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‘A Common Word’ in the News

Blair says religion should fuel peace, not conflict

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Wednesday (Oct. 7) that
Muslims and Christians working to understand each other’s cultural and
religious beliefs could help build a global movement for peace.

”In religion, we are told to love your God, love your
neighbors as yourself,” Blair said at a Georgetown University panel on the future of Muslim-Christian
relations, adding that too often people view their neighbors as only those with
similar beliefs.

Blair said both Christians and Muslims had been outsiders
at one point in their histories, and that each had wrestled with how their own
beliefs defied convention at one time.

”If we can get on, the 21st century world can get
on,” he said. “It’s true we are different, but so were our

Along with former prime ministers of Norway and Malaysia,
as well as religious experts, Blair participated in the opening discussion of
the A Common Word conference, which aims to foster global peace and security
between Muslim and Western societies.

Similar conferences have also been hosted by Yale
University, the University of Cambridge and the Vatican. The ongoing
conferences grew out of a multi-vocal Muslim response to a controversial 2006
speech by Pope Benedict XVI implicitly linking the spread of Islam with

To promote peace among religious cultures, Blair proposed
a three-prong plan, urging people to first take the time to understand each
other, then use words to show respect toward each other’s cultures and,
ultimately, to take action to foster positive relations between cultures.

Taking action was the most essential part, Blair said.
“If we show by our actions we are engaged in understanding,” he said,
“that’s what will succeed.”

As an example, Blair explained how his Tony Blair Faith
Foundation has established a program connecting youth in culturally diverse
schools in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Participants communicate online to
discuss differences and similarities in their cultural and religious values,
dispelling common stereotypes.

Former Polish Prime Minster Kjell Magne Bondevik, also on
the panel, agreed with Blair’s sentiments about action, saying dialogue is key
to helping people of differing faiths to understand each other.

”Policy must breach conflict rather than build
differences. It requires criticism and self-criticism of all parties involved.
Dialogue is the language of pluralism,” Bondevik said.

Blair said panels during the rest of the two-day
conference would be a positive step toward improving tolerance, but that the
conversation had to go beyond the ivory tower.

”We’ve got to show that this isn’t just a dialogue among
the elites, but that we are building bridges between all people,” he said.