• Tony Blair’s faith, globalisation and poverty

    Last week was a busy week. Apologies to readers who noticed a complete blank on the blog – I was out listening, learning, thinking and in a few rare moments, I was moved too.

    On Tuesday evening, Dr Eboo Patel of the Interfaith Youth Core, based out in Chicago, was speaking at the British Library on In Martin Luther King’s Footsteps”, on the 40th anniversary of his death. Dr Patel is a remarkably eloquent presenter and wove a powerful narrative about the role of faith – and in particular interfaith – in addressing the issues of identity, division and extremism. He spoke of his own journey to be comfortable in living in the spaces of being Indian, Muslim and American and how he has reconciled the three, no longer feeling the need to hide or crush any aspect of his being. What shook him was when he realised that whilst he was busy struggling around ethnicity and nationhood for himself and his peers, the discourse he was part of paid scant or no attention to faith and religion as forming a sense of self and citizenship. Around the same time he also realised two further things about young people – that religious extremism seemed to be on the rise amongst – and appealed most strongly to – young people. He wondered why? He also noticed that young leaders – like Dr King – who play such an important role in our social consciousness as change-makers and peace instigators, rarely have their faith discussed. Dr King, he pointed out, is rarely spoken about as Reverend King. Where was the narrative about faith informing young leaders and the contributions they have made? How could these stories reach out to young people of faith to embrace them into a positive contribution by contributing their own faith stories?

    Tony Blair later in the week also spoke about Faith and Globalisation at Westminster cathedral. Outside the stunning building were hordes of protesters who could be heard inside the hall throughout the lecture. “Murderer! Murderer!” they cried. Their placards said “BLIAR”. Inside he spoke about how faith needs to be reclaimed from extremism, and how it can be a tool for good. He also spoke about how as the gravity of power moves from West to East as political and economic change happens, that faith can be one of the channels through which we can create conversation about shared values and ‘purpose’. Given his record in political office, particularly with regards to war, I think there will be widespread scepticism about his new role and that of his foundation: The Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Great name – can it deliver what it promises? It seems to be we ask the same question whether Blair is a political or a religious leader.

    However, much to my embarrassment, I have to confess that in a week of big ideas, I was most moved by the closing moments of Eastenders on Friday evening. Yes, sorry, I know I’ve just blown my credibility, but let me explain… Long-lost chav Bianca, with four children in tow, is thrown out of her home. She is too proud to ask for help, and too worried that the authorities will separate her from her children if she admits to her homeless penniless situation. After sleeping the night at the bus-stop, and trying to wash up in the park toilets, they have to face the police patrol who has been observing them and who now feels they need to step in. Fearing they will take her children, Bianca punches the officer, who then arrests her and bundles her into the police car and leaves the children in the park. It’s not high-brow TV but it got me right under my skin and into my heart – the vulnerability of humanity. I’m hoping there are huge inaccuracies – why would they arrest her when her plight is obvious? Why would they leave the children unattended?

    All this to one side, it was this that made me actually weep: the easy slip from comfort into poverty, criminal record and homelessness, the high level of child poverty. As someone blessed with comforts, the fact that 600,000 children in London alone live below the poverty line still holds me in shock, when we are in the top 5 richest nations on earth. With the London mayoral elections coming up, I checked the websites of the three candidates of the big parties, and I have to report that it is certainly not obvious what they are planning to do to alleviate this issue, this huge massive issue that faces what should be a world-class city, and a world-leading country.

    I’m no expert about homelessness and poverty, but each day for a long time now, I have felt that this is an area I need to learn more about, and then get more strongly involved in. If you can help me learn about the issues, but more importantly about how to solve these issues medium-term, long-term – nay, forever, please help me learn. Even bloggers need those who can offer education and learning.

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