of the New Year,
Natalia J. Garland
Tony Blair, who as British Prime Minister was one of America's
strongest allies in the war on terror, has recently served as a
visiting professor at Yale University. In his continuing desire
to rid the world of terrorism and to preserve civilization, he
talked about the importance of religious values in a globalized
society. He said there is a tendency for religions to be a
"divisive force" when based on identity and culture, but
there is a potential for religions to unite people when based on
common values of "compassion and justice." While
teaching at Yale, Blair says he learned ten lessons from his work
on this theme. He lists these lessons in his article,
"An Alliance of Values." I have added numbers to his
list of ten lessons for easier reference.
EXCERPT FROM TONY BLAIR
There are 10 lessons
I've learned from this undertaking:
- Religious faith matters. Whether one likes it or not, billions
of people are motivated by religious faith.
- Faith is not in decline. It may be in decline in some places,
but not worldwide. In some parts of the world, it is growing.
- Religious faith can operate positively in support, for
example, of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals to reduce
poverty and advance development. Wonderful work has been done on
this by churches, mosques and Hindu and Jewish interfaith
organizations. Or, religion can operate negatively, through
fundamentalism or extremism.
- Globalization is forging multi-faith societies. The London my
little boy is growing up in is completely different than the
London he would have grown up in 30 years ago. The same is true
across Europe and the United States as well.
- To work effectively, globalization needs values like trust,
confidence, openness and justice.
- Faith is not the only means, but is an important means, of
providing those values if faith is itself open and not closed; if
it is based on compassion and help for others and not on the basis
of exclusionary identity.
- For globalization to flourish, we need social capital--trust
in one another, so we can have confidence in the future. Spiritual
capital, so to speak, is an important part of social capital.
- In an era, however, of globalization and multi-faith societies,
creating such spiritual capital requires not only tolerance of,
but respect for, people of other faiths.
- The key to respect is understanding, and hence the need to
learn and to educate ourselves about each other's faith and
- Organized religion should be supporting this process, and
allowing through it the evolution of faith so that faith can be a
positive, constructive and progressive force.
For the purpose of
further arranging an anti-terror lexicon for our post-Iraq world,
I will summarize Blair's definitions from his ten lessons as well
as from the remainder of his article. Generally, I will use
direct quotations but I will condense his paragraphs.
MY NOTES ON BLAIR'S DEFINITIONS
- ALLIANCE OF VALUES = the common good, values held
in common across nations and across faiths, equal dignity and
equal worth of every individual before God.
- TRUE FAITH = reconciliation, compassion, justice,
peaceful co-existence, global prosperity, a constructive and
- FALSE FAITH (my term) = division, conflict,
hatred, sectarianism, exclusionary identity, a dangerous world.
- MULTI-FAITH SOCIETIES = a result of globalization.
- GLOBALIZATION = a result of trade, travel,
- EFFECTIVE GLOBALIZATION = needs these values: trust,
confidence, openness, justice; stability flows from these values.
- SOCIAL CAPITAL = trust in one another, responsible
- TRUST = being able to rely on the other person's
word, a long-term perspective instead of short-term profit
- SPIRITUAL CAPITAL = tolerance, and beyond tolerance:
respect for other faiths (a part of social capital).
- KEY TO RESPECT = understanding via education (a
- ORGANIZED RELIGION = should support the process of
understanding via education.
- INTERFAITH ORGANIZATIONS = religions working
together to achieve goals such as reducing poverty; the opposite
of religious fundamentalism or extremism.
- ECONOMIC POLICY, FOREIGN POLICY, and PEACEFUL
CO-EXISTENCE = cannot take root unless we have strong
alliances through common values.
- TERRORISM = inspired by hatred, exclusion, division.
Blair's ideas are
remarkable for two main reasons. First, he gives credence to the
importance of religion while some Americans are focused on
removing reference to God from government, schools, the workplace
and even shopping malls. Second, he defines true faith in ways
that could promote the fulfillment other worldwide needs:
international relationships, business, education, and humanitarian
However, some of
Blair's ideas, three in particular, will require more study and
elaboration. (A) His definition of religion does not include
theological, moral, or cultural differences which might affect the
common good (e.g., the custom of marrying underaged girls, the
practice of honor killings, the possibility of conversion to a
different religion, the concept of nation-building, etc.). The
omission of theology is probably meant to enable and emphasize the
theme of common values. Nevertheless, in the practical
application of common values, it would soon become evident that
some people regard certain policies and practices as unacceptable
the details of doctrinal differences, Blair brings attention to
the role of education. (B) He relies heavily on educational
processes to bring about religious tolerance, understanding, and
respect. However, regarding school systems, America's educational
methods are already highly multicultural: an approach that seems
to promote respect for all religions except Christianity.
Although it might be assumed that Americans need to acquire an
understanding of both extremist and moderate forms of Islam, it is
just as likely (perhaps more likely) that Americans need to stop
bashing and silencing Christians.
Although Blair does
not include a definition of false religion, he seems to define
terrorist groups in terms of religious sectarianism which, in
turn, is complicated by a lack of education in foreign policy
formation. (C) Blair states that terrorism is inspired by hatred,
exclusion, and division. It might be more accurate to state that
exclusion and division contribute to terrorism, and that
fanatic ideology, psychopathology, and/or evil are its essential
causes. However, a liberal-arts education for boys and
girls in politically or religiously isolated areas would break
down the barriers of exclusion and division. Children could learn
about the outside world and also receive positive, faith-based
It might be more
difficult to educate adults involved in foreign policy. Most
non-Muslims do not have knowledge of the history, politics, and
religion of Islamic countries or populations. The acquisition
of such knowledge could require years of study: including a
thorough knowledge of the Koran (which would necessitate learning
Arabic) and the various branches of Islam. Moreover, there would
have to be a deep understanding of and sensitivity to the general
dislike of Western culture felt by many Muslims, including Muslims
who live cooperatively in America and Europe.
Can we develop a
definition of false faith from Blair's work? It would seem that
false faith is any belief system that promotes division, conflict,
hatred, sectarianism, and exclusionary identity. Such qualities
obstruct communication, relationships, education, and also make
the world unsafe. We could conclude, therefore, that
terrorist-based ideology and activity have no normalcy or genuine
spirituality. Killing innocent civilians in the name of God is
not an act of true faith and cannot be justified. True faith is
based on values of reconciliation, compassion, and justice. True
faith is a constructive and progressive force, and it promotes
peaceful co-existence and global prosperity.
Blair includes the
values of democracy and freedom in his alliance, and he includes
all true faiths despite any theological differences. His purpose
seems to be to move beyond specific religions or governments, and
to put together values which reasonable people will not deny: such
as compassion and justice. He makes a global sweep in an effort
to unite people in common survival and supportive relationships:
people whose different religions and governments and whose lives
are threatened by terrorism.
alliance of values will motivate Americans who view terrorism in
naive, sentimental, or delusional ways to expand their capacity to
face reality and solve problems. Although Blair does not rule out
military responses, he offers a non-military lexicon and a new
beginning for policies and practices in our post-Iraq world. As
for people with strong doctrinal positions, it is noteworthy that
Blair does not say that all religions are equal or that we all
worship the same God. Blair says, with accuracy and diplomacy,
that all people deserve equal dignity before God and with regard
to their human rights on this earth.
[NOTE: This essay
is a personal interpretation and arrangement of Blair's work. It
is possible, therefore, that some or all of the essay content does
not reflect Blair's intended meaning of his ideas.]
(Written 01/19/09: bibliography available.)
Until we meet