Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, called on Western governments to rethink their approach to terrorism and recognize that religious extremism is behind many of the recent attacks throughout the world.
In a piece published in the Observer newspaper Sunday, Blair, the official envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East — the United Nations, United States, European Union, and Russia — wrote that there was a “clear common theme” evident in attacks in places as far-flung as Nigeria, Syria and Burma: that they “are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion.”
Blair, who as prime minister of the UK decided to commit his country’s military to an invasion of Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, wrote that “security action alone, even military action, will not deal with the root cause.”
He emphasized that the sources of extremism were “not innate,” but rather sown, “sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship.”
Blair noted that the internet was a prime tool for disseminating “lessons of hate and division” and made a case for deeper Western involvement in education to democratic values, because, he said, “Democracy is not only a way of voting. It is a way of thinking. People have to feel equal, not just be regarded by the law as such.”
Although he argued that the Middle East, being “the center of Islam,” had to be a focal point of efforts to combat sectarianism — in that regard, he evoked Iraq, which has seen a resurgence of violence and increasing sectarian strife in recent months — Blair emphasized that “this issue of extremism is not limited to Islam. There are also many examples the world over where Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths.”
“The answer,” he continued, “is to promote views that are open-minded and tolerant toward those who are different, and to fight the formal, informal and internet propagation of closed-minded intolerance. In the 21st century, education is a security issue.”
Blair went on to detail some of his work as the head of an eponymous foundation that works to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.
The foundation’s activity was aimed at “chang[ing] the policy of governments: to start to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics, to go to the roots of where a false view of religion is being promulgated, and to make it a major item on the agenda of world leaders to combine effectively to combat it,” he said. “This is a struggle that is only just beginning.”