The Struggle for Peace
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The topic of religious division is of great interest to Blair, who last May founded the Tony Blair Faith Foundation to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding.
"The days of Western supremacy are over," said Blair. "We cannot superimpose our view of the world on other people."
In keeping with his theme of global interdependence, Blair also touched on other areas of the world. "The role of China is not incidental; it's fundamental," Blair said, recalling a meeting the previous day with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Blair said it was at that meeting that he was struck by how China's place on the international stage had evolved since the early days of his term as prime minister.
Of the problems facing developing nations in Africa, an area where he devoted a significant amount of time and energy as prime minister, Blair said it is a "moral obscenity that so many people die needlessly from famine, conflict and disease."
He also said that the international community would be wise to address conflicts brewing in nations like Sudan and Somalia, not only for humanitarian reasons but in order to prevent the exportation of violence. Responding to such conflicts, said Blair, is "an act of enlightened self-interest."
Reflection and Reaction
In his introduction, President Lawrence S. Bacow described the Fares Lecture as "an important reflection of this university's global commitment," and called Blair's presence a unique opportunity to gain a "participant's perspective on the past, present and we hope the future of diplomacy in the Middle East."
Bacow and Blair were joined on the platform by Nijad Fares, representing the Fares family, and Leila Fawaz, Issam M. Fares Professor of Lebanese and Eastern Mediterranean Studies and founding director of the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies.
Also in attendance at the lecture were Antoine Chedid, the ambassador of Lebanon to the United States, Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone and the consuls-general from more than a dozen countries including Great Britain, Canada, Colombia, Japan and Switzerland.
The lecture started nearly an hour and a half late due to a rare snowstorm in London that delayed Blair's flight.
"After the day I've had, it's wonderful to be anywhere," he joked after thanking the audience for their patience.
Freshman Gabrielle Horton said that Blair made the complex issue of the Middle East peace process "understandable and relatable to everyone." She also appreciated "the whole theme of coexistence and working together rather than tearing apart."
Nedghie Adrien, a pre-med sophomore majoring in clinical psychology, noted that Blair did not stake a position on one side of the conflict or another.
"That was a great way of approaching the situation, because you have a room full of people with divided opinions," she explained.
"His framework of approaching this as a moral issue was an important way to address it," added Briane Knight, a senior majoring in English.
Chris Strauber, a humanities reference librarian at Tisch Library, commended Blair's humorous touch, as well as his interest in aiding development efforts in Africa.
"He made a point of bringing it into the conversation," he explained.
Blair also fielded audience queries on economic development in the Gaza strip, the difficulty of pursuing a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the relationship between Great Britain and the European Union. When asked whether he had any regrets from his time as prime minister -- a question asked of President George W. Bush in the last days of his presidency -- he responded with typical humor and aplomb.
"Yeah, plenty," he quipped. "That's for me to know and you guys to try to find out."
While Blair peppered his speech with several humorous asides and anecdotes, at the heart of his talk was an urgent desire to achieve peace in a region long beset by violence and conflict.
"We can't afford to let another year pass without substantial progress on this issue," he said. "Let us start to make 2009 the year we bring peace to the Middle East."
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Profile written by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications
Photos by Tia Chapman for University Photography
This story originally ran on Feb. 3, 2009.