For Tony Blair, ‘radical’ Islam is a growing threat

Updated 23 April 2014
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For Tony Blair, ‘radical’ Islam is a growing threat

LONDON: The West should set aside its differences with Russia and China to focus on the growing threat from radical Islam, Tony Blair said Wednesday, in a speech that included a call to support Egypt’s military government against its Muslim Brotherhood opponents.
In a speech in London, the Middle East envoy said the spread of extremist ideology in that region as well as in Pakistan, Afghanistan and North Africa “represents the biggest threat to global security of the 21st century.” The former British prime minister said that tackling “a radicalized and politicized view of Islam” should be at the top of the global political agenda. He said many in the West seemed “curiously resistant” to face up to a force that “is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalization.”
Blair, Britain’s prime minister between 1997 and 2007, is now Middle East envoy for the Quartet of the United Nations, the European Union, the US and Russia.
In a speech in London, he said that “whatever our other differences, we should be prepared to reach out and co-operate with the East, and in particular Russia and China,” to combat extremism.
Blair’s political legacy in Britain is tarnished by his decision to lead the country into the divisive invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair acknowledged the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan had undermined Western willingness to intervene in the Middle East. But he called for the West to engage with the region, saying “we have to stop treating each country on the basis of whatever seems to make for the easiest life for us at any one time.”
Blair argued that “on the fate of Egypt hangs the future of the region.” He defended the coup that overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi last year, saying “the Muslim Brotherhood government was not simply a bad government. It was systematically taking over the traditions and institutions of the country.” He said the protest that led to Morsi’s ouster “was not an ordinary protest. It was the absolutely necessary rescue of a nation. We should support the new government and help.”
Blair said there was a shared interest between East and West on the dangers of religious extremism and it should be at the top of the global agenda. He said many people were “curiously reluctant” to acknowledge the common thread linking militant movements around the world, but said “we have to take sides” against a dangerous ideology that was a “perversion” of Islam.
“There is a Titanic struggle going on within the region between those who want the region to embrace the modern world, politically, socially and economically, and those who instead want to create a politics of religious difference and exclusivity. This is the battle,” Blair said.
Taking sides meant supporting the principles of religious freedom and open rules-based economies, whether they were held by states or revolutionaries.
In reality, this meant backing the new governments in Egypt and Tunisia and helping the security services in Libya and Yemen to reform, he said.
In Syria, which he called “an unmitigated disaster”, Blair said both the prospect of President Bashar al-Assad staying in power and the opposition taking over seemed like “bad options”.
“Repugnant though it may seem, the only way forward is to conclude the best agreement possible even if it means in the interim President Assad stays for a period,” he said.
He also said it was an “absurdity” that Western nations spent so much on defending themselves against Islamist extremism that was being taught to young people in countries “with whom we have intimate security and defence relationships”.
Blair suggested the G20 launch an international programme to eradicate religious intolerance from schools systems and civil society organisations in those countries.
“They need us to make this a core part of the international dialogue in order to force the necessary change within their own societies,” he said.
“This struggle between what we may call the open-minded and the closed-minded is at the heart of whether the 21st century turns in the direction of peaceful co-existence or conflict between people of different cultures.”
Blair was prime minister between 1997 and 2007 and is now representative for the Middle East Quartet, comprised of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia.


4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

Updated 29 min 28 sec ago
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4 Democratic women of color slam Trump for ‘bigoted remarks’

WASHINGTON: Defiant in the face of widespread censure, President Donald Trump escalated his demand for four Democratic congresswomen of color to leave the US “right now,” stoking the discord that helped send him to the White House and claiming “many people agree with me.”
The four lawmakers fired back, condemning what they called “xenophobic bigoted remarks” and renewing calls for Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings.
Trump had called on the four to “go back” to their “broken and crime-infested” countries in tweets that have been widely denounced as racist . His remarks were directed at Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are American citizens, and three of the four were born in the US
The episode served notice that Trump is willing to again rely on incendiary rhetoric on issues of race and immigration to preserve his political base in the leadup to the 2020 election. He shrugged off the criticism.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” Trump said Monday at the White House. “A lot of people love it, by the way.”
At the Capitol, there was near unanimous condemnation from Democrats and a rumble of discontent from a subset of Republicans, but notably not from the party’s congressional leaders.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said Trump’s campaign slogan truly means he wants to “make America white again,” announced Monday that the House would vote on a resolution condemning his new comments . The resolution “strongly condemns” Trump’s “racist comments” and says they “have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”
In response, Trump tweeted anew Tuesday about the four congresswomen: “Why isn’t the House voting to rebuke the filthy and hate laced things they have said? Because they are the Radical Left, and the Democrats are afraid to take them on. Sad!“
Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the party’s White House nominee in 2012 and now one of the president’s most vocal GOP critics, said Monday that Trump’s comments were “destructive, demeaning, and disunifying.”
Trump dug in. “If you’re not happy in the US, if you’re complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now,” he said.
His words, which evoked the trope of telling black people to go back to Africa, may have been partly meant to widen the divides within the House Democratic caucus, which has been riven by internal debate over how best to oppose his policies. And while Trump’s attacks brought Democrats together in defense of their colleagues, his allies noted he was also having some success in making the progressive lawmakers the face of their party.
The Republican president questioned whether Democrats should “want to wrap” themselves around this group of four people as he recited a list of the quartet’s most controversial statements.
At a news conference with her three colleagues, Pressley referred to Trump as “the occupant of our White House” instead of president.
“He does not embody the grace, the empathy, the compassion, the integrity that that office requires and that the American people deserve,” she said, encouraging people “not take the bait.” Pressley said Trump’s comments were “a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people” — prescription drug prices, affordable housing, health care.”
Omar, a naturalized US citizen born in Somalia, accused him of “openly violating” the Constitution and sounded the call for impeachment proceedings.
Ocasio-Cortez said Trump “does not know how to defend his policies and so what he does is attack us personally.”
The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said his party would also try to force a vote in the GOP-controlled chamber.
Trump, who won the presidency in 2016 in part by energizing disaffected voters with inflammatory racial rhetoric, made clear he has no intention of backing away from that strategy in 2020.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” he tweeted Monday afternoon. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!“
Trump has faced few consequences for such attacks in the past. They typically earn him cycles of wall-to-wall media attention. He is wagering that his most steadfast supporters will be energized by the controversy as much, or if not more so, than the opposition.
The president has told aides that he was giving voice to what many of his supporters believe — that they are tired of people, including immigrants, disrespecting their country, according to three Republicans close to the White House who were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Trump singled out Omar, in particular, accusing her of having “hatred” for Israel and expressing “love” for “enemies like Al-Qaeda.”
“These are people that, in my opinion, hate our country,” he said.
Omar, in an interview, once laughed about how a college professor had spoken of Al-Qaeda with an intensity she said was not used to describe “America,” “England” or “The Army.”
Republicans largely trod carefully with their responses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the president who golfed with him over the weekend, advised him to “aim higher” during an appearance on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends,” even as he accused the four Democrats of being “anti-Semitic” and “anti-American.”
Marc Short, chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, said “I don’t think that the president’s intent in any way is racist,” pointing to Trump’s decision to choose Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan, as his transportation secretary.
Chao is one of the few minorities among the largely white and male aides in high-profile roles in Trump’s administration. She is the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who declined comment Monday on Trump’s attacks.
Among the few GOP lawmakers commenting Monday, Rep. Pete Olson of Texas said Trump’s tweets were “not reflective of the values of the 1,000,000+ people” in his district. “I urge our President immediately disavow his comments,” he wrote.
In an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll from February 2017, half of Americans said the mixing of culture and values from around the world is an important part of America’s identity as a nation. About a third said the same of a culture established by early European immigrants.
But partisans in that poll were divided over these aspects of America’s identity. About two-thirds of Democrats but only about a third of Republicans thought the mixing of world cultures was important to the country’s identity. By comparison, nearly half of Republicans but just about a quarter of Democrats saw the culture of early European immigrants as important to the nation.