What Tony Blair meant about Islam

(Photo credit: Patrick McMullan) Globalization will be the greatest force for good in the 21st century, but it will also … Continued

(Photo credit: Patrick McMullan)

Globalization will be the greatest force for good in the 21st century, but it will also create the century’s greatest challenges. People are pushed together as never before and the close juxtaposition of faiths can create tensions. Provocative events half way around the world are instantaneously refracted by a proliferation of media channels, on and offline.

To change the world you first need to understand it –and then act.

Recently, Tony Blair, the founder of the charity I head, wrote an article in a British newspaper which said “there is not a problem with Islam, but there is a problem within it.” Welcomed by some, disputed by others, he was characteristically clear in his view that when the perpetrators cloak their crimes in such language it is ludicrous to say that these terrorist attacks are nothing to do with religion. It is a perversion of religion, of course without legitimacy or majority support. But we can’t shrug it off as irrelevant or isolated.

In the past, Muslim leaders have fairly or not –faced calls to be swifter or louder or more categorical in their renunciation of those who commit these crimes in the name of jihad. No such charge could be made after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. The immediate whole-hearted and categorical response of Muslim leaders and local community members was to stand together and condemn this abhorrent act. This spoke of a Britain increasingly resilient.

But the fact that so many perpetrators continue to cloak their criminality in the language of religion does create very real problems for all of us Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

More Muslims than people of any other religion are killed by terrorists acting in the name of Islam. Great harm is done by us failing to understand and confront the distorted and despicable few who claim religious justification for their acts.

And the problem is magnified because religious extremism has other negative consequences. It feeds a sense of grievance, of “them and us,” and makes it so much harder for young Muslims the world over to relate to their non-Muslim peers in their own, and in other, countries.

This is as much true of those who define themselves by their opposition to a religion, which can have dire results as we have seen in recent days in the UK, with “revenge” attacks on a mosque and other harmful actions.

In such an environment, we need three responses: firstly to understand the scale and nature of the manipulation and its true purpose. Secondly, we need to build resilience amongst all communities so that people feel united and confident in rejecting it. Thirdly, we must develop positive alternatives, so that people of different faiths and cultures can experience deep connections and true collaborations.

Equally we need to think about different and growing populations around the world. As Tony Blair remarked last week, the median age in the Middle East is in the mid-20s. In Nigeria, it is 19. In Gaza, where Hamas holds power, a quarter of the population is under five.

So a genuine and open process of learning about the other, of education and exposure to the unfamiliar, can undercut that superficially appealing extremist line.

The Foundation’s schools program, active in more than 20 countries and connecting more than 30,000 students worldwide, is designed to be an inoculation for young people against the possibilities of future extremist influence, building their resilience and critical thinking. This is a powerful approach to learning that makes accessible the unfamiliar, serving as a substitute for an experience a student may never have and offering vital negotiation and resolution skills. We equip the next generation to be genuine global citizens, whilst remaining true to their national identity.

That’s why we have set a target of connecting 1,000 schools in the U.S. to 1,000 schools in Muslim-majority countries and beyond we will expose our young people to their peers, so that they can discuss the big global issues of our day, and seek out their common humanity as well as respect, not fear, their differences.

So I’m optimistic that we can help address the problems that Tony Blair has identified, but the task is huge. Religious extremists are small in number, well organised, highly motivated, well funded, and they have devastating and dramatic impact. By contrast, those of the majority on the other side are not organised, funded or impactful in the same way.

We need to be. It is this, which in the end, will be our most effective counter extremism policy a goal worth striving for.

Charlotte Keenan is Chief Executive of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

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  • Kingofkings1

    I will let Tony Blair’s lack of credibility regarding Islam and muslims speak for itself on the topic raised in this article

  • Rongoklunk

    But what if there is no Allah, and no God? Doesn’t that possibility matter? Nobody ever saw Allah. Nobody ever saw God. And nobody has ever heard from them either -it’s as if they don’t actually exist. Why is faith required when our scientists don’t recognize any gods. 95 percent of members of the Academy of Sciences do not believe in a god. We have to consider the possibility that there are no gods, before more people kill themselves and others to be in Paradise with Him. It’s something we have to think about before more people martyr themselves for an idea that no longer makes sense.

  • David Thompson

    ” designed to be an inoculation for young people against the possibilities of future extremist influence, building their resilience and critical thinking.” Critical thinking and religion don’t mix.

    You can get people who are superficially religious to connect with people of other faiths. You can get people who are devoutly religious to superficially interface with people of other faiths, but I am nearly certain you cannot get devoutly religious people to accept people of other faiths. The devout are already believing something on faith (no empirical evidence); that’s just not logical. Now you want them to think their religion is the only correct way, but the other guys religion is the only way too, for them and that’s okay. It’s just nonsense.

  • Tender Hooligan

    This weekend, a bus was blown up in Pakistan by Muslim extremists. It was carrying women students to university. A follow up attack then followed, targeting the hospital where the surviving women had been taken. It seems that religious fundamentalist terrorist are afraid of education. Keeping people ignorant allows the power base to survive. Opening people’s eyes to free thinking diminishes the power of the religion. Educating women, allows them to see the injustice that is being done to them. If we do nothing else, the schools program will at least help to erode the power of the fundamentalism that can breed terrorism.

  • S8thRd

    I still sense a failure to confront fundamental issues with Islam. According to polls, a huge number of Muslims — maybe 40% globally — would qualify as “extremists” or “radicals” by some measures, supporting, for example, the execution of women who commit adultery, the execution of those who leave the faith, and the use of violence “in defense of Islam” — a concept which appears to be taken very broadly by many. Also, the idea that “education” and exposure to others reduces Muslim extremism is an old myth with little empirical support. A great many Muslim terrorists are well-educated and have had a great deal of exposure to non-Muslim people and cultures. So this essay gives me little hope.

  • samwoods77

    The article cites without authority that the majority of adherents of Islam are not extremists and are opposed to Islamic extremism. Why, then, don’t the majority speak out? We’ve been waiting more than 10 years. Thus far, the silence is deafening.

  • samwoods77

    Your possibility is just an alternate belief system. It is no better and no worse than those who call themselves religious. Until the world can prove or disprove the existence of God, why don’t you simply let others believe what they want and respect their right to think differently than you?

  • Rongoklunk

    Not true Sam. Don’t you see the difference? Believers posit a God; and they also posit an afterlife.
    Both defy commonsense. Atheists don’t posit anything at all. It is irrational to believe in either of your claims. We nonbelievers posit nothing. We just don’t believe in God, or Gods. Nobody ever saw one. Nobody ever heard from one. And the fact that our forebears invented thousands of Gods from Apollo to Jupiter and Zeus is very good evidence that your God was invented too. Atheists also reject the afterlife. Everything we know about the real world says that death is death, for us as for all things. We posit nothing. We are realists.

  • 3vandrum

    Tony Blair does not have to apologize for anything. He said all the right things about radical Islam.
    Radical Islam has become a global problem in the 21st century. No other religious extremist groups are
    causing so much of violence today like blowing up the planes and buildings. Plane travel has become a nightmare. Moderate muslims have no voice and inter faith dialogues have served no useful function at all all these years. Tony Blair foundation’s idea of connecting the US schools with schools in Muslim countries (to reduce extremist influence) is ridiculous unless you connect with the madrasas where the radicals are trained and critical thinking is absent

  • Rongoklunk

    Excellent post. But Blair is also religious, and that is unfortunate. Commonsense says there is no such dude as Allah. Commonsense says there is no God. Most people in Europe no longer believe in a God. We should be opposing Islam for it being so absurd. But Christianity is equally absurd. And therein lies the problem. The US is just as superstitious as any Muslim country. It is as bad and as irrational as they are. It enables Islam by being just as religious. What a tragedy. Like the Crusades it’s just one God against another; like we never had an Enlightenment.

  • WmarkW

    From Sam Harris’ blog:
    I have long struggled to understand how smart, well-educated liberals can fail to perceive the unique dangers of Islam. ..For instance, I once ran into the anthropologist Scott Atran after he had delivered one of his preening and delusional lectures on the origins of jihadist terrorism. According to Atran, people who decapitate journalists, filmmakers, and aid workers to cries of “Alahu akbar!” or blow themselves up in crowds of innocents are led to misbehave this way not because of their deeply held beliefs about jihad and martyrdom but because of their experience of male bonding in soccer clubs and barbershops. (Really.) So I asked Atran directly:

    “Are you saying that no Muslim suicide bomber has ever blown himself up with the expectation of getting into Paradise?”

    “Yes,” he said, “that’s what I’m saying. No one believes in Paradise.”

    At a moment like this, it is impossible to know whether one is in the presence of mental illness or a terminal case of intellectual dishonesty. Atran’s belief—apparently shared by many people—is so at odds with what can be reasonably understood from the statements and actions of jihadists that it admits of no response. The notion that no one believes in Paradise is far crazier than a belief in Paradise.
    Among Islamic apologists, there is a strong belief that the “true” Islam is a spirituality, no more motivating violence or intolerance than Quakerism. But all our experience shows otherwise. Once Islam achieves any kind of critical mass in a nation or community, it starts acting like a bully. There come a point at which we have to start believing our eyes, not our dreams.

  • 3vandrum

    All religions are absurd in the 21st century when science has far advanced and has replaced the need for God and religions. Tony Blair is also out of date for clinging on to his religion at this century.His remarks on islam will only promote religious wars between muslims and christians

  • ThomasBaum

    You wrote, “Atheists don’t posit anything at all”.

    You can speak for yourself but how can you speak for all atheists?

    According to what you wrote, you most definitely do “posit” at least two things and they are that there is no God and that there is no afterlife.

    There are some atheists that do believe that there is “something” past this life.

  • ThomasBaum

    There is a difference between accepting people of other faiths and accepting their faith.

  • jayc1

    Meaning that you have chosen to be deaf to the statements that they have made, so you can’t hear anything.

  • Abey

    It is the primary responsibility of those failed societies to know the causes of their failures and to rectify them. It is their system of education that glorifies a fossilized past of aggression. enslavement and ignorance and renounce human achievements that transferred man and his landscape. As long as they truly believe in their superiority without bothering to critically find an evidence, the farther away they stray away from the march of history.