Last night Tony Blair warned against the “dark side” of religion and said the world’s faith community had issues it must “confront and overcome”. He also said that it was not enough to “tolerate” people of different faiths. Muslims, Jews, Christians and members of all faiths must treat each other as “equal”.
Mr Blair, speaking at the Royal Society for the Arts in London, said that in recent years most mainstream religions had been “prey” to the influence of extremist groups. These had seen faith as a “badge of identity” in opposition to those of a different faith.
“Even a short stay in Israel and Palestine, where I now spend a lot of my time, would show you that, all too graphically,” he told an audience of faith leaders and development workers at the seminar, the first of six sponsored by the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the Department for International Development and Islamic Relief.
“But this, in a sense, is the dark side of strong belief,” he said. “People who hold deep convictions about life and its purpose necessarily can be prone to holding those views to excess or the point of prejudice. That danger is inherent in faith.” He cited a report published yesterday by the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths, which found that development work is helped when faiths acknowledge the spirituality of religions other than their own. The report recommended greater collaboration between different faith agencies and called for staff working for faith charities abroad to be given training in the beliefs and practices of other religions.
He also said it was not enough any more to speak of tolerating other religions.
“Though we may disagree with those of another faith, though we hold true to our own faith, we should not have the arrogance merely to tolerate a person whose faith is different; but instead respect them as equals.”