Friday, October 19, 2007

In White Tie, TB Tackles the Dark Side

Given their archbishop's own comparison of himself, vocally speaking, to Darth Vader -- and from the pulpit of St Patrick's Cathedral no less -- New Yorkers could be forgiven for having the words "Come with me, Tony Blair..." pop up in their brains on seeing the above photo.

But, no, Cardinal Edward Egan actually did nothing of the kind.

As previously announced, the 60th anniversary of American Catholicism's most famous meal -- Gotham's Al Smith Dinner -- was marked last night with the traditional white-tie Waldorf-Astoria feast and Tony Blair's first major public appearance of his ex-premiership.

While longstanding buzz surrounding TB's likely conversion to Catholicism appears to have taken no new advances in the four months since the now global envoy to the Mideast's departure from Downing Street, the top line of his speech at the $1,000-a-plate funder for the archdiocesan Catholic Charities was a geopolitical one.

The Times (London's, that is) on the former PM's keynote:

“Out there in the Middle East, we’ve seen... the ideology driving this extremism and terror is not exhausted. On the contrary it believes it can and will exhaust us first," he said.

“Analogies with the past are never properly accurate, and analogies especially with the rising fascism can be easily misleading but, in pure chronology, I sometimes wonder if we’re not in the 1920s or 1930s again.

“This ideology now has a state, Iran, that is prepared to back and finance terror in the pursuit of destabilising countries whose people wish to live in peace.”

He added: “There is a tendency even now, even in some of our own circles, to believe that they are as they are because we have provoked them and if we left them alone they would leave us alone.

“I fear this is mistaken. They have no intention of leaving us alone.

“They have made their choice and leave us with only one to make - to be forced into retreat or to exhibit even greater determination and belief in standing up for our values than they do in standing up for their’s.”...

“I said straight after the attack of September 2001 that this was not an attack on America but on all of us. That Britain’s duty was to be shoulder to shoulder with you in confronting it. I meant it then and I mean it now.”

He added: “America and Europe should not be divided, we should stand up together.

“The values we share are as vital and true and, above all, needed today as they have been at any time in the last 100 years.”

Mr Blair received three standing ovations during the evening.

Earlier, the former Prime Minister said: “Out of this region the Middle East has been exported a deadly ideology based on a perversion of the proper faith of Islam but nonetheless articulated with demonic skill playing on the fears and grievances of Muslims everywhere.

“It did not originate from the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, of course, far from it. But this dispute is used to great effect as a means of dividing people, sowing seeds of hatred and sectarianism.

“The impact of this global ideology is now no longer felt simply in the terrorism that afflicts Lebanon or Iran or Palestine. It is there also now in Pakistan, Afghanistan, in India, of course in Europe, in Madrid and London, and in the series of failed attempts to create terror across our continent.

“And here in New York you felt it in the thousands who died and who still mourn their lost ones.”

On several occasions the dinner chairman said he would have liked to see Mr Blair run for US president in 2008.

Referring to the Middle East, Mr Blair said: “The challenge is global, therefore our response must be global.

“Either the argument will be as our enemies want it framed as Islam versus the west. Or it will be as we want it framed as moderates of whatever faith, colour or race against extremism however it manifests itself.”

As the Smith also usually takes on the form of a roast, in what's believed to be his swan song as host of the event, Egan also tried his hand at humor...


While the event is a traditional mecca for the political class -- especially given its usual timing in the final leg of election season -- it's worth noting that the Big Apple's two horses in the presidential race, Rudy and Hillary, were no-shows.

Then again, if tradition's any indicator, next year could be quite different.

SVILUPPO: The Daily Telegraph notes the cardinal's post-speech praise of Blair....
[Egan] called Mr Blair a "great and effective warrior", adding: "You lifted our hearts and reminded us how powerful real eloquence can be".
PHOTO: AP/Kathy Willens