Tony Blair today called on Britain to put aside its difference with Russia over Ukraine and “co-operate” to fight the growing threat of radical Islam.
In significant and controversial intervention, the former Prime Minister suggested that, as a result of failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, governments in Europe and America had become “curiously reluctant to acknowledge” Islamic extremism.
But he suggested the West and Russia should unite to fight the common threat of Islamic fundamentalism across the Middle East – which was more important than disputes over Ukraine.
“On this issue, whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and cooperate with the East, and in particular, Russia and China,” he said during a speech in London.
“On this issue also, there is a complete identity of interest between East and West.
“China and Russia have exactly the same desire to defeat this ideology as do the USA and Europe.
“Here is a subject upon which all the principal nations of the G20 could come together, could agree to act, and could find common ground to common benefit.
“An international programme to eradicate religious intolerance and prejudice from school systems and informal education systems and from organisations in civic society would have a huge galvanising effect in making unacceptable what is currently ignored or tolerated.
Mr Blair, whose political legacy has been tainted by his role in the US-led invasion of Iraq, is understood to be increasingly concerned by the failure of Britain and other Western countries effectively to tackle what he believes to be the growing threat of radical Islam – that combines politics with religion and opposes pluralistic societies.
“When we look at the Middle East and beyond it to Pakistan or Iran and elsewhere, it isn’t just a vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support,” he said.
“It is in fact a struggle in which our own strategic interests are intimately involved; where there are indeed people we should support if only that majority were mobilised, organised and helped.
“Engagement and commitment are words easy to use. But they only count when they come at a cost. There is no engagement that doesn’t involve putting yourself out there. There is no commitment that doesn’t mean taking a risk.”
He went on to add that the West should also be prepared to back “revolution” in countries, such as Iran, which are run by radical Islamic regimes. “Where there has been revolution, we should be on the side of those who support those principles and opposed to those who would thwart them.
“Where there has not been revolution, we should support the steady evolution towards them [those principles].”
In a swipe at those who opposed greater military intervention in Syria Mr Blair said the West has to “take sides” to protect its own interests. “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 will say.
“We have to have an approach to the region that is coherent. And above all, we have to commit. We have to engage.”
Mr Blair also implicitly criticises regimes such as those in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – which are nominally pro-Western but often tolerate the preaching and teachings of radical Islam.
“We spend billions of dollars on security arrangements and on defence to protect ourselves against the consequences of an ideology that is being advocated in the formal and informal school systems of the very countries with whom we have security and defence relationships,” he said.
Mr Blair warned that unless these problems are tackled worse will come.
“The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful co-existence or conflict between people of different cultures.”
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