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Tony Blair Cannot Face Up to the Consequences of His Own Analysis on Islam

Earlier this week Tony Blair penned a piece for the Daily Mail about Islam.

His core argument is right, but he shies away from the conclusions it points to.

He argues that "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. ... But there is a problem within Islam - from the adherents of an ideology that is a strain within Islam."

He is right. Islam is a religion of peace. The vast majority of Muslims around the world are apolitical, peaceful, and opposed to violence. It is only one minority strand - Militant Wahhabism - which is deeply socially conservative, and only one rogue offshoot of Wahhabism, Jihadism, which encourages violent terrorism.

This is the 'strain within Islam' to which Blair refers. Those who pervert Islam to preach a message of violence tend to be encouraged by jihadist ideas or tropes. The most extensive analysis of why people become terrorists ever conducted (by an academic called Marc Sageman in the US) concluded that an essential part of the process is the adoption of a Manichean black-and-white view of the world. It is only when immersed in such a narrative for long enough that a young person can alter their preexisting ideas of right and wrong to the point where they can consider taking an innocent life.

But Blair's solutions are seriously inadequate.

First, he says we should replace this strain with a better idea: freedom, respect and equality between people of different faiths, and giving religion a voice in the political system but not letting religion govern it. This is fine as far as it goes but hardly amounts to doing anything we have not already been doing as a country.

Next he says we have to "educate children about faith, here and abroad. He references his foundation." I agree - that is why we started the SOLAS Foundation to teach young people about the true message of Islam so that they are inoculated against the perversions of Islam which emanate from this twisted version of militant Wahabbism.

But this isn't all we have to do, and Blair recognises this when he writes how it is "a drop in the ocean compared with the flood of intolerance taught to so many."

But Tony Blair ignores one fundamental fact: Wahabbism, the strain of Islam which gave birth to jihadism, is actively promoted to the detriment of traditional, moderate Islam, by one of Britain's longstanding allies. Wahabbism is the official state doctrine of Saudi Arabia. Though the Saudi government does not promote terrorism, its official state doctrine of Wahhabism advocates anti-Semitism, misogyny, inter-action with non-Muslims only in cases of necessity and the ex-communication (takfir) of many Muslims who do not subscribe to their extreme interpretation of Islam.

Wahhabism provides the ideological justification for animosity and hatred of wider society. It lays the perfect foundation for radical preachers to then advocate violence as a religious duty to cleanse the faith of impurities.

If this was all Saudi Arabia were doing, the Foreign Office might well be justified in arguing that this was not reason enough to change Britain's relationship with such a longstanding ally.

But the Saudis are not just promoting Wahabbism in Saudi Arabia. They are promoting it elsewhere. Through their embassies and charities, the Saudis have built multi-million dollar mosques and schools and sponsor international students to study in Saudi on full scholarships, sending them back with funding and lifetime jobs as Wahhabi proselytizers to their respective countries. All this whilst the Wahhabis at home continue to demolish and bulldoze all signs of Islamic history from the Arabian Peninsula.

And that is why Blair's analysis ignores its own consequences. Radicalisation of Muslim youth can no longer be seen as an isolated UK problem when it is funded by wealthy Wahhabis. This cult which uses Islamic terminology and has hijacked the religion is an enabler for the violence on our streets.

And that is why the Foreign Office should encourage Saudi Arabia to manage and create platforms for dissent within the country, while appreciating the sensitivities of the monarchy, because history shows that when Wahhabism interacts with more moderate forms of Islam, it itself becomes more moderate. Britain should not be standing idly by we should be publicly welcoming projects in Saudi Arabia which test key Wahhabi sensitivities and engaging with the leadership of Saudi Arabia to encourage them in private of the urgent need for further reforms.

Only then will the 'strain of Islam' which Blair decries begin to be threatened, and the challenge truly confronted.

Dr Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

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