NEW YORK -- Tony Blair continued his campaign against Islamic extremism on Tuesday, using a speech at the 9/11 Memorial in New York to warn that the ideology driving jihadists enjoys "significant" mainstream Muslim support.
The former British prime minister said the threat from extremists could not be defeated without rooting out the conspiracies and religious prejudices harboured within Muslim communities, while noting the radical views held by members of the Islamic State had support around the globe, even if only a minority takes up arms for the cause.
“The conspiracy theories which illuminate much of the jihadi writings have significant support even amongst parts of the mainstream population of some Muslim countries," Blair said, adding: "There are millions of school children every day in countries round the world -- not just in the Middle East -- who are taught a view of the world and of their religion which is narrow-minded, prejudicial and therefore in the context of a globalised world, dangerous."
Blair noted the dangers of attacking ideas prevalent in the Islamic world, which he said could be misconstrued as an attack on Muslims, but added that those concerns must be overcome.
"If large numbers of people really do believe that the desire of the USA or the West is to disrespect or oppress Islam, then it is not surprising that some find recourse to violence acceptable in order to re-assert the 'dignity' of the oppressed," he said.
"If young people are educated that Jews are evil or that anyone who holds a different view of religion is an enemy, it is obvious that this prejudice will give rise, in certain circumstances, to action in accordance with it. The reality is that in parts of the Muslim community a discourse has grown up which is profoundly hostile to peaceful co-existence. Countering this is an essential part of fighting extremism."
The former Labour Party leader, who used the address to highlight a recent report that shows the role of ideology in jihadi propaganda, said the violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists “no more represents the true spirit of Islam than atrocities executed in the name of Christianity in days gone by, represented true Christian faith.”
He said the “majority of Muslims detest this extremism and are the main victims of it,” while highlighting those that subscribe to a “liberal and modern interpretation” of Sharia.
“We don't face a clash of civilisations or of faiths; but a pernicious and false ideology which is a denial of civilisation and a perversion and not an expression of faith,” he said. “The challenge is from within Islam. The solution is also from within Islam.”