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Accusing Blair of leading a crusade

A speech by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently stirred heated controversy

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

A speech by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently stirred heated controversy. As such, Blair’s speech has achieved the first of its goals as it blew the debate wide open. Most criticism against him came from activist Islamist groups in Britain and the Arab region.

The campaign against Blair sought to distort of his words and to use threats, as he was accused of declaring war on Islam and of leading a crusade.

The question is, what did Blair actually say that managed to upset these people? In brief, he voiced the importance of distinguishing between Muslims and extremists and said international cooperation is crucial to fight extremism. Interestingly, this is exactly what is always repeated by the Imam of Makkah’s Grand Mosque officials and by the head of Al-Azhar in Egypt, and what most of the significant Muslim reference endorsed.

The truth is that the language of threats is at the heart of terrorism rhetoric. Late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden used to say that those who stood against him and those who pursue him from the West are crusaders launching a war against Islam. This is also exactly what Islamist groups’ authors and columnists are doing when they accuse those who criticize extremist groups of attacking Islam!

The truth is, what Blair called for in his speech (which I consider the most important of what’s been said about this topic) is in fact a great stance for most Muslims. It is a call to save the besieged, moderate Islam, and to support Muslim efforts aimed at cleaning the religion of those who distorted its image. Blair also did not hesitate to criticize the West’s abandonment of the Syrian opposition, in terms of failing to provide arms, and in doing so, leaving the arena wide open to terrorist groups.

The truth is, what Blair called for in his speech (which I consider the most important of what’s been said about this topic) is in fact a great stance for most Muslims

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Those who opposed his speech were worried by his frank and bold call on the world to stand against extremism, instead of sitting idly-by and watching Muslims fight each other. Blair made this call because the damage is worldwide and has not only affected Muslims. He called for standing against extremists from Afghanistan to the sub-Sahara. This is what we have been talking about for around two decades; we hoped the West would stop viewing Muslims as one homogenous bloc and that it would stand against extremist groups.

We hoped it (The West) would stand against the very extremist groups it let wreak havoc and mess-up young brains with the justification of religious freedoms, as countries like Britain became the biggest safe haven for these groups - which escaped their own countries - and as such groups were either allowed or were overlooked as they organized themselves, recruited, educated, collected funds and took over mosques.

It took many years before security action was taken to detain, then arrest, leaders who were wanted in their homeland on terrorism charges - leaders like Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and Omar Bakri Mohammad. Action was taken after such men corrupted Muslim communities in Britain and other countries.

In his speech, Blair said that a security solution is not enough and added that extremism must be fought at the international level.

These groups hijacked youths in the name of Islam and amid the absence of control and governmental supervision, they began to teach them hatred and accuse the societies they live in of infidelity. In their curricula, they teach children how to amputate hands and legs and they provide graphic illustrations under the pretense that is religious studies, whilst such topics are not taught to students in Muslim countries! Another education tool used by such groups is teaching mathematics by counting bullets!

Blair urged for international cooperation against extremists. This, of course, angered political groups which act as a cover for extremist and armed factions.

What Blair said is a result of experiences and repercussions of which are still felt to this day. The West, as Blair said, used to watch the two camps of Islam fight each other. What I can add to what Blair said is that the West chose to deal with these groups which raised flags of Islam and which, in the name of Islam, intimidated the citizens of their countries and the rest of the world. In Iran, after the revolution, the West dealt with Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime as a representative of Muslims and Islam but it later found out that it is a hostile regime, and one that is difficult to co-exist with.

The West also pressured the Palestinian Authority to accommodate Hamas in the elections, despite Fatah’s severe opposition. But later, and after Hamas became involved in the elections, the West realized that Hamas does not respect any pledges, regardless of whether it’s part of the authority or not. The West also dealt with the Turabi-Bashir government in Sudan, although it revolted against democracy.

The West thought that being politically patient (with these group) would contribute to its intellectual development and ruling practices. However, it was the result was the complete opposite.

Blair’s stance is important because he is the West’s frankest of politicians. He publicly said what others would only say during private gatherings. Regarding his political career, he is the only politician who has worked without making copious public statements in recent years. He runs a project aimed at handing Palestinians the reins of their economy in the occupied West Bank and he has an organization that makes efforts to encourage Christian-Muslim dialogue.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 29, 2014.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.