Tony Blair is right – religious extremism sustains political conflict
Writing in The Observer, Tony Blair has returned to a favoured theme:
So the challenge is clear. And it is one that could define the nature of peace and conflict in the first half of the 21st century. The battles of this century are less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology – like those of the 20th century – but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference.He first articulated this view back in 2008 when he opened his Faith Foundation. He said then: "Religious faith will be of the same significance to the 21st Century as political ideology was to the 20th Century." The quotation used to appear in His Grace's sidebar, for it was theo-politically accurate, if not prophetic.
But when Tony Blair talks about the "ghastly roll call of terror attacks" caused by religious extremism in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Pakistan, he's not talking about those pesky Quakers. He throws down the gauntlet: "We can either see all of these acts of killing as separate – produced by various political contexts – or we can start to see the clear common theme and start to produce a genuine global strategy to deal with it."
And that "clear common theme" is "people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith. But there is no doubt that those who commit the violence often do so by reference to their faith and the sectarian nature of the conflict is a sectarianism based on religion".
He hasn't mentioned it yet, but he is absolutely right that military action will not deal with the root cause: "This extremism comes from a source. It is not innate. It is taught. It is taught sometimes in the formal education system; sometimes in the informal religious schools; sometimes in places of worship and it is promoted by a vast network of internet communications."
And part of the solution to the inculcation of malignant perversions of religion is educational: "People have to feel equal, not just be regarded by the law as such. Such religious tolerance has to be taught and argued for. Those who oppose it have to be taken on and defeated not only by arms but by ideas."
And then he moves to the nexus: "All over the region, and including in Iraq, where exactly the same sectarianism threatens the right of the people to a democratic future, such a campaign has to be actively waged. It is one reason why the Middle East matters so much and why any attempt to disengage is so wrong and short-sighted. It is here in the centre of Islam that so many of the issues around how religion and politics coexist peacefully will be determined."
And then he qualifies: "But this issue of extremism is not limited to Islam. There are also many examples the world over where Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths."
And he is right, of course.
Muslims are, for example, being appallingly persecuted and slaughtered by extremist 'Saffron Terror' Hindus in parts of India. It may be viewed as a purely political nationalist movement, or, as Blair exhorts, the perversion of religious teachings, for it is not easy at all to admit persecution and violence into a faith which has 'no harm' as a core precept of its teaching. Unless, of course, you're claiming to be of the Brahmin caste with a prophetic message to cleanse the land of the non-believers and impose a caste system with a common language and culture under common laws based on Manu and Vedanta.
The objective, as ever, is theocracy, and the government shall be that of the elite. The other 90 per cent must submit to God, obey the law and pay their taxes, or suffer the divinely-ordained consequences.It is a common religio-political thread.
"The answer," Mr Blair says, "is to promote views that are open-minded and tolerant towards those who are different, and to fight the formal, informal and internet propagation of closed-minded intolerance. In the 21st century, education is a security issue."
Uh-huh. It's just a pity that his New World Order isn't a little more "open-minded and tolerant" toward the Christian conscience. After all, a Roman Catholic adoption agency isn't quite as detrimental to society as an Al-Qaeda sleeper cell.
But he takes this opportunity to remind us of his current raison d'être, his passion, his divine vocation: "I established a foundation whose aim is to promote greater knowledge and understanding between people of different faiths. This is not a call to faith – it is a call to respect those of all faiths and not to allow faith to divide us but instead to embody the true values of compassion and humanity common to all faiths."
It is, of course, a benign call to faith: it is simply not possible to be such a prominent adherent of any religion and not to have one's every word and action ascribed to the potential spiritual fons et origo. Thus does the world judge Islam by the vile words and hateful actions of Osama bin Laden; and they judge Scientology by the antics and inconsistent morality of Tom Cruise and John Travolta. When Sir Cliff Richard challenges poverty or expresses compassion to those suffering with dementia, it is not Sir Cliff the rock star but Cliff the obedient disciple who acts and ministers.
The Christian vocation is to be Christ-like: Tony Blair is being Jesus as best as he knows how, and his faith is integral to and inseparable from his being. He famously did not "do God" in office: out of office he is doing God in abundance, and that God is Christian, and specifically liberal Roman Catholic. The means of inculcating his enlightened spirituality is education: "We focus on practical programmes. The schools programme, accredited to the international GCSE and recognised by the international baccalaureate, uses video conferencing and online interaction to link classes of students from different countries across the world to learn about each other and to learn to live with each other."
This is not a call for repentance and conversion: it is an exhortation to peace. And what is wrong with that? "Blessed are the peacemakers," said the Lord. And so Blair exhorts governments "to start to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics, to go to the roots of where a false view of religion is being promulgated, and to make it a major item on the agenda of world leaders to combine effectively to combat it".
And here he has a sure and certain ally in the Prince of Wales, who freely talks of "fundamentalist Islamist militants"; and a manifest hurdle in Baroness Warsi – the Minister for Faith – who insists that those who perpetrate such atrocities are "extremists who do not follow any faith".
Baroness Warsi is convening a summit to deal with "secular extremism"; Tony Blair is educating the nations child-by-child about "perversions of religion". No one is specifically talking about the evils of Wahhabi-Salfist Islam, and the problems of believing that Mohammed was greater than Jesus, and that those who seek peace should behave in the minutest acts of daily life just as Mohammed behaved – domestically, socially, economically and politically.