Our Fight

This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.

The New York Sun

PRIME MINISTER BLAIR presented a rallying call to the world’s democracies yesterday, setting out at length his argument that civilization itself is at risk from radical Islamists if terrorism is not defeated.The following is an abridged version of a new pamphlet published by London’s Foreign Policy Centre.

Our response to the September 11th attacks has proven even more momentous than it seemed at the time.That is because we could have chosen security as the battleground. But we didn’t. We chose values.

We said we didn’t want another Taliban or a different Saddam. We knew that you can’t defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas. In my view, the situation we face is indeed war, but of a completely unconventional kind.And it can’t be won in a conventional way.


We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as force.We can only win by showing that our values are stronger, better and more just than the alternative. That also means showing the world that we are evenhanded, fair and just in our application of those values.

I am amazed at how many people will say, in effect, there is increased terrorism today because we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.They seem to forget entirely that September 11 predated either. The West didn’t attack this movement. We were attacked.

This brings me to a fundamental point. For this ideology, we are the enemy. But “we” is not the West. We are as much Muslim, as Christian, or Jew or Hindu. We are all those who believe in religious tolerance, in openness to others, in democracy, liberty and human rights administered by secular courts.


This is not a clash between civilizations: it is a clash about civilization. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace in the modern world, and those who reject its existence; between optimism and hope on the one hand, and pessimism and fear on the other.

In any struggle, the first challenge is accurately to perceive the nature of what we are fighting. We have a long way to go. It is almost incredible to me that so much of western opinion appears to buy the idea that the emergence of this global terrorism is somehow our fault.

For a start, the terror is truly global. It is not just directed at the United States and its allies, but also at nations who could not conceivably be said to be allies of the West.


Second, what it is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is plainly not about those countries’ liberation from U.S. occupation. Its purpose is to prevent those countries becoming democracies – not “western style” democracies, any sort of democracy.

It is also rubbish to suggest that it is the product of poverty. Of course, it uses the cause of poverty as justification.But its fanatics are hardly the champions of economic development.

It is they, not us, who are slaughtering the innocent, and doing it deliberately. In truth, it is they who are the only reason for the continuing presence of our troops.

Their aim is not to encourage, but to prevent Palestine living side by side with Israel. Their priority is not to fight for the coming-into-being of a Palestinian State, but for the going-out-of-being of an Israeli State.

The fact is the terror is based on religious extremism. And not any religious extremism; but a specifically Muslim version. The terrorists do not want Muslim countries to modernize. They hope that the arc of extremism that now stretches across the region, will sweep away the fledgling but faltering steps Modern Islam wants to take into the future. They want the Muslim world to retreat into governance by a semi-feudal religious oligarchy.

Yet despite all of this, which I consider virtually obvious, many in our countries listen to the propaganda of the extremists, and accept it. And to give credit where it’s due, the extremists play our own media with a shrewdness that would be the envy of many a political party.

They look at the bloodshed in Iraq and say that’s a reason for leaving. Every act of carnage somehow serves to indicate our responsibility for disorder, rather than the wickedness of those that caused it. Much of our opinion believes that what was done in Iraq in 2003 was so wrong that it is reluctant to accept what is plainly right now.

People believe that terrorist attacks are all because of our suppression of Muslims. People seriously believe that if we only got out of Iraq and Afghanistan, it would all stop. And, in some ways most perniciously, a large part of our opinion looks at Israel, and thinks we pay too great a price for supporting it and sympathizes with Muslim opinion that condemns it. Absent from so much of the coverage is any understanding of the Israeli predicament.

If we recognized this struggle for what it truly is, we would be at least along the first steps of the path to winning it. But a vast part of western opinion is not remotely near this yet.

In the era of globalization, the outcome of this clash between extremism and progress is utterly determinative of our future. We can no more opt out of this struggle than we can opt out of the climate changing around us. Inaction, therefore, pushing the responsibility on to America, deluding ourselves that this terrorism is a series of individual isolated incidents rather than a global movement, is profoundly and fundamentally wrong.

That is why it is mistaken to ignore the significance of the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan.The fact is that, given the chance, the people want democracy. From the moment the Afghans came out and voted in their firstever election, the myth that democracy was a Western concept, was exploded. In Iraq too, despite violence and intimidation, people voted. Not a few, but in numbers large enough to shame many western democracies.

What these votes show is that people do not want dictatorship, neither theocratic nor secular. When the supporters of Saddam Hussein or Mullah Omar dare to stand in elections, they don’t win many votes. Iraqi and Afghan Muslims have said clearly: democracy is as much our right as yours. In embracing it, they are showing that they too want a society in which people of different cultures and faith can live together in peace.This struggle is our struggle.

Who is trying to stop them? In Iraq, a mixture of foreign Jihadists, former Saddamists and rejectionist insurgents; in Afghanistan, a combination of drug barons, the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Their case is that democracy is a western concept which we are forcing on an unwilling Islamic culture. Every conspiracy theory, from seizing Iraqi oil to imperial domination, is repeated. The problem we have is that a part of opinion in our own countries agrees with them.

The extremists know that if they can succeed, either in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon or anywhere else wanting to go the democratic route, then the choice of a democratic future for the Arab and Muslim world is dealt a potentially mortal blow. Likewise, if these countries become democracies and make progress (and certainly in Iraq’s case, prosper rapidly) then it is the most effective blow, against both their propaganda about the West and against their whole values system.

In each case, the forces of America, the U.K., and many other nations are there to help the indigenous security forces grow, to support the democratic process and to provide a bulwark against the terrorism that threatens that process.

Islamist extremism’s whole strategy is based on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.

Why are we not yet succeeding? Because we are not being bold enough, consistent enough, thorough enough, in fighting for the values we believe in.

Wherever people live in fear, with no prospect of advance, we should be on their side; in solidarity with them, whether in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea; and where countries, and there are many in the Middle East today, are in the process of democratic development, we should extend a helping hand.

This requires, across the board, an active foreign policy of engagement, not isolation. It cannot be achieved without a strong alliance. This alliance does not end with America, but it does begin with America. For us in Europe and for others around the world, this alliance is central.

Let me be quite plain here. I do not always agree with the U.S. Sometimes they can be difficult friends to have. But the strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in.The danger with America today is not that they are too much involved. The danger is if they decide to pull up the drawbridge and disengage.

We need them involved. We want them engaged. The reality is that none of the problems that press in on us can be resolved or even contemplated without them.

The full text is available at fpc.org.uk.

The New York Sun

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