- Trying to square the circle
The opening days of the Synod on the Family have revealed distinct differences of opinion between the participants. How can their commitment to church teaching be matched with compassion for those who struggle with it?
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Tony Blair has called on governments around the world to acknowledge that a “clear common theme” of religious extremism is behind the world’s major conflicts, posing the biggest global security challenge of the twenty-first century, and change their policies accordingly.
Citing violence in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Lebanon as well as in many parts of central Africa, central Asia, Russia and the Philippines, the former prime minister wrote in yesterday’s Observer: "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."
“The battles of this century are less likely to be the product of extreme political ideology – like those of the twentieth century – but they could easily be fought around the questions of cultural or religious difference,” he said.
The article echoes previous warnings from Mr Blair, who has repeatedly talked of an “arc of extremism” linked to Islam. The intervention is controversial given his role in leading the UK into war against Iraq in 2003, which unleashed intense sectarian violence across the country and led to the presence of Al-Qaeda there, causing one Iraqi Chaldean archbishop, Bashar Warda of Erbil, to tell The Tablet in 2011 that Mr Blair had done “much harm to Iraq”. This summer will see the long-awaited report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the build-up to the 2003 invasion.
Mr Blair used his article to highlight the growing role of his Faith Foundation, which is active in more than 20 countries, and has a multi-million pound budget and an expanding number of staff. He said the foundation is to launch a website later this year that will provide up-to-date analysis of goings-on in the area of religion and conflict.
The purpose of the Foundation was, he said, "to change the policy of 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. This is a struggle that is only just beginning."