Former British PM says faith is vital to understand Middle East
Religious faith - any faith - is needed in order fully to grasp the Middle East conflict, former British prime minister Tony Blair said Tuesday in an interview with a German weekly, Die Zeit.
"If religious faith were not to play any role in the 21st century, which I cannot imagine, something decisive would be missing," he said, according to the German version of the interview.
Blair, 55, said his own Catholic beliefs helped him in his current role as envoy for Mideast peace, reported dpa.
"In the first place, you understand what it means to believe. What you often find is that you immediately have something in common with another person of faith, even if he belongs to a different religion.
"As well as that, one is interested in other religions. One's motivation is greater. I regularly read the Koran, practically every day," Blair told the interviewer. He said the Prophet Mohammed had been "an enormously civilizing force."
But when asked if he planned to convert to Islam, he smiled and said, "No, let's not start on that," Die Zeit reported.
Asked about a perception among Muslims that they are oppressed, he said, "You tell me who oppresses the Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We have overthrown two brutal dictatorships. Then we let the people decide for themselves who to have as a government. The people went to the polls and voted. Then we provided 20 billion dollars in aid.
"Then Muslims incite other Muslims to kill their fellow Muslims. Now tell me, who is oppressing Muslims? Them or me?"
Blair's remarks were translated from German back to English by Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Blair is mediating between Israel and the Palestinians as envoy for the Middle East Quartet, a consortium of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.