â€œWherever you look today, religion mattersâ€ says Tony Blair
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair will deliver the keynote speech today at Tecnológico de Monterrey University in Mexico.
Mr Blair will say:
“Do we want societies that are open to those who are different, who have different faiths and cultures than our own; or do we want, in the face of insecurity and economic crisis, to close down, to look after “our own” first and foremost? And if we want open ones, what are the conditions for such openness to prevail?
“It is true of Mexico...it is also true of the Middle East. There are three elements in play. However, they are operating within a region in which religion occupies a vital, if not determining space in society. Ask how important is religion in the lives of people in Europe, and the answer is around 30-35%. In the Middle East it is 90-95%. If you don’t understand religion in the Middle East, you don’t understand the Middle East. So as these recent changes transform the Middle East region, the way religion affects that transformation is profoundly significant.
“The missing bit of Middle East policy is inter-faith. Why? Because if the concern is that Islam feels disrespected by the West, the answer is to engage in a dialogue that proves it isn’t. This begins in school, should be analysed and debated in university and should be grounded in political, social and cultural exchange.
“The reason religion is important is that it is about so much more than religion. It is about history, culture, tradition, belonging, identity and meaning. It is about the philosophy of life. It is about the spirit not the flesh. If the Middle East produces political change, without social change that is based on an open mind towards others, then it will have been a revolution half formed and unfinished and the economic change, so vital to advancing the position of the people, will likewise fall short.
“Globalisation is accelerating all these trends. When I am asked to define the leading characteristic of today’s world, I say: its speed of change. Movements, swirls of opinion, waves of change arise, build momentum and come crashing down against our preconceived positions or notions with bewildering velocity. We adjust or we are swept away.”
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation partners with Tecnológico de Monterrey as part of its Faith and Globalisation Initiative which is a network of leading universities on every continent. The course at Tecnológico de Monterrey is now in its second semester, and the number of students has increased by nearly one hundred – from 195 to 284. The Initiative undertakes academic teaching and research to develop a deeper understanding of the relationship between faith and globalisation. The results help emerging leaders understand how faith motivates people, and analyses the impact of religion on the modern world.
Mr Blair will say:
“My Foundation attempts to promote the open view, based on a vision of respect and understanding between people of different religions. We have a schools project now in over 15 countries with thousands of students and a university programme with eight world-class universities and many more joining. We are proud that Monterrey Tech is one.
“We are going to create an online map based tool that enables the user - i.e. – anyone that needs information about the interrelationship of religion in the world – to access quickly and easily literally thousands of data sets and to see this mapped across the world, a country or where possible, a region. I am excited about its potential.
“Wherever you look today, religion matters. Faith motivates. Understanding faith, its adherents, its trends, its structures, is as important as understanding a nation’s GDP, its business, its resources. Religious awareness is as important as gender or race awareness. For politicians, business people; or just ordinary interested citizens, to know about a country’s faith perspective is an essential part of comprehending it.”