Tony Blair: Islamism is the biggest challenge

A bomb attack on regime forces in Aleppo, Syria, this week (Photo: Getty Images)

A bomb attack on regime forces in Aleppo, Syria, this week (Photo: Getty Images)

Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair has accused the West of failing to recognise the scale of the dangers posed by radical Islam.

Speaking in London in Wednesday, Mr Blair said that an extremist version of Islam is driving the turmoil in the Middle East, which is now the world’s biggest security challenge.

Despite this, he argued, “we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively”.

He attacked Western commentators who “go to extraordinary lengths to say why, in every individual case, there are multiple reasons for understanding that this is not really about Islam, it is not really about religion; there are local or historic reasons which explain what is happening.”

The reality, he argued, is that there is a “Titanic” struggle between progressive and regressive forces in the Middle East. While there are those who have a modern view and favour pluralistic societies and open economies, others want to impose their exclusivist ideology on the rest of society, he said.

“Wherever you look — from Iraq to Libya to Egypt to Yemen to Lebanon to Syria and then further afield to Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan — this is the essential battle.”

He added: “The important point for Western opinion is that this is a struggle with two sides… This is not a mess where everyone is as bad as each other. There is a side we should be proud to take. There are people to stand beside and who will stand beside us.”

Mr Blair’s recommendation of a more robust, interventionist role for Britain in the region may not go down well with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who stressed the benefits of “soft power” in a speech at the Foreign Office last week.

In explaining why the Middle East matters, Mr Blair pointed to its energy resources, its proximity to Europe and the fact that Israel, a Western democracy and partner of leading European countries, is located there. He added that it is the region where “the future of Islam will be decided”.

Mr Blair said that finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be a victory for the forces that the West should be supporting in the Middle East, adding that US Secretary of State John Kerry’s commitment to the negotiations “has not been in vain”.

On Iran, Mr Blair backed the US drive to prevent the country from becoming a nuclear-threshold state, but fell short of advocating regime change, arguing that “the people will, in the end have to find a way to do that. We should at every opportunity push back against Iran’s use of their power to support extremism”.

Last updated: 1:27pm, April 24 2014