Education & Family

Tony Blair warns of 'flabby liberalism'

Tony Blair Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tony Blair says that the West is too easily "made to feel guilty" and becomes indecisive

Tony Blair has warned against "flabby liberalism" and says there needs to be a tougher centre ground approach to issues such as tackling extremism and responding to the refugee crisis.

The former UK prime minister is planning a global project to prevent extremism through education.

But he warns that too often the West can "be made to feel guilty about itself" and fails to make its case.

"We're in a situation where we have to fight back," said Mr Blair.

"The centre has become flabby and unwilling to take people on. We concede far too much. There's this idea that you're part of an elite if you think in terms of respectful tolerance towards other people. It's ridiculous," Mr Blair told the BBC.

After leaving office, Mr Blair set up a foundation which works to promote greater understanding between the world's religions and to challenge extremism and prejudice.

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Image caption Tony Blair says the lack of a coherent response to migration plays into the hands of hardliners

But he warned that moderate voices were too defensive about arguing their case and this was fuelling a culture of extremism in religion and politics.

"One of the problems with the West is that it constantly can be made to feel guilty about itself - and I'm not saying there aren't things we should feel guilty about.

"But you know, we shouldn't let people intimidate us into thinking there are certain values we shouldn't be standing up for," said Mr Blair, who was attending the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai last week.

"I'm a supporter of multiculturalism. But there's been a long period of time when we've allowed the concept of multiculturalism to be abused."

As an example, he said that if people were asserting the equality and fair treatment of women that they should not be made to feel "somehow we're being culturally insensitive".

"We have to be clear no one has the right to abrogate those basic human rights."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The former PM's faith foundation is working to challenge intolerance between religions

On the challenge of migration and refugees, he says that in an "era of anxiety", a lack of a coherent mainstream response has opened the door to more extreme arguments.

"You have to give a real solution and not one which is populist but false. If you don't give a solution, and you leave people with a choice between what I would call a bit of flabby liberalism and the hardline, they'll take the hardline I'm afraid."

He called for a more assertive policy of "muscular centrism".

The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is promoting the idea that all countries should include a commitment to tackle extremism and promote tolerance between different religions and beliefs.

He says there is clear evidence that education can reverse the spread of intolerance and he blames extremists for cultivating bigotry and conflict between religions.

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Image caption Tony Blair says the Middle East will need to rebuild around values of "peaceful co-existence"

"The truth is this extremism is being incubated in school systems, formal and informal, which are teaching children a narrow minded and often hateful view of those who are different," says Mr Blair.

"What people need to understand is that this culture of hate is taught.

"They are taught a culture of hate and they can be untaught it."

"This extremist thinking is what you have to attack, if you don't attack the ideology you'll never defeat the violence."

Mr Blair says that when people are taught to hate people in other religions "it's not surprising that a proportion of them go into violent extremism".

He says that he is talking to international leaders about this proposed Global Commitment on educating against extremism - and expects countries in the Middle East to be supportive.

"What is happening in all the turmoil, particularly since the Arab Spring, is that there is a much clearer understanding in this region of the need to fight back, and a realisation that you can't fight back unless you're putting a better idea in place than the extremists."

He argues that education against extremism and intolerance will come to be seen as an international obligation - in the way that environmental policy, such as tackling pollution, is addressed by international agreement.

But Mr Blair rejected the idea that promoting values of tolerance would be seen as a form of Western interference.

"The West has just got to get over this," he said.

"There are many other people in the region who do not regard the notion of peaceful co-existence as a Western value, they see it as a sensible human value, a global value."

The former prime minister also warned that both the far right and far left were promoting arguments in favour of "isolationism and protectionism".

"People are very anxious and uncertain and they are turning to the demagogic populism of left and right."