Middle Eastern leaders must understand that 'the only salvation for the region is the creation of rule-based economies and religiously tolerant societies', former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Arabian Business
“There is no other future. The world today works through connectivity, so if you’re closed-minded to people who are not of your faith or culture you’re just going to fail.” Blair said in an exclusive interview in London.
However, the former PM has a complex legacy in the UK and the Middle East, to say the least.
Despite winning three elections between 1997 and 2005 and being championed for making the Labour party re-electable for the first time in 18 years, it is Blair’s role in sanctioning the Western invasion of Iraq that has cast the longest shadow over his career.
Blair’s role as ‘Special Envoy to the Middle East’, a Palestine-Israel peace broking role that he held when he left office in 2007 to 2015, also drew opprobrium from pundits who criticised him for simultaneously operating dual roles as diplomat and businessman.
Blair, who has closed down his controversial Tony Blair Associates commercial business and now runs the not-for-profit Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said he is now on a mission to ‘make globalisation work for the many and not the few’.
The former UK PM said the only way to for countries to become economically successful is to cultivate educated populations that are “creative, innovative and open minded”.
“That’s the way the world works and the world is going to change so fast that people have to escape from old prejudices and attitudes,” Blair said.
“If you’re treating someone differently because of their faith, it’s not just a prejudice that is backward in social terms, it actually hinders the development of economies,” he added.
Blair commended Abu Dhabi and Dubai because “the right decisions have been taken by leaders”.
He added that “most important thing” for Saudi Arabia is that it continues with the implementation of its 2030 modernisation programme.
The single most important thing the earth needs right now is “good governance”, said Blair.
The former PM insisted globalisation has worked to some extent but it has left ‘enormous challenges in its wake’.
He said: “How do you make globalisation fair and how do you spread its benefits? It’s not easy. But when you take a step back and ask ‘is the world a better place today than it was 30 years ago?’ The answer is yes, obviously – more people have been lifted out of poverty and fewer people are dying of killer diseases and conflict than have been alienated or left behind by the process of globalisation.”
But Blair said there are ‘many problems’ that come with globalisation as the world integrates, such as extremists being able to operate across national boundaries much more easily.
He said: “Extremism is on the rise. It can come from Islamic groups and it can come from outside. There is an ugliness that has crept into our politics. There are rising strands of Islamophobia, anti Semitism and racism in football. My institute is working on rooting out extremism.”
Blair said that while the terrorist group ISIS may have had most of its stronghold removed, the group’s ideology is far from defeated.
This admission is a poignant one for Blair, who in a 2015 CNN interview with Fareed Zakaria, apologised for his “mistakes” over the Iraq War and admitted there were “elements of truth” to the view that the invasion helped promote the rise of ISIS.
Blair said: “ISIS is not defeated and extremism isn’t defeated. There is extremism all over the Middle East and Africa. The question is how do you stop religion being turned into a political ideology?”
From a wider global perspective, Blair deems it necessary to form an alliance between Islam and those outside of it around certain core principles for “rooting out extremism, wherever it is”.
He says: “There needs to be a quality of treatment of people across the boundaries of faith. And there needs to be an agreement that religion should not be used as a political weapon.”