Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hands up who has heard enough from Tony Blair on faith

There must be plenty of people out there who are getting tired of hearing the views of former Prime Minister Tony Blair on faith. Not least those in his newly adopted spirtual home the Catholic Church. Hardly a week seems to go by without the former premiers views being quoted on faith and particularly inter-faith issues.
Recent offerings have included a talk in London on the importance of faith communities working together to help make a difference in the world. This followed on a lecture in Rome on the central role of religion in society.
Irony is certainly not one of the former PM’s stronger suites. Only those suffering total historical amnesia could not be struck when told that Mr Blair had said that political leaders should listen more to the Pope and that dialogue between religions was important.
Let’s not forget, this is the man who led the country into an illegal war in Iraq, expressly against the advice of Pope John Paul II. And the same man who did so much to damage interfaith relations both internationally and at home.
The Blair Foundation devoted as it is to promoting interfaith dialogue is staffed by people who seem to suffer from the same historical amnesia as their leader. The former head of a leading humanitarian NGO has told how faith communities provide a vital avenue to advance development. He is right, interfaith co-operation could bring rich dividends in the area of development. However, coming from the Blair Foundation it lacks a certain credibility.
This is not a rant against Tony Blair. His governments did many good things to advance the cause of social justice in the UK. Peace in Northern Ireland, devolution, the minimum wage, trade union legislation, support for parents, the Human Rights Act, the Lawrence Inquiry, investment in health and education. However, these achievements are not alone enough to qualify the former PM for sainthood.
On the downside there were the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the destruction of civil rights at home, collusion with the US in rendition and practice of torture across the world and the worship of big business and the rich - laying the way for the present financial crash.
Mr Blair is a great communicator and a successful politician. Since stepping down he has no doubt been looking for a new role on the world stage. He has emulated former US President Bill Clinton by setting up his foundation. He remains as Middle East peace envoy. He clearly covets the job of president of the EU with no doubt many of his present globe trotting speeches forming a crucial part of his campaign to win that role.
The worry is that the response of the Catholic Church to Mr Blair could be seen as indicating something of its own love affair with power. There were criticisms of the Blair government over the Iraq war and other un-Catholic actions committed by his administration but it is as though as soon as he became a Catholic an historical amnesia descended upon the hierarchy and it was as though none of it mattered anymore. The former Prime Minister was now one of us so never mind what he may have done in the past. He is an influential man of the type that can be useful.
This attitude is not healthy and can allow politicians to make hay at the expense of the Church. Mr Blair can contribute to the work of the Church in many areas. He can promote peace, interfaith relations and social justice but prior to taking on such a role he needs to make an act of contrition regarding his past actions. He needs to admit that invading Iraq was wrong. He should apologise to people in those countries bombed and obliterated by western forces. He must admit his role in destroying civil rights and victimising so many Muslim people in this country. Then he maybe able to go on and be taken seriously as a man of peace and social justice.
But he has not made any such act of contrition because he probably does not think he has done anything wrong. In his world, the war on terror was probably about defeating evil, promoting peace and advancing interfaith dialogue. He now continues to pursue that aim via other means. The Church should not stand for this. The Church must be about making an option for the poor and speaking truth to power. Time surely for a little contrition from Mr Blair and a bit more opprobrium from the Catholic Church.

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, Blair and his wife are probably the most famous Catholics in the UK! Odd that for many years he "didn't do religion", yet now he appears to style himself as some sort of 'community leader' for Catholics in this country.
    I wonder if Pope Benedict will seek an audience with Blair during his visit?