LONDON: Islamism, both as an ideology of radical Islam and the use of violence to achieve such goals, is a "first order security threat" to the world, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday.
In a speech at the London think tank Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) to mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the former UK PM and founder of the Institute for Global Change warned that the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan is a warning that the threat of radical Islam cannot be left unchecked.
Highlighting that the Taliban are part of the "global movement of radical Islam", he pointed out that while the movement contains many different groups, they share the same basic ideology. "Radical Islam believes not only in Islamism - the turning of the religion into a political doctrine - but in the justification of struggle if necessary armed struggle to achieve it. Other Islamists agree with the ends but eschew violence," said Blair.
"But the ideology is in inevitable conflict with open, modern, culturally tolerant societies In my view, Islamism, both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat; and, unchecked, it will come to us, even if centred far from us, as 9/11 demonstrated," he said.
Blair called for a need to assess vulnerabilities, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic caused by a deadly virus. "COVID-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction; but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors," he said.
Blair, who was Prime Minister when the UK joined the US-led NATO operation in Afghanistan against the Al Qaeda network in the wake of the September 11 attacks claimed by the Osama bin Laden led group, admitted that nearly everything about 9/11 and its aftermath remains mired in controversy.
"What cannot be seriously disputed however, is that since 9/11, though thankfully there has been no further terrorist attack of that scale, radical Islam has not declined in force. What is disputed is why," he said, adding that counter-terrorism on its own will now remove such an "entrenched threat".
"We need some 'boots on the ground'. Naturally our preference is for the boots to be local. But that will not always be possible," he reflected.
With reference to US President Joe Biden's recent statement following the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Blair added that the West needs to work out what it means by not "remaking" countries from which terrorist threats can arise. "Maybe my generation of leaders were naïve in thinking countries could be 'remade'. Or maybe the 'remaking' needed to last longer," said Blair.
"But we should never forget as we see the women of Afghanistan in the media, culture and civic society now flee in fear of their lives, that our values are still those which free people choose. Recovering confidence in those values and in their universal application is a necessary part of ensuring we stand up for them and are prepared to defend them," he said.
Blair has previously spoken out critically against the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, declaring it "tragic, dangerous, unnecessary" and driven by politics rather than strategy.