Tony Blair: 'Islamism Not Confined to a Few Fanatics,' Warns That Compromise Would Be a 'Fateful Error'

( [email protected] ) Sep 22, 2014 04:13 PM EDT
Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair warns against the dangers of compromise in relation to the Islamic State (Carl Court/AFP/GettyImages)

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair recently emphasized the importance of a strong military response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and proposed tackling Islamism on a broader scale.  

In a lengthy essay published on his Faith Foundation's website entitled 'The Way Ahead', the former prime minister says: "It is clear that there is a fundamental problem with radical Islamism".

"Islamism of course is not the same as Islam," he explains. "The religion of Islam is an Abrahamic religion of compassion and mercy. For centuries it shamed Christendom with its advances in science and social development.

"This is not a clash of civilizations," he continues. "It is a struggle between those who believe in peaceful co-existence for people of all faiths and none; and extremists who would use religion wrongly as a source of violence and conflict. Our enemies are those who would pervert Islam. Our allies are the many Muslims the world over who are the principal victims of such a perversion."

Blair added that governments must "join the dots" between many of the major conflicts in the world, noting that many of them are related to Islamism.

"I say that what is happening in Syria, Iraq, and across the Middle East; and what is happening in Pakistan, Nigeria, Mali, or in parts of Russia or in the Xinjiang province of China or in multiple other parts of the globe, are linked.

"They form different parts of one struggle. They all have their individual aspects. [...] But they have one huge and central element in common: extremism based on an interpretation of Islam which represents a clear ideology that, even if loosely at times, is shared by all these different groups of extremists."

We are in danger, he says, of treating militant Islamism as a "fringe" view, or "a sort of weird cult confined to a few fanatics."

However, this will prevent countries from properly addressing the threat, he warns

"The problem is that we're facing a spectrum of opinion based on a world view which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society. At the furthest end is the fringe. But at the other end are those who may completely oppose some of the things the fringe does and who would never themselves dream of committing acts of violence, but who unfortunately share certain elements of the fanatic's world view."

Such elements, he clarifies, include support for replacing secular governance with Islamic law, and an "innately hostile" view of the West.

Blair adds that Islamism is a very dangerous ideology preached to "tens of millions" of Muslims around the world.

"It is the spectrum that helps create the fringe," Blair argues. "A large part of Western policy - and something I remember so well fighting in Government - is based on the belief that we can compromise with the spectrum in the hope of marginalising the fringe. This is a fateful error. All we do is to legitimise the spectrum, which then gives ideological oxygen to the fringe."

The former PM argues that because militants only grow when they are not resisted, the West should consider allowing troops on the ground.

"We have to fight groups like ISIS," he says. "There can be an abundance of diplomacy, all necessary relief of humanitarian suffering, every conceivable statement of condemnation which we can muster, but unless they're accompanied by physical combat, we will mitigate the problem but not overcome it."

However, he does recognise that the broader spectrum of Islamist ideology should not be dealt with in the same way as the fringe (those who endorse militant Islamism). This, Blair says, should be tackled by exposing and opposing Islamist views, as well as engaging those who hold them in debate.

Blair concludes by asserting that non-violent Islamists should not be oppressed, Western powers should respond to their to their views with firm conviction.

"Certainly in our types of society, people are perfectly entitled to hold views that we believe are destructive to our way of life and that we profoundly disagree with. Provided that that they express them within the law, that is their right.

"But it is also our right to point out why they are indeed incompatible with all we hold dear. And it is our duty, if we believe in what we say we do, to take on the argument with vigor and to watch with vigilance to see that Islamism does play by the rules in our own country."