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How to Defeat Islamist Extremists in 2016

| January 4, 2016

islamist terrorists extremists tony blair

Goons without girlfriends. (Ben Murray)

By Tony Blair

The canon of Islamist terrorist activities in 2015 has been long and grim. In any given month, people have been killed in the name of a pernicious ideology.

In January, an estimated 2,000 were massacred in Baga, Nigeria; a car bomb killed 38 in Sana’a, Yemen; and 60 were slaughtered while praying in a mosque in Shikarpur, Pakistan. In June, more than 300 were executed or maimed in attacks in the Diffa Region in Niger, in Kuwait City, and in Sousse, Tunisia. And in November, nearly 200 died at the hands of terrorists in Sarajevo, Beirut, and Paris. Then, as December began, there was the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

This spreading terror is not confined to the atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS); it is a global problem. For that reason, the international community needs a comprehensive strategy to defeat Islamist extremism – one in which force, diplomacy, and development work together to achieve a more stable world.

The most urgent pillar of this strategy is dismantling ISIS, which must be eliminated not just in Syria and Iraq, but also in Libya and everywhere else it operates. The debate about how to do it should not center on whether to put Western “boots on the ground.” All of us must do what is necessary to defeat a group that has seized territory in five countries and declared a new state ruled by fanatical ideologues. Because ISIS cannot be negotiated out of existence, a broad group of allies – with the right political strategy – must defeat it everywhere.

But victory over ISIS will be only a first, albeit essential, step to a just outcome in Syria, which means a settlement that allows the country to progress and fully respects its minorities – but without Bashar al-Assad remaining in power. Such a result will require leverage at the negotiating table, which is why helping our allies on the ground in Syria is crucial.

Moreover, ISIS is merely the most virulent manifestation of an extremism that has afflicted the world for decades. We must construct an international force able to fight extremists wherever – and whenever – they try to gain a foothold.

For Europe, in particular, this will involve a huge calculation. The security threat from ISIS is not at our door; it is within our home, and we have an overwhelming interest in eradicating it in the short and medium terms. In the longer term, we must recognize that the problem is the ideology of extremism itself. There are relatively few jihadists following ISIS and its ilk – but many more people buy into parts of their worldview.

Islam, as practiced and understood by the great majority of believers, is a peaceful and honorable faith. It has contributed greatly to human existence and progress. But we cannot keep denying the nature of the problem we face. In many Muslim countries, large numbers of people believe that the CIA or the Jews were behind the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, Muslim clerics with millions of Twitter followers around the world proclaim that non-believers and apostates must be killed, or they call for jihad against Jews.

The Centre on Religion and Geo-Politics at my foundation tracks this extremism every day, and its research makes for fascinating, if alarming, reading. It shows clearly that uprooting this ideology will require digging deep.

To this end, I have advocated an internationally agreed “Global Commitment on Education”: each and every country has a responsibility to promote cultural and religious tolerance and to eradicate cultural and religious prejudice within its education system.

We must also support those who confront extremist doctrine. Many brave and serious theologians – like those from Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque or Mauritania’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah – are showing how the true teaching of Islam leads to reconciliation with the modern world.

This alliance with Muslim leaders who are prepared to lead the fight against the perversion of their faith is crucial. We sometimes regard the Middle East as a mess to avoid. But – as if we needed another reminder – the November 13 carnage in Paris showed the futility of a hands-off approach.

Instead, we should think of the Middle East and Islam as being in a process of transition: the Middle East toward rule-based and religiously tolerant societies, and Islam toward its rightful place as a faith of progress and humanity. Seen in this way, this is not a mess to avoid, but a life-and-death struggle in which our own fundamental interests are at stake.

Accordingly, we should promote those working for an open-minded future for the Middle East and Islam. The Gulf States, Egypt, and Jordan are our allies: where they face the challenges of modernization, we should stand ready to help.

Finally, we must recognize in the coming year the crucial importance of resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is not only important in its own right; it would also contribute to good international and interfaith relations – and powerfully reassert the principle of peaceful coexistence on which the international order rests.

We need to forge a foreign policy that embodies the lessons of the period from 9/11 to today. Such a policy would recognize the need for active engagement – refined, rather than incapacitated, by our experience.

The fight against extremism will require force. But it will require education, too, so that our citizens and those coming to our countries understand why our values matter and why we will defend them. And it will require cooperation – not least in the messy business of real-world diplomacy.

But it is a fight that we will win. Islamist fanatics who want to end our civilization are corrupting their religion. They will succeed at neither. The overwhelming majority of people around the world wish to coexist. With their support and determination, the spirit of peace – above ideology, politics, or religion – will prevail.

tony blairTony Blair was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007. Since leaving office, he has founded the Africa Governance Initiative, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, and the Faith and Globalization Initiative. (© Project Syndicate)

12 Responses for “How to Defeat Islamist Extremists in 2016”

  1. m&m says:

    Start by getting rid of the ring leader Obama.

  2. Anonymous says:

    heres a good,stop inviting em into our country with promises of jobs and cars…..

  3. Outsider says:

    Good luck with all that.

  4. Sherry says:

    Great Article! Tony Blair has it right!

    You cannot eradicate horrific extreme fascist ideology by “carpet bombing them” ! And who exactly is “them”. . . would that be all the Muslims. . . all 1.6 billion people. . . 23% of the world’s population? Or is it only the ones wearing the word “terrorist” clearly emblazoned on their clothes and skin. . . so that word can be seen from planes?

    It is impossible to destroy fanatical IDEAS with brute force!

    At what point do the “defenders” become the horrific destroyers themselves? When also killing innocent families of those who are suspect? Fighting fire ONLY with fire. . . only destroys everything!

    Oh Yes, and again we must “insanely” blame President Obama. . . brought to you by an m&m broken record.

    I am most certainly “considering the source” when it comes to the intelligence of those commenting before me.

  5. Anthony says:

    To eliminate groups like ISIS people need to unite together as Christians and follow the words of the Holy Spirit, also known took be our Creator. As long as the USA continues to allow corruption on their soil, they will not have protection from above and it already shows in the USA as there becomes more mass killings. Eliminate homosexuality, pornography, and other disgraceful behaviors, and then you will see a change for the better. Don’t, and the USA will only get worst.
    As to getting rid of ISIS all together. It can be done by executing them publicly when captured to show them they are not invincible. Also educate the others that there are no such thing as receiving virgins for killing others, only the fires of Gahanna will they reap.

  6. Knightwatch says:

    And so, m&m and Anonymous, I assume you are both in favor of a national policy that would lead to an American crusade against Islam. How 11th Century.

  7. just me says:

    If this ideology of islam was only in one or two nations we could destroy its fanatical ideas with brute force. Such was done to fanatical ideas in WWII. But those who follow a vile version of islam have no home they are a cancer in ALL parts of the Islamic world and islam itself. So NO as of now we must not only destroy them in battle but find and work with reformists within islam like the leadership of Egypt and Jordan. To crush that ideology before it gains more to its side.

  8. scoff the cuff says:

    A lovely academic exercise.

  9. Anthony says:

    Then you should also reconsider your source of so called intelligence of a man called Tony Blair, who comes from a country that is currently dealing with high casualties of terrorism because he doesn’t want to go after the terrorist directly. This doesn’t have to be complex as many make it. We have the men and women with tactical skills to blend in worth these terrorists and locate them and destroy. It is not unknown to the world that these groups go into their own land raping young women from homes of farm people. Special task forces can wipe these people out. Mission accomplished.

  10. Dean Carpenter says:


    While writing this Iran and Saudi Arabia started squaring off to start WWlll because of a lack of leadership from anywhere in the west.

  11. Outsider says:

    Beheadings, rapes, stonings, and brutal subjugation of women: so 11th century.

  12. Anonymous says:

    The women who were groped and assaulted in Cologne, Germany would argue against the case for wholesale migration of refugees from countries involved in Middle East conflict, despite the suffering that fact may cause. The Muslim world needs to take more active steps to solve the serious issues that are proliferating out of the religious and political conflicts that plague the Islamic world. Muslims worldwide will continue to suffer more than other group from that tragic fact.

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