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 founders.”

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 violence.

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.