Emily Jackson, The Star, November 17, 2011
The Occupy movement must strike a balance between personal and public rights, says former British prime minister Tony Blair.
“These people have got a perfect right to protest, but in the end you’ve got to protect public spaces as well,” Blair told reporters Thursday after a University of Toronto panel discussion on multi-faith interactions.
Canada’s support of diversity makes it a “model” for embracing different cultures and religions, Blair said to a group of students, teachers and faith-based organizations.
Since leaving office in 2007, Blair has promoted the peaceful coexistence of different religions in an increasingly globalized world.
Europe has a thing or two to learn from Canada when it comes to embracing religious diversity, he said.
Regardless of whether it’s seen as a threat or opportunity, globalization has pushed people of different backgrounds together, Blair said.
Europeans are “fracturing and splintering” in trying times, he said.
There’s a “disconcerting” dislike of religious minorities in Europe, he said, due to the economy and the election of far-right political parties “designed to divide people.”
He pointed to Sweden as an example, and noted that Switzerland has banned minarets on mosques.
“We have to be really careful of doing something which ends up in a situation where we make religious minorities feel that they are being marginalized,” Blair said.
People often worry when they don’t understand something, such as the debate over women wearing burqas in France, he said.
Public religious activities, such as daytime prayers in Toronto public schools, can make people feel like the common space is being challenged, Blair said.
Not only are there tensions between different faiths, but there is also an “aggressive secularism” that can prevent people from seeing the positive aspects of religion, Blair said.
“We need to advocate faith in a way that is not threatening to others,” he said.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation, an organization that advocates understanding between major religions and promotes the positive role of religion, supports six fellowships in Toronto.