Judging by the first thirteen years of this already war-torn Century, Tony Blair seems to have a point: the conflicts of the next hundred years will increasingly be defined by extremist religion. Blair has been consistent about this. When he founded his “Faith Foundation” in 2008 one of his principal aims was ecumenical: to provide a forum within which opposed religious groups could work together towards shared goals, premised upon the idea that dialogue is the best way to solve disagreement.
That’s all great, but there’s something about the general analysis that rings hollow. In the 1990s, influential political theorist Samuel Huntington speculated that we would be able to plot the conflicts of the 21st Century along the fault lines between civilisations as opposed to national boundaries or sovereignties. What Blair is saying dovetails in to this, but conflates two points. Huntington’s theory shows us what conflicts will look like, not why those conflicts have come about. Could we honestly say that the successive invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the result of religious extremism? Islamist zealotry may be the reason these wars perpetuate in the manner they do, but let’s not try to pin the mess of the Middle East on the religion, misinterpreted or not.
This may seem a subtle distinction, but it’s important for another reason: Blair’s argument depends upon us being able to tell the difference between legitimate and illegitimate interpretations of different religions. In the age of the pop-pseudo-philosophy of Richard Dawkins, for whom all followers of religion are delusional and/or irrational, the fine differences between different strands of the world religions lose their meaning – they’re all a load of sky-fairy, myth-believing nutters. To a generation of Brits who are persuaded by this and couldn’t tell you the difference between Ahmadiyya and Wahabi Muslims for all the tea in China, Blair needs to be wary of unintentionally stoking the fires of xenophobia.
Luke de Pulford