The West does not have an “effective strategy” to counter extremism as the problem grows into a global challenge, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned Tuesday.
Blair’s comments came during the launch of a Commission on Countering Violent Extremism at the Center of Strategic and International Studies in Washington, where he will co-chair with Leon Panetta, who once served as CIA Director and Defense Secretary.
The commission is looking to develop new ways to counter violent extremism.
“There is a justified anxiety that we do not, as of now, despite all the experience and some progress, have a fully effective strategy to counter [extremism]” Blair said.
“This problem is growing and it is global.”
The wave of extremism currently led by Daesh is “a violent struggle played out with profound implications for our security, our cohesion and the future of a religion followed by over 1.6 billion people, a religion of peace and honor which is under attack from an enemy within,” he said.
But he acknowledged that western countries are employing “populist solutions” in the fight, such as isolation or a denial of a part of society based on premises against religion or ethnic identities.
“There is no safety in isolation,” said Blair.
“This is a struggle with no borders, no zones of immunity, and no volition whether to participate.”
He suggested the West needs allies in the Muslim world, noting, “there are dimensions of this challenge that only allies particularly within Islam can lead”.
According to Blair, leadership of the West is also essential in the fight.
Alongside military engagement, he said, the West needs to engage with Daesh-like terror groups’ ideology as well.
During his tenure, the British military played a significant role alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq – directly linked, by many, to the rise of al-Qaeda and Daesh.
Blair defended the response of some nations to the current European refugee crisis in which hundreds of thousands have fled the Middle East and Africa.
“Of course we should be generous and welcoming to those fleeing persecution.
The vast majority of those wretched and dispossessed people are refugees risking their lives for freedom,” he said, “however, the debate in Europe is also a security issue. Screening entrants is tough to do with certainty.”
More than 1 million refugees arrived in the EU last year with upwards of 850,000 by sea to Greece from Turkey, according to the International Organization for Migration.