Thursday, October 23, 2014
20

Education is a Security Issue

LONDON – In November, I spoke at the United Nations Security Council for the first time in 13 years. It struck me how different the mood is now. In September 2000, the world seemed very different. We were trying to articulate the new security order in the decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course there were challenges. But the atmosphere was light, positive even, as we discussed eradicating poverty in the developing world.

This time, the mood was dark. And the first days of 2014 have made it darker still. Scroll down any day’s news summary and you find stories of terrorism and violence perpetrated in the cause of a false view of religion. Some of it is committed by non-state actors, and some of it by state actors; but all of it is committed in the context of division and conflict defined by differences of religious faith.

This is the new struggle of the twenty-first century. We will not win it unless we fight its root causes as well as its ghastly consequences.

Today, in an arc that stretches from the Far East through the Middle East to the streets of cities in Europe and the United States, we face a scourge that has taken innocent lives, scarred communities, and destabilized countries. It is a threat that is constantly evolving, growing, and mutating to counter our fight against it.

The extremists propagating this violence have networks of outreach to young people and know the power of education, whether formal or informal. Extremists are filling young minds with the belief that anyone who disagrees is an enemy – and not just their enemy, but God’s enemy.

The security debate has understandably often focused on the consequences. After an attack, states consider immediate security measures. Terrorists are hunted down. Then we get back to our daily lives, until the next time it happens.

But lasting change depends on dealing with the root causes of extremism. Of course politics plays its part. And the extremists are good at jumping on the back of political grievances. But the soil in which they plant the seeds of hate is fertilized with ignorance.

That is why we need to start thinking of education as a security issue.

The extremists justify killing in the name of God. This is an obscene perversion of proper religious faith. And it is a menace, both for the harm that it does directly and for the damaging division and sectarianism that it nurtures indirectly. Every killing is a human tragedy. But it also causes a chain reaction of bitterness and hatred. There is real fear in the communities plagued by such extremism, fear that paralyzes normal life and pushes people away from each other.

Globalization is intensifying and multiplying this extremism. Not limited by borders, it can spring up anywhere. We are more connected than at any point in human history, and more and more people come into contact with those who are different from them. So the need to respect a neighbor who is not like you is much greater; but the scope to identify him or her as an enemy is also greater.

And this is not only about Islamic extremism. There are extremist acts perpetrated against Muslims because of their religion, and today there are fanatical Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists who disfigure the true nature of their faith.

That is why education in the twenty-first century is a security issue for all of us. The challenge is to show young people who are vulnerable to appeals from terrorists that there is a better path to having their voice heard, a more meaningful way to engage with the world.

The good news is that we know how to do this. I use my Faith Foundation only as one example. Our schools program promotes cross-cultural dialogue among students aged 12-17 around the world. Reaching students in more than 20 countries, our program connects students via a secure Web site, where they interact from their classrooms under the guidance of trained teachers.

Through facilitated videoconferences, students discuss global issues from a variety of faith and belief perspectives. They gain the dialogue skills required to prevent conflict by breaking down religious and cultural stereotypes. For schools in the poorest areas, we use special arrangements, because they cannot access the Internet themselves.

To be sure, we are only a drop in the ocean. But we now have experience in more than a thousand schools; over 50,000 students have been taught, and we are working in countries as diverse as Pakistan, India, the US, Jordan, Egypt, Canada, Italy, the Philippines, and Indonesia. I have been privileged to witness these students becoming at ease with the cultures, faiths, and beliefs that inspire so many people around the world.

There are many other fantastic examples of this type of work. But they lack the resources, weight, and recognition that they need.

We need to mobilize to defeat extremism. And we need to act globally. All governments must take seriously their responsibility to educate young people to accept and respect people of different faiths and cultures.

There is no issue that is more pressing. There is a real danger that religious conflict replaces the ideologically based struggles of the last century in an equally devastating form.

It is up to all of us to show people that we have a better idea than the extremists have – to learn from each other and live with each other. And this needs to be a core part of young people’s education.

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  1. CommentedShubham Sharma

    I believe that the penultimate line to this passage, aptly describes what, indeed, can be thought of as 'missing' from the contemporary educational system. Even though social sciences and demographics are taught to the people, it is taught more so in a manner to fulfil 'requirements'. To be able to understand your strengths and your fellows' is a state of the mind missing from man well-read people.

  2. CommentedJohann Savalle

    The role of education in today's world is indeed crucial to social stability. It always was. It's been designed over the years to maintain the social pyramid. Now the world is turning more and more global, education system need to adapt. The more likely of all evolution is that western countries will make use of their education infrastructure to protect their identities.
    Can we really develop in the new generation the capacities of mutual understanding? Probably. But challenges are numerous: lack of skilled workforce, lack of role-models, no real national interest (a global mindset is not always compatible with national interests, even in the west).
    It seems that only independent initiatives that could scale through the internet and decentralised systems have the real potential to bring a real global mindset to our kids.

  3. CommentedIgnazio Meloni

    Not doubt Mr. Blair knows how divided are people worldwide and one ‘tool’ of division is for sure religion. To believe living together in armory especially in his ‘Multicultural’ environment is just ‘dreaming’. All people from different races, color and languages, we have the same aspiration in life yet we have different cultures and religion is the master of differences.
    To harmonize people we need eventually 1 only religion or else be limited to a personal way of worshiping

  4. CommentedZsolt Hermann

    I think the need for a completely new, comprehensive education program goes way beyond trying to tackle religious extremism.
    Education systems in "free and democratic" western nations are just as flawed, the (purely consumerism) values we imprint in our children are just as dangerous and destructive.
    The extremely high youth unemployment, the frighteningly high use of alcohol, drugs and other substances in youth all over the world, the general apathy and loss of future prospects, the breakdown of family values, domestic and other violence everywhere are just the tip of the iceberg.
    We could even say that the violence observed in many orthodox religious communities is partly an answer to the nihilist, completely empty and highly destructive education and social values young people receive in western societies, spreading to other cultures, ancient civilizations.
    "Free and liberal" western education basically destroyed each and every previously held moral codes, vaues the framework, net holding families, societies together. It is no surprise many people today don't want to bring children into the world, especially in the developed world.
    We have to become much more self-critical and honest, we cannot avoid looking into the mirror any longer.
    We have to stop pointing fingers in other directions, the correction of the world start with correcting ourselves.
    Each and every one of us need a completely new education system teaching us how to become humane on today's global, interdependent world.

  5. CommentedWayne Davidson

    Religious servitude sold as enlightenment has no place in any educational institution, the fear of the unknown is ignorance. Educated western societies have no need of meta-physical fantasies imbedded in church and state. The anarchy in the middle east will find its redemption in education not religion.

    Remnants.
    The heft of their grail transfixes them to the ferryman's promise, their sway was inherited, born of the knee, of prejudice and rote.. RW

      CommentedWayne Davidson

      Joshua
      Humanity has been forcefully integrated into a religious worldview for millennia. Governments and sovereign states may be secular in orientation but religion is a cornerstone of their functionality, institutions like Congress, Parliaments and their Courts still use the bible and God as proof of fidelity. The most appalling practice of all is that in 2014 we still teach religion in schools.
      The familial bias of hereditary religious belief is self evident and has continued unchanged for millennia, religious people of all persuasions adhere to the same refutable religious doctrines as their ancestors.
      At no time in history has any religion proven the existence of any God, yet we allow religions of all persuasions to define our very existence, to pollute our children with the dogma of religious retribution and guilt. Given the non-existence of an absolute deity, religion has always been in a state of anarchy and will continue to be so. A secular liberal worldview might be a good start.
      Regards Wayne.

      CommentedJoshua Lee

      So short of forcefully integrating religious minorities into a secular liberal worldview what are you proposing? Do we just abduct the babies as they are born or intern the whole family North Korea style?

  6. Commentedyancey simon

    Considering Blair's inhumanity and deception that lead to England's combat role that lead to millions of Iraqi murdered, orphaned, and displaced, I would surmise that Blair is the one most in need of education if not arraignment in the court of the Hague.

  7. CommentedEdward Ponderer

    I strongly applaud the wisdom of former Prime Minister Blair's article. In Western religion, and doubtless with its parallels in Hindu, Buddhist, and other great Eastern religions and philosophies, lies the striking story of Abraham test regarding the sacrifice of his son. Though the Bible and Koran differ on whether the son in question was Isaac or Ishmael, the poignant messages remain the same: (1) Unlike the lowly cults of Abraham's period, God (Allah, Vishnu, The Great Spirit, Nature, Reality, Infinity, ...) does not ask for human sacrifice--in fact finds it repugnant. (2) A true religious martyr, as opposed to an innocent kept an ignoramus by the Machiavellian religious hypocrites who manipulate him (or now-a-days, "her" too--no chivalry or true modesty in this business), will only sacrifice themselves--and themselves only--to avoid being force to betray their faith.

    As pointed out in an in-depth article on the subject by in the Wall Street Journal by a Muslim correspondent, Islam only countenances self-sacrifice when receiving a message from Allah to do so (perhaps a Fatwa could be considered such, but...), and only SELF-sacrifice for the sake of a direct threat to the individuals faith--not the killing of others, particularly including the killing of children. In fact, the present-day lie about suicide bombers and such put out as the ideal of a martyr in the Middle East, was so big that even the most ruthless leaders with any stitch of true faith still in them, refused to be a party to it until a letter was added in front of the word, not very noticeable in sermons and Fatwas, that change the word "martyr" into "like-a-martyr."

    Indeed, all religions have the problem of religious violence that dares to make the name of God synonymous with blood lust--can there be a greater desecration, can there be greater enemies of God than this? Its only that in the present period of history, it is a more prevalent problem in the Islamic world-- as Mr. Blair himself alluded to -- even to the point of being directed against different views within Islam itself.

    Certainly education is the key, and the emphasis must especially be on integral education. It is precisely in the realization that Globalization--this unification of Humanity--is something that arises naturally, and as such should be interpreted by the religious individual as a direct manifestation of the will of God. In this, no group or idea accept this unity itself, can dominate Humanity. Further, as we become entwined with each other, we must realize that our futures, our very lives are entangled. As such, we must break free from an egoist manifest destiny perception of our individual beliefs and cultures -- though certainly not from our to-thine-own-self-be-true religious or nonreligious beliefs and cultural practices. Rather we need merely purify these from any egoism regarding the suppression of those of others.

    Love your fellow as yourself means also to not impose what is hateful to you onto your fellow -- and that means suppression of his belief.

    All the worlds Machiavellian egoists -- religious or secular -- who keep their minions in the dark, purposefully misleading them to the vilest aims -- share a faith in a common god; Chaos. In a globalizing world, by the right of self preservation, Humanity is obligated to kill that god by extinguishing that faith. So we must go forth as holy soldiers of mutual responsibility to our special Jihad/Crusade with our sword, more powerful than any wielded in holy wars of the past, or terrorism of the present. It is is the sword of integral education.

      CommentedEdward Ponderer

      Just to add one more point, I understand (if one can trust a movie docudrama on such details) that during his famous hunger strike, Mahatma Gandhi was approached by one very agitated individual--a fellow Hindu who had lost all hope thinking that he was doomed to Hell. Caught up in the sectarian violence of the times, in the course of a riot riot between Hindus and Muslims, had killed a young Muslim boy.

      Gandhi gently advised, "I know a way out of Hell. Find an orphaned Muslim boy, and adopt him as your own son. Only--raise him as a Muslim."

      See how well Gandhi wielded the sword of integral education. May we soon be an army of globalization Gandhis and conquer the world!

  8. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Indeed, Mr. Tony Blair, knowledge is power and key to success. Education also helps secure social harmony. While your "Faith Foundation" aims to promote "cross-cultural dialogue" around the world and reaches "students in more than 20 countries", there is one area you might have neglected: Europe.
    As wealthy and politically stable this continent is, many Europeans in rural areas are prisoners of their bigotry and self-righteousness. They see foreigners - especially non-Europeans - in their own countries as pariahs, even though many of them are naturalised citizens.
    The second generation, born and grown up there, has to work harder to be accepted. Others often feel discriminated and socially neglected. The riots in Britain and France tell many stories. Disaffected young Muslims turn often to clerics for spiritual help, some of whom preach Islamic extremism and recruit young people to fight, where Muslims are under attack.
    Western intelligence recently reveals an increasing number of volunteers from Europe and America, who wage jihad against Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This alarms the leadership and intelligence officials are said to have been in Damascus to discuss the problem with the regime. Their fear is that those who fight in Syria, will be radicalised and might one day launch attacks after returning .
    Indeed, one should ask why these young people join the jihad in the first place. Some had been radicalised, while others see no hope and future in the countries, where they were born and grew up.

  9. CommentedPhilippe Abeille

    Exclusive: Devastating dossier on 'abuse' by UK forces in Iraq goes to International Criminal Court. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-devastating-dossier-on-abuse-by-uk-forces-in-iraq-goes-to-international-criminal-court-9053735.html
    Did Tony Blair miss something in his own education?

  10. CommentedJason Gower

    Any honest attempt to break down cultural stereotypes and educate those who would otherwise not have access, is lauded by me. As others have metioned here, however, the problem with religion as opposed to a skill/trade or something more general, is that in order to call something "extreme" you inevitably have to compare it to something that the educator considers not to be extreme. Then it becomes a question of credibilty as to why somebody in this environment will/should accept that the "western" view is the right view.

    Perhaps the better path (albeit probably even more difficult to achieve) is general development and education as a means to prosperity and an alternative for those at risk to fall under an "extremist" influence. As development proceeds these influences are more likely to fall away on their own. This, as we know, is a chicken and egg dilemma, however, as the environment required to enable this development implies a stable political and social environment which we more often than not do not find where we find extremism.

  11. CommentedKeshav Prasad Bhattarai

    Yes, education is a security issue, but before it is defined as a security issue, it is an entitlement issue. If education fails to satisfy developmental need of the respective societies, address democratic rights of the people and does not help people improve their lives, it will continue to become more serious security issue.

  12. CommentedUjjwal Acharya

    Education is indeed the basic premises to ensure people have the knowledge. But what's right and what's wrong is basically subjective. With adequate knowledge about everything, how can you educate people to term bomb planting in UK/US a terrorism and drone bombing in Pakistan/Syria a mistake. Either you tell people killing is terrorism or not and this is not seemingly the case in today's world. The west's definition to terrorism is very subjective to their perspective and many of their 'anti-terrorism' moves can never be justified.

  13. CommentedJoshua Lee

    Unfortunately Mr.Blair secular liberalism dose not have all of the answers. Many groups around the world feel assailed by globalization, technology and secular paternalism. As a politician you claimed to be a Christian. Let nature (or gods will) take its course and stop trying to deny something so central to mans existence.

      CommentedWayne Davidson

      Joshua
      Humanity has been forcefully integrated into a religious worldview for millennia. Governments and sovereign states may be secular in orientation but religion is a cornerstone of their functionality, institutions like Congress, Parliaments and their Courts still use the bible and God as proof of fidelity. The most appalling practice of all is that in 2014 we still teach religion in schools.
      The familial bias of hereditary religious belief is self evident and has continued unchanged for millennia, religious people of all persuasions adhere to the same refutable religious doctrines as their ancestors.
      At no time in history has any religion proven the existence of any God, yet we allow religions of all persuasions to define our very existence, to pollute our children with the dogma of religious retribution and guilt. Given the non-existence of an absolute deity, religion has always been in a state of anarchy and will continue to be so. A secular liberal worldview might be a good start.
      Regards Wayne.

  14. CommentedCarol Maczinsky

    "We" vs. "the extremists". Blair may be an extremist of soft power. I don't see why "we" have to fight extremism as the achievements of extremism are not all that impressive. We can't complain about evil religions effects if we taker no effort to baptize them.

      CommentedCarol Maczinsky

      I fully agree with you, I just point out the absurdity. Extremism is no grounds for fear and "we" don"t have to win because extremism leads to governance failure. It is just a scapegoat for politicians who want to extend their own powers. See the internet surveillance policies of Britain. That endangers my privacy and security far more than the bombs of few maniacs. Terrorism is psychological warfare and the best response is to ignore it.

      CommentedMia Wren

      @Carol Maczinsky
      "And this is not only about Islamic extremism. There are extremist acts perpetrated against Muslims because of their religion, and today there are fanatical Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists who disfigure the true nature of their faith."
      Clearly your definition of an "evil religion" is somewhat lacking if you think a baptism will cure religious extremism. Correct me if I'm wrong but the fanatical Christians mentioned above were baptized were they not?
      There's no such thing as "the right religion" and that's what the Faith Foundation seems to be teaching.

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