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Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair says religious extremism is the root cause of terrorist attacks today and it needs to be fought with education and tolerance.
Citing examples of recent terror attacks in the Middle East, Africa and central and southeast Asia, Blair wrote in an op-ed for Britain's Observer newspaper that "there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith."
Unlike in the previous century, the battles of the 21st century are less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology, he says, "but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference."
Since the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, the cost of security measures, and their burden, has been huge, Blair says. "However, security action alone, even military action, will not deal with the root cause. This extremism comes from a source. It is not innate. It is taught. It is taught sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship and it is promoted by a vast network of internet communications."
There's a need to counter the "global conversation" being conducted with messages of extremism, Blair says, calling for promotion of views that are "open-minded and tolerant towards those who are different … In the 21st century, education is a security issue."
Using Syria as an example, Blair says a lasting peace is not possible there until it is based on an agreement that recognizes that all people need to be treated equally, regardless of which faith they practice or which part within a faith they belong to.
"This is not a call to faith," he stresses, "it is a call to respect those of all faiths and not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths."
Constitutional provisions alone cannot bring about equality, Blair argues. "People have to feel equal, not just be regarded by the law as such. Such religious tolerance has to be taught and argued for. Those who oppose it have to be taken on and defeated not only by arms but by ideas."
Highlighting the importance of the West's engagement with the Middle East, Blair states, "It is here in the center of Islam that so many of the issues around how religion and politics coexist peacefully will be determined."
Britain's former leader also recognizes that Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths in many parts of the world.
In his article, Blair also highlights the potential role of a new online forum and database run by his Faith Foundation in collaboration with the Harvard Divinity School. The forum aims to provide "up-to-date analysis of what is happening in the field of religion and conflict; in-depth analysis of religion and its impact on countries where this is a major challenge; and basic facts about the religious make-up and trends in every country worldwide."
His foundation also promotes school programs where students can study faith and globalization and also interact with peers in other countries to learn about each other.
Blair's article comes months before the expected release of the report of the Iraq Inquiry, a British public inquiry into the nation's role in the Iraq War. The report will likely carry evidence of how former U.S. President George W. Bush and Blair, who was the prime minister at the time, went ahead with attacking Iraq, overlooking the warnings of the risks of triggering sectarian divisions, according to The Guardian.