The civilized world is at a critical juncture in the struggle with radical Islam, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told a New York audience Wednesday.
Speaking at an event sponsored by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), Blair said the West has failed to confront the Islamists' false narrative - that "Islam is basically oppressed by the West; disrespected and treated unfairly; that the military action we took post-9/11 was against countries because they are Muslim; and that in the Middle East we ignore the injustice done to the Palestinians in our desire to support Israel, because the Palestinians are Muslims and the Israelis Jews."
Blair emphasized that it will be impossible to defeat Islamist radicalism without rebutting and "defeating" these slanders in the arena of popular opinion. He noted that many websites, blogs and organizations around the world have adopted this narrative oppose terrorism. But the widespread support for the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East illustrates that "far too many" Muslims "buy into far too much of the analysis of the extremists, if not their methodology," Blair said.
The refusal of Western leaders to challenge this world view undermines moderate Muslims who abhor Islamism. Western leaders seem to believe that if they sympathize with the narrative, admit they are partly to blame for radicalism and try to meet the Islamists halfway, they will help Muslim "modernizers," Blair said.
But this approach actually projects weakness and undercuts moderates. It triggers anti-Muslim resentment from people who believe their governments are "pandering" to radicalism, the former prime minister emphasized:
"What we should be doing instead is confronting the narrative head on, forming an alliance across the faiths and across the divides of culture and civilization to defeat it. We should point out with vigor that in Kosovo America and Britain went to the aid of Kosovan Muslims and not because they were Muslims but because they were a people in distress."
Similarly, Western leaders need to emphasize that "9/11 was an utterly unprovoked attack on all who share civilized values," he said. "In Iraq and Afghanistan, whatever you think of the original action, we enabled the people to choose their government….They did so, and the terrorism that seeks to destabilize both countries is not about so-called 'liberation from occupation' but about attacking fellow Muslims just because they want the same freedoms as us."
Blair criticized the premise that world leaders should treat Iran's acquisition of a nuclear bomb as they would atomic weapons possessed by France or India. Anyone who believes that, he said, should read Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech to the United Nations last month, during which he suggested that 9/11 might have been planned by "segments of the American government" for Israel's benefit.
"We should wake up to the absurdity of our surprise at the prevalence of this extremism. Look at the funds it receives. Examine the education systems that succor it. And then measure, over the years, the paucity of our counterattack in the name of peaceful co-existence," Blair said. "We have been outspent, outmaneuvered and out-strategized."