A confused Tony Blair with bed memory
By Tony Blair
LONDON – There is only one view of the
murder of British soldier Lee Rigby on a south London street three weeks ago:
But there are two views of its significance. One is
that it was an act by crazy people, motivated — in this case by a perverted
notion of Islam — but is of no broader significance. Crazy people do crazy
things, so don’t overreact. The other view is that the ideology that inspired
the murder of Rigby is profoundly dangerous.
I am of the latter view. Of course, we shouldn’t
overreact. We didn’t after the July 7, 2005, attacks on London’s
public-transport system. But we did act. And we were right to do so. Our
security services’ actions undoubtedly prevented other serious attacks. The
“Prevent” program in local communities was sensible.
The government’s new measures seem reasonable and proportionate as well. But we are deluding ourselves if we believe that we can protect the United Kingdom simply by what we do at home. The ideology is out there. It is not diminishing.
Consider the Middle East. Syria now is in a state of accelerating disintegration. President Bashar Assad is brutally pulverizing entire communities that are hostile to his regime. At least 80,000 people have died, there are almost 1.5 million refugees, and the number of internally displaced persons has risen above 4 million. Many in the region believe that Assad’s aim is to cleanse the Sunni from the areas dominated by his regime and form a separate state around Lebanon. There would then be a de facto Sunni state in the rest of Syria, cut off from the country’s wealth and access to the sea.
The Syrian opposition comprises many groups. But the fighters associated with the al-Qaida-affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra are generating growing support — including arms and money from outside the country.
is using chemical weapons on a limited but deadly scale. Some of the stockpiles
are in fiercely contested areas.
The West’s overwhelming desire to stay out of it is
completely understandable. But we must also understand that we are at the
beginning of this tragedy. Its capacity to destabilize the region is clear.
Jordan is behaving with exemplary courage, but there is a limit to the number
of refugees that it can reasonably be expected to absorb. Lebanon is now
fragile, as Iran pushes Hezbollah into the battle. Al-Qaida is again trying to
cause carnage in Iraq, while Iran continues its meddling there.
Meanwhile, in Egypt and across North Africa, Muslim
Brotherhood parties are in power, but the contradiction between their ideology
and their ability to run modern economies has fueled growing instability and
pressure from more extreme groups.
Then there is the Iranian regime, still intent on
getting a nuclear weapon, and still exporting terror and instability. In
Sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is facing gruesome terror attacks. In Mali, France
fought a tough battle to prevent extremists from overrunning the country.
Then there is Pakistan — and Yemen. Farther east, a
border war between Myanmar and Bangladesh is simmering. And recent events in
Bangladesh itself, or in the Muslim-majority Mindanao region of the
Philippines, extend the list further.
In many of the most severely affected areas, one other
thing is apparent: a rapidly growing population. The median age in the Middle
East is in the mid-20s. In Nigeria, it is 19. In Gaza, where Hamas holds power,
a quarter of the population is under five.
When I return to Jerusalem soon, it will be my 100th
visit to the Middle East since leaving office, working to build a Palestinian
state. I see firsthand what is happening in this region. So I understand the
desire to look at this world and explain it by reference to local grievances, economic
alienation, and, of course, “crazy people.” But can we really find no common
thread, nothing that connects the dots of conflict, no sense of an ideology
driving or at least exacerbating it all?
There is not a problem with Islam. For those of us who
have studied it, there is no doubt about its true and peaceful nature. There is
not a problem with Muslims in general. Most in Britain are horrified at Rigby’s
But there is a problem within Islam, and we have to
put it on the table and be honest about it. There are, of course, Christian
extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. I am afraid that the
problematic strain within Islam is not the province of a few extremists. It has
at its heart a view of religion — and of the relationship between religion and
politics — that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded
societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the worldview
goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. Not admitting it
has two effects:
First, those who hold extreme views believe that we
are weak, and that gives them strength. Second, those Muslims — and the good
news is that there are many — who know the problem exists, and want to do
something about it, lose heart.
Throughout the Middle East and beyond, a struggle is
playing out. On one side, there are Islamists and their exclusivist and
reactionary worldview. They comprise a significant minority, loud and well
organized. On the other side are the modern minded, those who hated the old
oppression by corrupt dictators and despise the new oppression by religious
fanatics. They are potentially the majority; unfortunately, they are badly
The seeds of future fanaticism and terror — possibly
even major conflict — are being sown. Our task is to help sow the seeds of
reconciliation and peace. But clearing the ground for peace is not always
The long and hard conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq
have made Western powers wary of foreign intervention. But we should never
forget why these conflicts were long and hard: We allowed failed states to come
Saddam Hussein was responsible for two major wars, in
which hundreds of thousands died, many by chemical weapons. He killed similar
numbers of his own people. The Taliban grew out of the Soviet occupation of
Afghanistan and turned the country into a training ground for terror. Once
these regimes were removed, both countries began to struggle against the same
forces promoting violence and terror in the name of religion.
Not every engagement need be military, and not every
military engagement must involve troops. But disengaging from this struggle
won’t bring us peace. Neither will security alone. While revolutionary
communism was resisted by resoluteness on security, it was ultimately defeated
by freedom. The same can be done here.
The better idea is a modern view of religion and its
place in society and politics — a model based on respect and equality among
people of different faiths. Religion may have a voice in the political system,
but it must not govern it.
We have to start with children, here and abroad. That
is why I established a foundation whose specific purpose is to educate children
of different faiths around the world to learn about each other and live with
each other. We are now in 20 countries, and the programs work. But it is a drop
in the ocean compared with the flood of intolerance taught to so many.
Now, more than ever, we have to be strong, and we have
to be strategic.