Sir John Major pays tribute to Japan as he receives award
By Julian Ryall in Tokyo
9:11AM BST 08 May 2012
Sir John is in the Japanese capital to receive the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, which was bestowed on him by the Emperor at the Imperial Palace earlier in the day.
The Tony Blair Faith Foundation is an interfaith charitable foundation established in May 2008 by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
LaunchThe Foundation was launched in May 2008 in New York at the headquarters of the media group Time Warner. In his speech, Blair outlined the Foundation's aim that "idealism becomes the new realism", and that one of its goals was to "counter extremism in all six leading religions" (i.e., according to the Foundation, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, and Sikhism). Blair said that, while in office, he feared being exposed as a "nutter" if he had talked about his religious views. Former US president Bill Clinton attended the launch, describing Blair as "a good man as well as a great leader". In an interview with Time magazine, Blair said the Foundation was "how I want to spend the rest of my life".
The foundation lists several goals: "The foundation provides the practical support required to help prevent religious prejudice, conflict and extremism. At school, university and professional level the foundation provides various education programmes. The foundation encourages interfaith initiatives to tackle global poverty and conflict."
The Foundation's basic premises, as listed in their initial mission statement, are that 1) faith is important to many, underpinning their systems of thought, their behaviour and the behaviour of many of the world's progressive movements, and that 2) the great religions share values of respect, justice and compassion. But the statement also recognises that faith can be divisive, too; this is viewed by the Foundation as being based on distortions of faith rather than being intrinsic to it.
The aim of the Foundation is to use the tools of modern communication to "educate, inform and develop understanding" about various faiths, and the relationships between them. It aims to do this in such a way as to address global poverty and conflict.
The Foundation has several projects: Faith and Globalisation Initiative, Face to Faith, Faiths Act (an activist group), and Faith Shorts (for short religious films).
Faith and Globalisation Initiative
Main article: Faith and Globalisation InitiativeFaith and Globalisation Initiative launched in Yale University in September 2008 is an attempt to build a "global conversation" between an "elite group" of universities. As part of this attempt, Blair is to be the Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale and is one of the professors for the course.
Face to FaithThe Face to Faith project is a programme for school children (12–17 years) which allows via video conferencing international interaction where cross faith discussions may take place. The proclaimed aim is to break down religious and cultural differences and thereby reduce conflict.
Faiths Act initiativeFaiths Act is a project of the Foundation described as an attempt to build a global movement to both "inspire and mobilise" those who believe, in a faith, to address the Millennium Development Goals. The project has focused on deaths from malaria.
Faith Shorts film projectThe project known as Faith Shorts was announced in March 2010 for short-length movies which increase "understanding between religions". Awards are presented for the films rated highest.
Directors, executives and advisorsAngela Salt is the Executive Director of the Foundation, which is registered as charity in the UK with Tony Blair as its Patron and the following trustees are: Robert Clinton, Robert Coke, Jeremy Sinclair. The Foundation is also registered as a charity in the US with the following directors: Alfred E. Smith IV, Linda LeSourd Lader, Ruth Turner, Timothy C. Collins and Tony Blair. Ruth Turner, formerly Director of Government Relations within Tony Blair's Prime Ministerial office, was the first Chief Executive.
International Religious Advisory CouncilThe Foundation has an International Religious Advisory Council made up of members of what the Foundation considers to be the six major religions. Its role is to advise Tony Blair on the work of the Foundation. Its members are:
- The Reverend Dr Rick Warren, Founding and Senior Pastor of Saddleback Church and Founder of the P.E.A.C.E Coalition.
- Right Reverend Josiah Idowu-Fearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion
- The Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard Chartres, Lord Bishop of London
- The Reverend David Coffey, President of the Baptist World Alliance
- The Reverend Joel Edwards, Director of Micah Challenge International and former General Director of the Evangelical Alliance.
- Anantanand Rambachan, Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at St. Olaf College, Minnesota
- Rabbi David Rosen, Chairman of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations
- Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
- HE Dr Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina
- Dr Ismail Khudr Al-Shatti, Advisor in Diwan of HH the Prime Minister of Kuwait and former President of the Gulf Institute for Futures and Strategic Studies
- Professor Jagtar Singh Grewal, former Chairman of the India Institute of Advanced Study and former Vice-Chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University
FundingA major contributor is Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk through his Victor Pinchuk Foundation.
CriticismHugh O'Shaughnessy in The Guardian stated that the Foundation "inspires ridicule". He noted that Professor Michel Schooyans of the Catholic University of Leuven and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences has "accused Blair and his wife of supporting a messianic US plan for world domination." The criticism's focus is that the Foundation's approach amounts to reducing the religions to the same, predetermined common denominator. This means "stripping them of their identity". Schooyans arguing that "(t)his project threatens to set us back to an age in which political power was ascribed the mission of promoting a religious confession, or of changing it. In the case of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, this is also a matter of promoting one and only one religious confession, which a universal, global political power would impose on the entire world."
The director of the Muslim charity Forward Thinking, Huda Jawad has been reported by the BBC as raising doubts about levels of support from many Muslims for the Foundation, given Blair's foreign-policy record.
On 2 April 2009, sceptic and secularist Richard Dawkins mocked the Foundation in a spoof letter, published in the New Statesman. In it, Dawkins ridiculed the idea that faith is not a divisive force, and attacked religion's record on promoting dialogue and equality.
Between April 2008 and April 2009, the foundation raised more than 3.5 million pounds, and paid, according to the Daily Telegraph, six-figure salaries to its top officials. An implied criticism was that these pay scales were in line with much larger charitable organisations. However, the wages were also reported to be the result of external recommendations and a strategy of hiring a small number of capable senior staff to co-ordinate a variety of efforts.
A former editor of a Foundation website, Martin Bright, has been critical of the organisation and its style. He mentioned the problems associated with the need to tiptoe around some of Tony Blair's business interests in Kazakhstan, Romania and the Gulf, his advising of the new government of Egypt being "a nightmare", the organisation's use of "ritzy offices in a West End tower block", the employment of a five-people in a communications department "whose sole aim seemed to be to say as little as possible" and the use of unpaid interns.