There is only one view of the murder of Lee Rigby: horrific.
But there are two views of its significance. One is that it is the act of crazy people, motivated in this case by a perverted idea about Islam, but of no broader significance. Crazy people do crazy things. So don’t overreact.
The other view is that this act was indeed horrible; and that the ideology which inspired it, is profound and dangerous.
I am of this latter view.
So of course we shouldn’t overreact. We didn’t after 7 July 2005. But we did act. And we were right to. The actions by our security services will undoubtedly have prevented other serious attacks. The ‘Prevent’ programme in local communities was sensible.
The new measures of the Government seem reasonable and proportionate.
However we are deluding ourselves if we believe that we can protect this country simply by what we do here. The ideology is out there. It isn’t diminishing.
Consider the Middle East. As of now, Syria is in a state of accelerating disintegration. President Assad is brutally pulverising communities hostile to his regime. 80,000 at least have died. The refugees now total over 1 million. The internally displaced are over 4 million. Many in the region believe that the Assad intention is to ethnically cleanse the Sunni from the areas dominated by his regime and then form a separate state around Lebanon. There would then be a de facto Sunni state in the rest of Syria, cut off from the wealth of the country or the sea.
The Syrian opposition is made up of many groups. The fighters are increasingly the al-Qaida affiliated group Jabhat al-Nusra. They are winning support, and arms and money from outside the country.
Assad is using chemical weapons on a limited but deadly scale. Some of the stockpiles are in fiercely contested areas.
The overwhelming desire of the West is to stay out of it. This is completely understandable. But we must also understand: we are at the beginning of this tragedy. Its capacity to de-stabilise the region is clear. Jordan is behaving with exemplary courage, but there is a limit to the refugees it can reasonably be expected to absorb. Lebanon is now fragile as Iran pushes Hezbollah into the battle. Al Qaida is back trying to cause carnage in Iraq and Iran continues its gruesome meddling there.
To the South in Egypt and across North Africa, Muslim Brotherhood parties are in power but the contradiction between their ideology and their ability to run modern economies, means that they face growing instability and pressure from more extreme groups.
Then there is the Iranian regime, still intent on getting a nuclear weapon, still exporting terror and instability to the West and the East of it. In sub-Saharan Africa, Nigeria is facing awful terror attacks. In Mali France was fighting a pretty tough battle.
And we haven’t mentioned Pakistan or Yemen. Go to the Far East and look at the Western border between Burma and Bangladesh. Look at recent events in Bangladesh itself or the Mindanao dispute in the Muslim region of the Philippines.
In many of the most severely affected areas, one other thing is apparent: a rapidly growing population. The median age in the Middle East is in the mid-20s. In Nigeria it’s 19. In Gaza where Hamas hold power, a quarter of the population is under 5.
When I return to Jerusalem soon, it will be my 100th visit to the Middle East since leaving office, working to build a Palestinian State. I see first-hand in this region what is happening.
So I understand the desire to look at this world and explain it by reference to local grievances, economic alienation and of course “crazy people”. But are we really going to examine it and find no common thread, nothing that joins these dots, no sense of an ideology driving or at least exacerbating it all?
There is not a problem with Islam. For those of us who have studied it, there is no doubt about its true and peaceful nature. There is not a problem with Muslims in general. Most in Britain will be horrified at Lee Rigby’s murder.
But there is a problem within Islam – from the adherents of an ideology which is a strain within Islam. And we have to put it on the table and be honest about it. Of course there are Christian extremists and Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu ones. But I am afraid this strain is not the province of a few extremists. It has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal, open minded societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists, but the world view goes deeper and wider than it is comfortable for us to admit. So by and large we don’t admit it.
This has two effects. First, those with that view think we are weak and that gives them strength.
Second, those within Islam – and the good news is there are many – who actually know this problem exists and want to do something about it, lose heart. All over the Middle East and beyond there is a struggle being played out. On the one side, there are Islamists who have this exclusivist and reactionary world view. They are a significant minority, loud and well organised. On the other, are the modern minded, those who hated the old oppression by corrupt dictators and who hate the new oppression by religious fanatics. They are potentially the majority, but unfortunately badly organised.
The seeds of future fanaticism and terror, possibly even major conflict are being sown. We have to help sow seeds of reconciliation and peace. But clearing the ground for peace is not always peaceful.
The long and hard conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have made us wary of any interventions abroad. But we should never forget why they were long and hard. We allowed failed states to come into being. Saddam was responsible for two major wars, in which hundreds of thousands died, many by chemical weapons. He killed similar numbers of his own people.
The Taliban grew out of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan and made the country into a training ground for terror. Once these regimes were removed, both countries have struggled against the same forces promoting violence and terror in the name of religion everywhere.
Not every engagement need be military; or where military, involve troops. But disengaging from this struggle won’t bring us peace.
Neither will security alone. We resisted revolutionary communism by being resolute on security; but we defeated it by a better idea: freedom. We can do the same with this. The better idea is a modern view of religion and its place in society and politics. There has to be respect, and equality between people of different faiths. Religion must have a voice in the political system but not govern it.
We have to start with how to educate children about faith, here and abroad. That is why I started a Foundation whose specific purpose is to educate children of different faiths across the world to learn about each other and live with each other. We are now in 20 countries and the programmes work. But it is a drop in the ocean compared with the flood of intolerance taught to so many.
Now, more than ever, we have to be strong and we have to be strategic.
Tony Blair is a former British Prime Minister. This article has been reproduced from his website.