The Observer published a comment piece by former PM Tony Blair on the role of religious differences in conflicts around the world.
Reflecting upon various wars and terrorist attacks across the world, Blair writes “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.
“The fact is that… there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.”
Blair points out that extremism 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.”
It would seem the Taskforce on Tackling Extremism agrees with this premise with its report focussing on schools, prisons, universities and the internet.
However, Blair recognises that extremism is not limited solely to Islam as is clearly illustrated by the fact that Muslims are also victims of religiously motivated violence perpetrated by those from other faiths. In this regard, he calls for respect for 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.”
Blair goes on to explain that extremism is something to be countenanced and defeated “not only by arms but by ideas” and that the Middle East in central to this feat because “It is here in the centre of Islam that so many of the issues around how religion and politics coexist peacefully will be determined.”
Blair outlines a joint venture between the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and Harvard Divinity School on mapping religious conflict around the world in the hope that it will effect change in policy making and policymakers “start[ing] to treat this issue of religious extremism as an issue that is about religion as well as politics”.
Elsewhere in the paper, Toby Helm looks at the shadow of Iraq over Blair’s latest intervention. On the Chilcot Inquiry and Blair’s role, Helm says the final report “is expected to contain damning evidence of how President Bush and Blair jointly engaged in a rush to war to topple Saddam Hussein in the face of warnings of the risks of triggering sectarian divisions across the region.”