As so often (in my opinion) Tony Blair is almost right. In a wide-ranging speech at Bloomberg this morning he roamed over Syria, Libya, the Middle East and the West’s withdrawal of interest, let alone engagement, in the region.
But it is Blair’s comments on Islam that are most interesting, are already garnering headlines and merit most attention. Referring to the problems across the Middle East he said:
‘At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that distorts and warps Islam’s true message. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.’
All of which is frustrating, because Tony Blair is so nearly there. After all, this is a man who, in office, only ever trotted out (as George Bush did, as David Cameron does, as absolutely everyone does when they are in office) the message that Islam is a ‘religion of peace.’
Nowadays, with interviews and speeches like this one, Blair gets huge headlines and is occasionally congratulated for admitting that it may be more complicated than this. But as he edges towards the truth of the situation, he is still a step away from facing up to the reality.
Here is what he would say if he wanted to be wholly truthful:
‘At the root of the crisis lies a radicalised and politicised view of Islam, an ideology that – while obviously the worst version of Islam going – nevertheless has a long tradition. The extremists do not make their claims based on some wild misreading, but on a plausible reading of the texts and traditions which have existed within the religion since its founding. In order to confront this, and defeat the extremists, we cannot simply pretend that these problems do not exist. Non-Muslims must be unafraid to point them out and to say that there are extremist attitudes which remain permissible in mainstream Islam – such as the second-class status of women, the mandating of death for those who leave Islam – which go wholly against our own most deeply held beliefs. And it is vital that Muslims do everything they can to face up to the challenges which these extreme elements pose within their faith. Rather than denying that these questions of interpretation exist, or brushing them under the carpet, it is incumbent upon Muslims everywhere to do everything they can to anathematise and stigmatise the extremists and to chase them and their readings out of the religion. Muslims must face up to the problems of the tradition and overcome them, rather than deny that they exist. The process of denial only emboldens and strengthens the extremists while simultaneously making it easier for some non-Muslims to crudely and cruelly lump all Muslims in the extremist camp. This is a matter of urgency. The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is de-stabilising communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively.’
Now, that would be a speech worthy of a former Prime Minister who – having made a good living, and with no need to search for higher office – should speak the whole truth, rather than portions of it, without favour or fear.