The former Labour prime minister talks about religion and politics, lessons from the financial crisis and the future of the euro
Tony Blair is vigorous proof of life after political death. He is back in London, looking well, smartly dressed in the combination of blue suit and brown shoes that, traditionally, is the mark of being not quite a gentleman. “I’ve put my tie on for The Daily Telegraph,” he says. He will be at the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday.
But today , he has a different purpose. The Westminster Faith Debates, chaired by his former home secretary Charles Clarke, will close with a conversation tonight between Mr Blair, the Archbishop of Canterbury and me. The subject is religion and society.
The nation’s most famous Catholic convert set up his Faith Foundation to tackle such questions. He speaks of the future. The “fundamentalist doctrines of politics”, such as fascism and communism, he says, went out with the 20th century. In the 21st, when globalisation has pushed people ever closer together, the disputed territory and, he warns, the “dominant security threat”, relate to religion and culture. He wants to provide the “platform” where people of different faiths can together find out what unites them.
Tony Blair has written ”I’ve always been more interested in religion than politics’’, a striking thought for a prime minister, so I ask him why. Religion, he says, engages with ”the fundamental truths about life’’. He feels he is now ”deeply familiar with the rules of politics’’; in religion, ”there is so much that is still unexplored’’.
…And here, Tony Blair has grown sterner. After September 11, 2001, he now thinks, he underestimated the power of the bad ”narrative’’ of Islamist extremists. That narrative – that ”The West oppresses Islam” – ”is still there. If anything, it has grown.’’ It seeks ”supremacy not coexistence’’. He fears that ”The West is asleep on this issue’’, and yet it is the biggest challenge. In Africa, all the good things he sees through his Africa Governance Initiative face ”this threat above all others’’. In ”Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, outbursts in Tanzania and Kenya’’, sectarian Islamist extremism is the great and growing problem….