Jewish World Review May 6, 2002/ 4 Iyar, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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When fanatics wear an ugly face | Tony Blair is a hero of the liberation of Iraq, but a British prime minister who confronts Islamist terror abroad has to watch himself with his atheists at home.

Mr. Blair is in a spot of trouble for trying to be nice to G-d. No Churchillian gestures allowed.

Our British cousins affect a discretion about matters of the heart, reserving their passion for soccer talk at the pub. Not always. Maggie Thatcher was a Methodist grocer's daughter who didn't mind saying so, and Tony and Cherie Blair are the most devout Downing Street couple in decades.

But his political consultants not only told him he can't discuss his religious faith in public, but he can't even say, like his pal George W., "G-d bless you" at the end of his speeches.

The P.M. wanted to do that when he made a grand and eloquent address to the nation on the eve of the war in Iraq. It seemed like a good thing to do. "Nyet," his wise men said.

He committed this grave offense against atheism, the state religion of the intellectual chattering class in Old Blimey, just as on this side of the Atlantic, in an interview the other day with David Margolick of Vanity Fair magazine.

Mr. Margolick asked the most innocent of questions, framed in respectable enough goo-goo talk. He wanted to know the "extent" of Mr. Blair's religious faith and whether it helped him "bond" with George W., and if so, how.

Alastair Campbell, Mr. Blair's director of strategy and communications (his Karl Rove) fairly bolted out of his chair. "We don't do G-d," he told the reporter. "I'm sorry. We don't do G-d."

And it was only that shock to the body politic that Peter Stothard, the former editor of the Times of London, reported the earlier offense, that when Mr. Blair was having his makeup put on for his televised address to the nation on the eve of war he told his aides: "I want to end with, 'G-d bless you.' " Just like George W.

This set off a noisy row, according to the Times account, with aides vying with each other to demand that Mr. Blair not risk offending the atheists.

"Not a good idea," said one aide.

Mr. Blair, raising his voice, demanded to know why. "You are talking to lots of people who don't want chaplains pushing stuff down their throats."

The prime minister, who had said nothing about chaplains, sermons or throats, told the hysterical aides: "You are the most ungodly lot I have ever ... "

"Ungodly?" snapped his chief speechwriter. "Count me out."

Another aide, noting that the speechwriter was Jewish, said the speechwriter was talking about a "different" G-d. Shot back Mr. Blair: "It is the same G-d."

But the P.M., dazzled by the theological insights bruited about by his ignorant flacks and go-fers, finally gave up. He ended his speech with a limp and insipid "thank you."

The controversy, notes London's Daily Telegraph, "throws fascinating light on our times."

"Past prime ministers, whether religious or not, never hesitated to call for G-d's blessing - and particularly when they went to war. They thought, rightly, that this was appropriate, and that it showed them in a good light to believers and unbelievers alike. It demonstrated that their decision to fight was a moral one."

Indeed, the prime minister's callow aides would have fainted dead away in an earlier war in an earlier time in an earlier place, when men were made of tougher stuff and could face up not only to hideous evil, but to litigious soreheads, troublemakers and malcontents and their lawyers as well.

When Winston Churchill entertained President Roosevelt aboard HMS Prince of Wales, riding at anchor off Newfoundland in August 1941 to plan the approaching war in Europe, he invited the president and the crew assembled on deck to join him in a spirited chorus of "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Nobody fainted or jumped overboard.

That was then. Now it's the believers, mostly Christians, who make up the platoons, regiments, squadrons and fleets of men and women who cheerfully put their lives on the line and whose beliefs get no respect. Everything is ordered to make atheists feel good, and great care is taken to spare the feelings of Islamists at home and abroad. President George H.W. Bush even agreed to forgo a Thanksgiving prayer with his troops on duty in Saudi Arabia lest he offend the followers of "the religion of peace," including the 15 Saudi men who would render September 11 a date to live forever in infamy.

Alastair Campbell, the flack who told Mr. Blair he could not "do G-d," like many atheists is contemptuous of the faith of others, but not so squeamish about making a secular catechism of his own lack of faith. He celebrates his struggles with alcoholism and mental breakdown, talking about them even when nobody wants to listen.

And he's still nuts.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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