Tony Blair in call to condemn Islam film protests

 

Tony Blair today urged politicians and religious leaders to condemn protests sweeping the Muslim world over a low-budget movie mocking Islam.

The former prime minister dismissed the American-made film as "laughable" and insisted the response was "wrong".

Mr Blair, who famously did not "do God" while in Downing Street, said public figures had to confront the issues and speak out for more tolerance.

The call, in an interview on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, came with no end in sight to the deadly violence.

Religious figures have demanded a stepping up of demonstrations in Lebanon, while one person was reportedly killed during clashes with police in Pakistan over the weekend.

Mr Blair, now Middle East envoy for the Quartet of powers, said: "The film, it may be wrong and offensive but it is also laughable as a piece of film-making.

"What I am afraid is very dangerous and actually is wrong is the reaction to it."

Mr Blair said such problems were an inevitable consequence of the Arab Spring that has overthrown repressive regimes in Libya and elsewhere.

"I just see a region that is in the process of huge transition. There is essentially a struggle between the forces of modernisation, who want an open society, a properly functioning economy, who recognise the 21st century is the 21st century, and then those of reaction based on a perverted view of religion, that want to pull the whole thing backwards," he said.

"When you lift the lid off the repression what comes out are a whole lot of religious, ethnic, tribal influences that themselves have to be countered and moulded into something that is compatible with the modern world."

Mr Blair said he had changed his view since his time in Number 10, when he used to avoid discussions about faith.

"What the politicians often want to do - for totally understandable reasons, I used to feel this myself - is religion is such a tricky subject for us that we want to stay away from it," he said.

"But one element of resolving this is about a view of religion that is also open-minded and pluralistic.

"And what you actually require for democracy to function properly is a view of democracy in which religion has its place but where you have democracy-friendly religion as well as religion-friendly democracy."

He added: "In the end we need both the leadership within those countries and within Islam to stand up and say 'look, there is a proper modern way of reconciling religious faith, democracy in society', and we need ourselves from the outside to engage with this process of change in a way that's constructive."

PA

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