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Posts Tagged ‘Blair’

Stories like this best illustrate my argument on the key role education plays in interfaith respect that I outlined in the main post below.

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I’m always reluctant to give my opinion on religion and politics as it’s an extremely complex issue that affects social traditions differently. While in Europe faith is part of the individual’s private sphere, in India for example religion is best understood as ‘a way of life’, it steps into the public sphere and determines social relations to a much greater extent than they do here.

Tony Blair is to launch his new foundation in New York today. According to a feature in Time magazine he aims at promoting interfaith respect and dialogue. This isn’t the first initiative of this kind and probably it won’t be the last one as the rise of international terrorism and distrust between societies has put religion at the centre of the political debate. I yet don’t know what perspective Blair is going to take on the issue, but I think certain approaches could set his foundation apart from previous and less successful enterprises of similar nature.

The key issues Blair has to focus on are religious leadership and education.

Religious scholars and leaders don’t need more dialogue, there are already several organisations that perform that role and moreover they approach each other willingly and are aware through their work of the similarities of different faiths. Those that reject dialogue aren’t going to be convinced that easily, in part because of one of the weaknesses of religion is that as faith it can be irrational and exclusivist (one’s religious truth is the absolute truth, therefore rational debate isn’t fully possible). These less tolerant religious leaders will always exist the solution stems from the removal of all social support away from them. Here is where education comes from. Education for society in general across the globe not just on the basics of the different faiths but the cultural contexts and contributions they have made to humankind as a whole. Here I would like to put an example from Spain. Spain’s Muslim heritage and Islamic history is part of the national curriculum in primary and secondary schools. Knowing about Islamic contribution to mathematics, technology, literature, etc. I believe has helped minimise the social backlash against Islam after the Madrid bombings. An understanding of Islam in Spain, even if at a very basic level, has helped differentiate between terrorists and ordinary Muslims helping integration (despite great challenges still ahead for Spanish society).

The new Blair foundation could help promote a big push on global education of world civilisations. People across the globe should have a basic understanding of the cultural richness of all faiths and cultures to avoid generalisation and manipulation by those that only preach hatred and ignorance. New literature on the accomplishments of the different religions and cultures should emerge. In 12th century Spain there was a group of translators from the three Abrahamic religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity, that worked together to translate each other works so people could exchange knowledge of other cultures. It was called the ‘Toledo School’, Blair could set up nine centuries later a modern version of it. This would do more for interfaith dialogue than any vacuous religious conference that is alien to most people across the world anyways.

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