Former British prime minister Tony Blair on Monday warned that violent demonstrations over an American anti-Islam film show that some in the Arab world are still a generation from modernisation.
The former premier, now a Middle East envoy, dismissed the film as “laughable” but called the response of extremists “very wrong”.
“The film, it may be wrong and offensive, but it’s also laughable as a piece of film-making,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.
“The problem with this is that you have a small number of real extremists, the people who engage in violence, but the narrative goes far deeper, which is why this is a big problem and will take a generation to sort out,” he argued.
“There is essentially a struggle between the forces of modernisation, who want an open society, a properly functioning economy … and then these very powerful forces of reaction, based on a perverted view of reaction, that want to pull the whole thing backwards.”
Protests Monday turned violent for the first time in Afghanistan and Indonesia as hundreds of angry men clashed with police, hurling stones and shouting “Death to America”.
The outbreaks of violence were the latest over the low-budget trailer made in the United States and aired on YouTube that has fanned unrest around the world, leaving at least 18 people dead.
Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, called the violence unjustified and said the West needed to educate newly-democratic countries in the Middle East about the importance of religious tolerance, fair treatment of minorities and an open economy.
“We need both the leadership within those countries and within Islam to stand up and say, ‘Look, there is a proper modern way of reconciling religious faith, democracy in society’, and we need ourselves from the outside to engage with this process of change in a way that’s constructive,” he added.