Monday, July 25, 2005

Tony Blair, Leader of the Free World?

... yeah, okay, maybe not.

With apologies to our British friends, I've always considered Tony Blair to be something of Bush's toady and not much else*. I should immediately admit that I don't routinely keep up with politics in the U.K., other than knowing that British opinion of their leader is as divided as American opinion is of ours. Nevertheless, I always got the impression that Blair was basically blindly following Bush's lead without much question.

Since the London bombings, however, Blair has surprised me. If you'll recall, during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign, both Kerry and Bush prided themselves on making statements like, "We're going to kill the terrorists." As if that would solve the problem. I'm sorry to be the one to break the news to you boys, but these guys are blowing themselves up. They really don't mind being killed. Even if we somehow managed to kill all of the current generation of terrorists, more would spring up to take their place, if for no other reason than to avenge their friends and family members who were killed. This is how grudge wars that last for centuries begin. The cowboy gunslinger approach to international affairs rarely accomplishes anything positive. As I've said before, politically, I'm a moderate independent. I more or less detested both candidates in the last election, so I have no problem ragging on both of them.

This time, however, Blair has taken what I consider the most constructive and effective approach to curbing terrorism that I have seen yet. Blair, like most thinking human beings, has realized that 99% of Muslims are not terrorists any more than 99% of Christians are (The goal of the small percentage who killed people by blowing up clinics was, as I understand it, to protect the sanctity of life. Who says irony is the exclusive province of literature!). He has taken what I like to think of as the sociological approach to ending terrorism. The vast majority of the Muslim community abhors these acts of violence. Blair has asked the respected leaders of the Muslim community to step up and work to end the appeal of extremism to their young. That's a powerful idea. You see, the most powerful force known to man is not the hydrogen bomb.

It's peer pressure.

Look at tobacco use. Smoking is an unhealthy, smelly, polluting habit, and all of us -- even smokers -- know that. But in the movies, we saw people we admire smoking. It looked cool (or so they say; I always thought they looked geeky), so people wanted to emulate it. We are winning the war against underage smoking, not because of "tougher legislation that sends a strong message" but by simply making smoking uncool in today's culture. And how, you might ask, did we accomplish the change from "cool" to "uncool"? Through the movies and through literature. These are the two most direct paths to lasting social change. Sure, you can achieve social change at gunpoint, but it's not lasting change. In fact, obstinate as people are, you may actually strengthed the old ways, even if they do go underground. On the other hand, rebellions and entirely new ways of thinking have come about on a large and lasting scale by simply writing a fiction story, accessible to the public-at-large, that espouses a given viewpoint. This has been going on for over 3000 years.

And that is the power of what we do. Sure, all of us write "light" stories that are just meant to be fun. But our stories also have the chance to literally change the world, for better or worse. It's worth keeping in mind. Blair has finally realized the true power behind social change. Maybe he should take the next step and hire a few fiction writers to help him out over there at 10 Downing Street!

*At the moment, I don't think there is a leader of the free world. Bush isn't the leader any more than a schoolyard bully is the leader of the playground. I just wish at least one of the world's heads of state would take a stand on clear thinking and common sense instead of ideology. Blair, to his credit, has at least made a step in that direction.

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