It is rare for a statesman to speak the plain truth about the nature and threat of militant Islam. It is especially rare for a figure on the progressive side of the aisle. But last week in London, former British Labor Party Prime Minister Tony Blair gave a speech in which he did just that. He identified what he calls “Islamism” as a warped and aggressive ideology comparable to Nazi fascism and Soviet communism.
“The threat of radical Islam is not abating,” he warned. “It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilizing communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalization.”
The speech included the usual (and necessary) caveats. Most Muslims are not Islamacists. Islam isn’t always and everywhere militant or violent. Not all Muslims support it. But Blair insisted that Islamism can’t be divorced from Islam, nor be accepted by a broadminded Western world as just another brand of ideology.
“The militants do not entertain the possibility that they are wrong,” he said. “Their goal is “to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society and the political economy.”
This critique wasn’t based on some theoretical reading of the Koran or the nature of Islam. It is firmly rooted in the observable realities of contemporary geopolitics. “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 said.
Islamism emanates from the Middle East, but it is not confined to that region. It has turned large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa into sectarian killing fields. It threatens the stability of eastern Russia, western China, India Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Western countries grapple with domestic Islamist terror threats.
Mr. Blair made it clear that Islamism is not a liberation movement, a reaction to poverty or the work of a few renegade Muslims who don’t understand their own religion. On the contrary, it is religiously inspired.
Needless to say, following the speech Blair was excoriated by Islamist propagandists and their British fellow travelers as a hateful Islamaphobe. But he doesn't seem to mind and he evidently doesn't fear being branded a reactionary bigot.
He is a man of the moderate left, Labor’s longest serving prime minister. He had a special relationship with George W. Bush; but he was (and remains) equally close to Bill and Hillary Clinton and other leading Democrats.
Moreover, Blair knows the map of the Islamist world. As prime minister he fought the Taliban in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda (as well as Saddam Hussein’s forces) in Iraq, while keeping a wary eye on Teheran.
Since 2007, he has served as the Special Envoy of the Middle East Quartet (composed of the U.N., the European Union, Russia and the US), logging endless hours in the region and giving him the opportunity to see firsthand what Iran has inspired in Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, and the Muslim Brotherhood in action in Egypt. And, of course, he is well informed on the subject of Islamist activity in Great Britain itself.
In his London speech, Blair expressed frustration at the refusal of world leaders and members of the Western commentariat to tell the truth about what is going on. He accused them of going “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 to explain what it happening. There is a wish to eliminate the obvious common factor in a way that is almost wilfull…it is bizarre to ignore the fact the principal actors in all situations express themselves through the medium of religious identity or that in ideological terms, there is a powerful unifying factor based on a particular world view of religion and its place in politics and society.”
As if to prove his point, the American media have largely ignored Blair’s remarkable speech. Blaming Islam for Islamism is just so mean.
But by saying aloud what everyone knows, he has broken a taboo and, with luck, restarted a conversation about what he views as a grave threat to the Western way of life.
It would be interesting to hear what his good friend former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to say on the subject.