• Switzerland's news in English
World Economic Forum: Davos
Blair joins religion and Charlie Hebdo panel
Rosen and Blair at panel discussion. Photo: World Economic Forum

Blair joins religion and Charlie Hebdo panel

Richard Carter/AFP · 21 Jan 2015, 21:14

Published: 21 Jan 2015 21:14 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

In a wide-ranging debate that took in conflicts in the Middle East, Nigeria, Central African Republic as well as the recent Paris attacks, the panel all agreed on one unfortunate fact: there's nothing new under the sun.
"Extremism is nothing new. We had extremism in the 20th century through Communism, through Fascism, both of which were ideologies that were profoundly anti-religion," said Blair, a committed Christian, who is now a Middle East peace envoy.
"It's not religion per se that were causes of conflict," the former Labour politician said.

However, today, the ideology that is most threatening our security is an ideology based on a perversion of religion," added Blair, referring to radical Islam.
Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a top Islamic scholar, agreed that radical Islam was what he called a "perversion", arguing that traditional Islam was "one of the exceptional religious movements that allowed other religions to live peacefully among them."
And Rabbi David Rosen, from the American Jewish Committee, said religion was being skewed to manipulate people, in a downward spiral that leads inevitably to violence.
"When we feel threatened, it's natural and desirable to turn to religion," he said.
Religion then morphs into a siege mentality as people define themselves not just as belonging to the same religion but also against all others, Rosen explained.
This then leads to a them-against-us mentality as "people actually believe that they are doing what God wants," he said.

What does 'I am Charlie' mean? 

The religious leaders also found common ground when discussing the limits of freedom of expression in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris earlier this month.
Two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in and around the offices of the French satirical magazine, claiming "revenge" for the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed, which most Muslims find blasphemous.
After the shooting, Charlie Hebdo again published a cartoon featuring Mohammed, which sparked anger and riots in many Muslim countries, some turning deadly.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Muslim representative Hamza Yusuf Hanson voiced the strongest objections to the prophet's depiction.
The publication of the cartoons was an "absolute lack of civility and common decency," he said.
Noting that the three gunmen that eventually killed 17 people over three days in France were radicalized there, he said: "You can condemn and criticize religion . . . all those things are fine but you can't mock and disrespect people."
"Radicalization is very easy when you mock what people hold dear."
Archbishop Thabo Cecil Makgoba, from South Africa, asked: "What does it mean 'I am Charlie'. What does it mean 'I am not Charlie'?"
He urged politicians to go beyond "buzzwords" and stop "throwing sentences together" and deal with the root causes of radicalization, especially in France.
Meanwhile, Rosen told AFP that insulting people's religion was in many ways worse than insulting them racially.
"I think it's very interesting that President Francois Hollande said that those burning the French flag (in recent anti-Charlie Hebdo protests) should be punished, so he does acknowledge there are limits to freedom of expression," he said in an interview.
"I think people need to be more responsible."

 Education . . .  and love 

Story continues below…

 How then to resolve the problem of religion being perverted into violence?
Blair argued that the only long-term solution was education.
"This extremism is not natural, it's taught and its learned and you have to un-teach it in the school systems," he said.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Makgoba said that "as a man of faith, I cannot give up hope" and urged the assembled elites to keep the problem of violence and religion in perspective.
"Of the six billion people in the world, only a handful are terrorists, so let us not be terrified by this tiny minority," he said.
"Freedom and love are key values and if we stick to that, we can transcend violence."
The World Economic Forum runs until Saturday.

For more news from Switzerland, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Richard Carter/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Illegal immigrant dies after setting himself on fire
The victim was treated at University Hospital Zurich. Photo: University Hospital Zurich

The 45-year-old Tunisian was threatened with deportation.

Swiss government rejects call for second immigration vote
Photo: Justus Blumer/Christophe G

The Swiss government has rejected a popular initiative calling for a revote on plans to limit immigration.

Bern: companies should report salary inequality by law
File photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

The Swiss government wants to force small companies to examine their rates of pay every four years.

Husband in custody after Orbe body identified
File photo: Bas Leenders

The deceased is a 55-year-old woman who lived in the house with her husband.

Presented by MoneyPark
How to get a mortgage in Switzerland
Houses in Zürich. Photo: Pixabay.

Ready to buy? Here’s what you need to know as an expat about Swiss regulations, how to finance your purchase, and why you should use a broker.

Autumn in Switzerland: ten stunning Instagram photos
Photo: Swiss Tourism/Jan Geerk

Switzerland is beautiful in all seasons, but as these photos show, autumn is a special time in the alpine country.

Report: Swiss progress slows on gender equality
File photo: David Soulivet

Globally, it will take 170 years to achieve gender equality, according to the World Economic Forum.

Brothers go to court to stop suicide of sibling
File photo: Lisa Edmonds

Two men have filed a legal bid to prevent the Swiss assisted suicide association Exit from helping their older brother to kill himself.

Wawrinka snubs past form to reach Basel second round
Wawrinka beat local wildcard Marco Chiudinelli. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

US Open champion Stan Wawrinka has reached the second round in Basel after going out in the first round for the past four years.

Villagers asked to help fund bridge renovations
The bridge links the two villages of Veltheim (pictured) and Holderbank. Photo: Lutz Fischer-Lamprecht

The crowdfunding campaign by the two communes is the first of its kind in Switzerland.

Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben
Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: The Local
Ticino firefighters rescue cow from swimming pool
Photo: Antoni Da Campo
Vegan wins battle to be accepted by Swiss army
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
Photo: Randy Kashka
Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Seven things you’ll miss about Switzerland if you leave
Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
jobs available