A clash of cultures and faiths is inevitable as people come closer to each other in a globalising world. This, says former British prime minister Tony Blair, is what he seeks to address through the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, set up after he demitted office.
In the capital to promote the foundation that works in over 90 schools in India, Blair spoke on issues of faith and the intractable West Asia problem that he deals with in his capacity as special envoy of the 'Quartet' (the US, the UN, the EU and Russia).
“We simply have to learn to get along with each other and I feel that this must be inculcated in people at an early stage. The problems of immigration have today brought out the tensions generated over faith, and we need to deal with this in an organised manner,” he said. Faith, according to Blair, who has had famous run-ins with the Pope and the Vatican, cannot be left to clerics and politicians. “I am not a preacher but I can tell people about the importance of religion in resolving conflicts.”
Faith, he feels, could play a major role in conflict resolution in West Asia because the majority of people do want to live in harmony. On the issue of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, he says the Quartet has differing views on this. “To be fair to the Palestinians, the UN bid refocused people’s attention on the issue. But in the end a Palestinian State cannot be created in New York. It will have to be on the ground. And for this, there is no substitute for negotiations.”
He concedes that the Hamas is a major stumbling block and that the militant outfit has made negotiations difficult. “But life changes very fast in this region and Hamas may not be able to hold on to its 'all or nothing' position for as long as it would like.” He finds that the problem in the post-Arab Spring countries is that while the young and modern certainly do not subscribe to Islamic fundamentalism, they are not organised while outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood are.
“What these countries really need is evolution, not revolution. They need economic growth, an effective counter to fundamentalism.” He feels that the biggest destabilising force in the region is Iran which, he claims, funds and supports terror groups all over the world.
“I attempted to reach out to Iran when I was prime minister but it did not work. My hope is that the Iranian people, who are smart and educated, will opt for regime change. We will have to work on this.” He has supported military interventions for regime change, but in the case of Iran, he hopes it won’t come to that.
He feels that if the faith issue is put in perspective, the big conflicts of our time will be resolved. He says that the mistake Pakistan made was to mix religion with politics. The people of Pakistan and India have paid a very heavy price for this.