream, democratic and
secular (albeit with a significant Muslim population) state for a
little while now. It has a 'sophisticated, educated,
cosmopolitan' people, according to journalist Robert Fisk who's
lived there for 30 years. It's called Lebanon and it's currently
being bombed to shit.

How to sort the reactionary from the moderate in the 750,000
displaced people currently on the move in Southern Lebanon? Tony
doesn't say. Of those who weren't members of the 'arc of
extremism' before this all started, you can probably now lay good
odds that a good number of them will be before it's all finished.
'Kill them all and let God sort them out' - maybe? - as Arnaud-
Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux said back in 1209 when the crusaders
asked him how they were to tell Cathar heretics from the
Catholics. In that respect, 5,000-lb bombs have a certain 13th
Century vibe.

So how to confront Syria and Iran, the Lennon and McCartney of
the 'arc of extremism'? Again, Tony doesn't say. Asked twice at
his last press conference before going on holiday this week, he
couldn't or wouldn't give an answer. Something to do with
modernisation was mentioned. What this is we're none the wiser.
It's certainly a word to strike fear into the hearts of those
back home who've been victims of Blair's programmes of
modernisation, be it trying to get a fair answer from the tax
credit system, a fair hearing from the immigration system or a
fair trial from the anti-terrorist system. Abroad, it's almost
certain to be something even harsher. 'This is a war, but of a
completely unconventional kind,' said Blair. The weapons that
rained down on Iraq looked pretty conventional to us, Tony.

One of the bigger questions to come out of this though is, is
Blair *really* the right person to be talking about exporting our
'values' abroad, to the dark savages who apparently have none?
Either Blair is stupid or he thinks his audience is. We're
talking about a guy who's helped to level Iraq, who's up to his
neck in a corruption investigation, allows aircraft transporting
bunker buster missiles from the US to Israel (and on, a little
faster, to Lebanon) to refuel in the UK, and has a money-grabbing
wife and a princeling son enjoying the best life has to offer
simply because of who his dad is. Most decent-thinking Britons
don't subscribe to those values let alone those swarthy
foreigners on who Tony hopes to foist them. (He's also got a
brass neck for talking about extremism, being happy, as he is, to
turn a blind eye to creationism being taught in British schools.)

Some people have caught on, however. The United Nations' deputy
secretary general Mark Malloch Brown said that the UK is 'poorly
placed to broker a deal over Lebanon because of their role in
bringing about war in Iraq.' At the UN at least, Tony's about as
welcome as Mel Gibson at a meeting of the Tel Aviv Temperance

Maybe Blair sees himself much like Moses who, having led his
people through hardship (or in this case, the 'elemental struggle
about the values that will shape our future') to the borders of
the Promised Land (or the very 'future of the world'), is
prevented from entering it himself, because of his sins, by God.

Which is where all the trouble began, isn't it? With Blair soon
to depart to spend more time with the American lecture circuit,
no doubt he's thinking what Moses should have said to God after
his snubbing: 'Well, at least I won't have to clear up the mess.'


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