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When God and politics collide

Former British PM Tony Blair on the rights of the religious to be heard


 
When God and politics collide

Photograph by Christinne Muschi

So Tony Blair, former prime minister of the Queen’s England, home of the shoe bomber and the London subway terror bombings, a country riven by tension over a growing Muslim population, walks into a Quebec hall to talk about reasonable accommodation.

Fish-out-of-water daydream? Set-up to a tasteless joke? No. The former British prime minister actually did as much in Montreal last week. Blair, at once a devout Catholic and ex-prime minister of notably secular Britain, has spent much of the last three years promoting the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, which aims to show how “faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world.”

“I became Middle East envoy for Israel and Palestine, so that’s been quite challenging. And then I decided to try and bring religious faiths of the world together and create an understanding, so that’s been quite a challenge, too,” Blair, sitting in an ornate red leather chair, said to a crowd of about 400 gathered in a downtown ballroom. “And then I decided to do some work on climate change, so this is probably an indication of Napoleonic delusion.”

Delusion or not, Blair’s foundation recently picked McGill University as one of seven international academic institutions to participate in his Faith and Globalisation Initiative; for the next three years at least, 50 undergraduate students from the university’s religious studies faculty and beyond will study what Blair calls “the role and impact of religion in our globalized world.”

“It’s not that religious people should dictate policy, but they should have the right to speak in the public sphere,” he told the crowd made up mostly of McGill students and alumni. “The question is how to do that in a way that doesn’t go to the other extreme: people of religious faith trying to dictate.” (Blair, who said his own faith steeled him in his decision to send British soldiers to Iraq in 2003, isn’t expected to teach.)

“My sense is that Quebec and Montreal really present a wonderful range of case studies of religion in public life, today and historically,” says Ellen Aitken, dean of McGill’s religious studies program. “I think that the way in which an adamantly secular society emerged out of the most religious place in North America is very important when learning about secularism.”

Certainly, Quebec seems an odd place to teach the intricacies and splendours of religion in politics. Modern Quebec society has anti-clericalism in its blood. Vestiges of its religious past have either been erased, such as religious-based school boards, or, as with the illuminated crucifix overlooking Montreal, mostly stripped of religious meaning to become a quaint part of Quebec’s “heritage,” like snowmobiles and tourtière. A 2002 Statistics Canada study suggested that while time may have mellowed Quebecers collective ire toward their own religion—they are more likely to profess their religion than, say, British Columbians—they certainly aren’t filling the pews: 26 per cent of Quebecers say religion is of low importance to them, seven percentage points higher than the national average.

Language and culture have arguably become the province’s religion, and the survival of both is embedded in its laws: Bill 101 dictates that both private and public affairs, from education to business, must happen in French, while its immigration policy favours French-speaking countries.

Complications arise, of course, when cultural issues, broadly defined, and this professed desire for secularism collide with other modern realities. Earlier this year, the provincial government introduced a bill banning face coverings when receiving government services—the first of its kind in the country—as well as year-long public hearings into reasonable accommodations of religious minorities. According to polls, Quebecers are more squeamish when it comes to immigration, in large part because of a widespread belief in the caustic effect of religion on language, culture and Quebec’s vaunted secularism. Far from being distinct, however, Blair says Quebec is facing the same challenges as everyone else in the free world.

“Believe it or not, you’re in no different position than most Western societies at the moment. We are being changed by globalization. We’re becoming societies that are multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-racial,” Blair said in an interview with a handful of journalists after his speech. “Even if you personally think that religion is a bad thing, you’ve got to understand that it’s an issue. The purpose of my foundation is to understand it, analyze it, work it out and research it, because this is a big force in the world today.”

Yet as much as he championed the importance of religion in politics, Blair was largely mum on specifics of how a place like Quebec, a tiny French minority in a sea of English, can protect itself. He artfully dodged a sticky question about Quebec’s proposed face-covering ban—“In Britain we take a different position, but I defend completely your right to have that debate,” he said, smiling uncomfortably—before dashing off to yet another grip-and-grin. He may be a proselytizer these days, but he still knows the politician’s way around a question.


 

When God and politics collide

  1. We do need to have a balanced debate regarding religion's place in state affairs especially when you consider secularism as being a religion also, right.

  2. We do need to have a balanced debate regarding religion's place in state affairs especially when you consider secularism as being a religion also, right.

  3. Religious freedom is necessary for any state, but there is a cost. Any state that welcomes Islamic immigration will reap the consequences of the ideology that said immigrants introduce into their society. I believe wholeheartedly in freedom, but I also believe societies (groups of people) have a right to establish and put borders around their own identity. It is a difficult balance. But pure open boundaries never work for any system whether it be a human cell or a nation. Nor are particularly hard and closed boundaries useful (ie. North Korea) for the people. But it is reasonable for a western civilization to ask if it wants to import ideas antithetical to its core beliefs.

  4. Religious freedom is necessary for any state, but there is a cost. Any state that welcomes Islamic immigration will reap the consequences of the ideology that said immigrants introduce into their society. I believe wholeheartedly in freedom, but I also believe societies (groups of people) have a right to establish and put borders around their own identity. It is a difficult balance. But pure open boundaries never work for any system whether it be a human cell or a nation. Nor are particularly hard and closed boundaries useful (ie. North Korea) for the people. But it is reasonable for a western civilization to ask if it wants to import ideas antithetical to its core beliefs.

  5. Almost all religions, upon reaching critical mass in a foreign land, tend to spread out and join in the total community and live in peace with each other. The one exception, no names taken, is only interested in overcasting any semblance of integration once they reach critical mass anywhere. If you don't accept their brand of "heaven", they will put you through their brand of "hell". We can go blue in the face or break a brick wall with ripe figs but they will not change. The only "balance" possible with them is when they alone exist. That is the only balance they understand. That is the only balance they will accept. In my country, though they are absolutely free to do as they please and share all the rights as everyone else, they know they MUST maintain the status quo with everyone around them. Pity that sense of understanding does not exist here. I will not be surprised if this post is deleted, even though I have not mentioned any names.

  6. Almost all religions, upon reaching critical mass in a foreign land, tend to spread out and join in the total community and live in peace with each other. The one exception, no names taken, is only interested in overcasting any semblance of integration once they reach critical mass anywhere. If you don't accept their brand of "heaven", they will put you through their brand of "hell". We can go blue in the face or break a brick wall with ripe figs but they will not change. The only "balance" possible with them is when they alone exist. That is the only balance they understand. That is the only balance they will accept. In my country, though they are absolutely free to do as they please and share all the rights as everyone else, they know they MUST maintain the status quo with everyone around them. Pity that sense of understanding does not exist here. I will not be surprised if this post is deleted, even though I have not mentioned any names.

  7. Blair is a dim witted war criminal. Religion was invoked by Hitler to explain how he was on a mission from above to rid us of the evil Jews . Bush plainly started he was chosen by God and was on a mission from God when he invaded Iraq illegally thereby killing hundreds of thousands of innocents . Every decade and time period has its religious inspired atrocities. Remember the crusades, the inquisition, the slaughter of the Cathars etc etc.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
    Voltaire

  8. Blair is a dim witted war criminal. Religion was invoked by Hitler to explain how he was on a mission from above to rid us of the evil Jews . Bush plainly started he was chosen by God and was on a mission from God when he invaded Iraq illegally thereby killing hundreds of thousands of innocents . Every decade and time period has its religious inspired atrocities. Remember the crusades, the inquisition, the slaughter of the Cathars etc etc.

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.
    Voltaire

    • Interesting assertions regarding Bush and his supposed mandate from God. Where did you come up with this?

      • President George Bush has claimed he was told by God to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden's stronghold of Afghanistan as part of a divine mission to bring peace to the Middle East, security for Israel, and a state for the Palestinians.
        The President made the assertion during his first meeting with Palestinian leaders in June 2003, according to BBC

        One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did.”

        Mr Bush went on: “And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it.”

        Also see President Chirac's and Chancellor Schroeder'od s comments about their uncomfortable meetings with Bush where he bragged about God and the Bible driving his decisions to invade and kill civilian populations .

        Also interesting is his run up to the Presidential race : Bush told a Texan evangelist that he had had a premonition of some form of national disaster happening.

        Bush said to James Robinson: 'I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen… I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.'

        • How ironic; his election was the national disaster.

      • Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God who wants this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a new age begins.

        * Former French president Jacques Chirac claimed in late 2009 that Bush made these statements to him at some point prior the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 while "appealing to him as a Christian" and attempting to convince him to have France join the invasion.

  9. Anyone who continues to believe in Stone Age superstitions (also called "religion") has nothing of value to contribute to the 21st century.

  10. Anyone who continues to believe in Stone Age superstitions (also called "religion") has nothing of value to contribute to the 21st century.

    • Totally agree. Separation of church and state.

      • Separation of church and state is one thing (and one that I agree with), but Steve's assertion that religion "has nothing of value to contribute to the 21st century" is a bit of a stretch. Sure, one can point to all kinds of problems that organized religion has caused, but one can also point to many good things that religion has contributed. See e.g. citizen_CA's post. Problem is, it's usually only the negatives that get the press.

        Steve (and maybe you, if you so wholeheatedly back his stance) needs to go to the various religious institutions with open eyes and look to see what they offer not only to those who are regular members, but simply to those who ask. He doesn't have to personally believe in order to see the good; he merely needs to bear witness to what they do daily to gain an appreciation of their contributions.

        Religions don't always get it right, but most worshippers genuinely care and make daily, positive contributions to society as a whole.

    • I'm sure a lot of people at soup kitchens and homeless shelters would beg to differ with you. Have you heard of a little organization called "The Salvation Army"?

  11. Interesting assertions regarding Bush and his supposed mandate from God. Where did you come up with this?

  12. President George Bush has claimed he was told by God to invade Iraq and attack Osama bin Laden's stronghold of Afghanistan as part of a divine mission to bring peace to the Middle East, security for Israel, and a state for the Palestinians.
    The President made the assertion during his first meeting with Palestinian leaders in June 2003, according to BBC

    One of the delegates, Nabil Shaath, who was Palestinian foreign minister at the time, said: “President Bush said to all of us: ‘I am driven with a mission from God'. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan'. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq'. And I did.”

    Mr Bush went on: “And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East'. And, by God, I'm gonna do it.”

    Also see President Chirac's and Chancellor Schroeder'od s comments about their uncomfortable meetings with Bush where he bragged about God and the Bible driving his decisions to invade and kill civilian populations .

    Also interesting is his run up to the Presidential race : Bush told a Texan evangelist that he had had a premonition of some form of national disaster happening.

    Bush said to James Robinson: 'I feel like God wants me to run for President. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me. Something is going to happen… I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.'

  13. Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled. This confrontation is willed by God who wants this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a new age begins.

    * Former French president Jacques Chirac claimed in late 2009 that Bush made these statements to him at some point prior the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 while "appealing to him as a Christian" and attempting to convince him to have France join the invasion.

  14. Totally agree. Separation of church and state.

  15. Tony Blair's conveniently-timed Christianity is more of a fashion statement than a faith. Turning to him as an authority on religion is approximately as meaningful as turning to damaged, vindictive pundits like Christopher Hitchens for insight into atheism.

    Somehow the loudmouth neophytes always dominate the public discourse on these issues, rather than the thoughtful and experienced.

  16. Tony Blair's conveniently-timed Christianity is more of a fashion statement than a faith. Turning to him as an authority on religion is approximately as meaningful as turning to damaged, vindictive pundits like Christopher Hitchens for insight into atheism.

    Somehow the loudmouth neophytes always dominate the public discourse on these issues, rather than the thoughtful and experienced.

  17. I'm sure a lot of people at soup kitchens and homeless shelters would beg to differ with you. Have you heard of a little organization called "The Salvation Army"?

  18. Separation of church and state is one thing (and one that I agree with), but Steve's assertion that religion "has nothing of value to contribute to the 21st century" is a bit of a stretch. Sure, one can point to all kinds of problems that organized religion has caused, but one can also point to many good things that religion has contributed. See e.g. citizen_CA's post. Problem is, it's usually only the negatives that get the press.

    Steve (and maybe you, if you so wholeheatedly back his stance) needs to go to the various religious institutions with open eyes and look to see what they offer not only to those who are regular members, but simply to those who ask. He doesn't have to personally believe in order to see the good; he merely needs to bear witness to what they do daily to gain an appreciation of their contributions.

    Religions don't always get it right, but most worshippers genuinely care and make daily, positive contributions to society as a whole.

  19. what good has religion really done? it has caused much more damage than good. I dont think we should base our country on anything that has no proof! I am sorry but no one has proof of god, and no, that book called the Bible isnt proof.

    PS. I am from christian descent,

  20. what good has religion really done? it has caused much more damage than good. I dont think we should base our country on anything that has no proof! I am sorry but no one has proof of god, and no, that book called the Bible isnt proof.

    PS. I am from christian descent,

  21. How ironic; his election was the national disaster.

  22. It's reasonable to say that we need to understand more about the various religions and the effects on our behaviour of religious beliefs.

    But when a war criminal like Tony Blair wants to be a spokesman for the idea “faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world” it makes my gorge rise.

    How about first you confess your sins and repent of the great evil you committed, Tony.

  23. It's reasonable to say that we need to understand more about the various religions and the effects on our behaviour of religious beliefs.

    But when a war criminal like Tony Blair wants to be a spokesman for the idea “faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world” it makes my gorge rise.

    How about first you confess your sins and repent of the great evil you committed, Tony.

  24. No need for God and politics to collide – they don't belong on the same road.

  25. No need for God and politics to collide – they don't belong on the same road.

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