Tony Blair has called for a US-led effort to confront the “substantial minority” of Muslims who support terrorism, during a meeting with top Republicans that reunited the former British prime minister with hawks in the party who believe the White House response to recent attacks has been too limited.
According to a source present at a closed-door strategy session attended by nearly 300 Republican senators and congressmen, the former prime minister argued that force would be needed in what he called a “generational” struggle, but more important would be a “global alliance to teach tolerance” as millions of people in the Muslim world are systematically being taught to be intolerant.
Blair, who was introduced by Senator John McCain, also reportedly argued that radical Islam and the terrorism associated with it had not been contained; that countries in the west “didn’t cause it but were caught up in it”; that it was neither isolated nor insignificant and that while the majority of Muslims opposed it, “a substantial and not a fringe minority” supported it.
A spokeswoman for Blair’s private office confirmed to the Guardian that he spoke about the “Middle East peace process, as well as issues relating to the wider region” in his capacity as representative of the Middle East quartet, which represents the United Nations, US, European Union and Russia. She declined to give any further information on the contents of his speech, which was not open to reporters.
An estimated 300 congressional staff members were also present at the meeting, which greeted Blair with standing ovations after he was introduced, at the conclusion of his remarks and after a brief question-and-answer session. There was also frequent applause as he spoke, according to those present.
The meeting came hours before the current UK prime minister, David Cameron, was due to hold talks with Barack Obama over dinner at the White House. The two leaders were expected to discuss the west’s response to recent attacks such as the shooting of journalists and hostages in Paris last week.
Blair appeared to have struck a more confrontational tone, arguing that a variety of factors contributed to radical Islam, but at root it was a struggle within Islam about the nature of the faith and its relationship with other religious communities.
According to the witness, Blair said radical Islam was a perverted ideology that justified the use of force against those of other religions or Muslims who interpreted their faith differently. It was hostile to “us and our values”, he claimed, and though some want to negotiate with it or ignore it, neither of those approaches would work and it had to be confronted.
The former prime minister also talked about the lessons of the post-9/11 era. He reportedly argued that the US and UK had learned that if you topple dictators, you release other forces that have to be dealt with. However, the Arab Spring demonstrated that many of those dictatorships would be swept away in any event.
It was hard to be successful “unless you had allies within Islam itself”, he reportedly said, adding that the Middle East would continue to evolve away from what it is and that unless extremism was fought it would continue to grow. He was said to be “extremely concerned” about the emergence of the Islamic State (Isis) in Syria and Iraq.
Nonetheless, the former prime minister was said be hopeful about the prospect of building further alliances in the Middle East, arguing that many Islamic leaders in recent years had come to understand that they too were the targets of radical Islam. He even thought that over time there could be an alliance of sorts between Israel and the Arab states against radical Islam.
But he concluded that America would have to play a leading role in what he thought would be a “generational” struggle and urged the Republicans present not to disengage and to rise to the task and recognise it was “our problem as well as theirs”.
Blair’s office said he was not paid to speak at the Republican lunch, which was held in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but received travel expenses.