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Tony Blair and Radical Islam

28/04/2014 10:59 BST | Updated 27/06/2014 10:59 BST

Churchill's warnings about Nazism in the 1930s were ignored for too long by those who couldn't set aside their hatred of the man for past actions - a few occur to me - and examine his arguments at face value. He then became one of the greatest British Prime Ministers.

Tony Blair, seen by some as one of the worst because of the so-called illegal and immoral war in Iraq, last week offered a stark analysis of Radical Islam, this century's "biggest threat to global security" on a par with environmental and economic challenges. The speech was derided by those who think that shouting warmonger suffices but merits close inspection.

Restating the importance of the Middle East is the speech's first merit. It may be tempting to conclude it is ungovernable and "we should let it look after itself." But American self-sufficiency in energy doesn't stop the world depending on Middle East energy, which determines oil prices and therefore global economic stability. Its proximity drives instability in Europe. The fate of Israel cannot be ignored by world powers. The Middle East is "the epicentre of thought and theology in Islam." Most Muslims live elsewhere but jihadism is exported from the Middle East.

The second merit is challenging complacency about "a radicalised and politicised view of Islam." Specific complexities of tribe, tradition and territory and economic oppression count but the crux of the matter is the rightful place of Islam in politics. Radical Islam contradicts pluralist conceptions of democracy where "You put your view; you may lose; you try to win next time; or you win but you accept that you may lose next time." Its goal is not a society which someone else can change electorally but one governed by unchangeable religious doctrines.

But understandably baffled and bewildered Western public opinion absolutely wishes to avoid the Titanic struggle within the Middle East between modernity and exclusivity because it sees "a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support."

The third merit is identifying that "there are people to stand beside and who will stand beside us:" The pluralist and secular Kurds come to my mind. Such Muslims may themselves be devout, therefore abhor extremists hijacking the Koran and form the majority if mobilised, organised and helped.

Blair concedes that Iraq and Afghanistan proved immensely difficult but points out that most people there immediately participated in elections and rebuilding their countries. It is a long struggle, judging by his aside that similar battles within Christianity "took years to eradicate" - several hundred, in fact.

When Blair becomes specific he doesn't shirk from uncomfortable positions when principle confronts repugnant reality. The directness is perhaps intentionally shocking. He backs last year's coup cum revolt in the pivotal country of Egypt as "the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation." Inaction against Assad has turned Syria into "an unmitigated disaster" where a political solution now means accepting Assad staying in power in the interim. If Assad cannot accept that, then active measures including no fly zones could help the Opposition and force negotiations but extremists should receive no external support.

He is clinically clear about Iran. It should "step back from being a nuclear threshold state," not win regional influence for nuclear concessions and its support for extremism should be rebuffed. But regime change is for the Iranians to carry out. My view is that this should mean engaging with Kurds and others facing a regime that denies them equality.

Blair's remedies remind some of realpolitik - cynical deals with lesser evils that once led, as the London Times noted, the West to ally with Saddam against Iran and the Kurds. But, to be fair, Blair says "We have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time." He diplomatically avoids naming Saudi Arabia and others but it is clear who he means when he slams under-the-radar nurturing of extremist ideology by "the very countries with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships."

The West, Muslim reformers, China and Russia could spearhead an international programme to eradicate religious intolerance and prejudice, which undermines peaceful co-existence in an era of globalisation, kills huge numbers globally, disadvantages females, and stunts development, especially in Africa.

Blair has grappled with security and faith issues for decades and his analysis should command serious attention. The speech salvaged the big picture of a region in turmoil from the illusory hope that it would all just go away. Specific policies will be savaged analytically. Blair's work is a vital contribution to a very necessary debate on a huge global challenge. To paraphrase Leon Trotsky: you may not be interested in Radical Islam but Radical Islam is interested in you.

The full speech is at http://www.tonyblairoffice.org/news/entry/why-the-middle-east-matters-keynote-speech-by-tony-blair/