Tony Blair is at Yale today, beginning his "faith and globalisation" course, the latest part of his campaign to (as Private Eye has it) Draw All Faiths Together (DAFT). He seems, if nothing else, to have caught the zeitgeist. Even in secular Britain, the profile of religion is higher than it has been for decades. Who'd have thought that the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origin of Species would see a row about creationism?
In preparation for the advent of the Great Tony, Yale students were treated last week to a talk by Walter Russell Mead, who hold the exalted position of Henry Kissinger fellow in US foreign policy and international studies. Mead spoke of the current global situation as embodying the "triumph of Abraham". He argued,
The Abrahamic world is more ideological, universal, and has given rise to more quarrels over religion than any other faith. And as ideas about ideology become more influential, we see an increase in ideological and religious conflicts.
Mead also predicts that US-style religous entrepreneurialism will spread and that the "world will soon be soon be filled with television preachers". Yikes.
Among Mead's explanations for the modern resurgence in "faith" is the increase in literacy in the third world. In countries emerging from poverty and ignorance, he said, the Koran or the Bible was the first, and sometimes only, text taught. I find that quite convincing: after all, it was the invention of printing that made possible the Reformation in Europe, and the Reformation, in turn, led to almost two centuries of brutal religious wars. It's not a happy thought. Blair, however, still seems convinced that religion is uniquely capable of overcoming ancient hatreds and getting everyone to sit around together singing Kum Bah Yah.
Tony's Yale gig comes at the same time as a fascinating report on global religious attitudes is published by the fortuitously-named Pew Research Foundation, an American body specialising in wide-ranging cross-cultural surveys. Among its findings was confirmation of the widely-held ideas that women are more religious than men, older people more religious than younger, and people in poorer countries much more religious than those in richer, more developed ones. With one predictable exception, the USA.
In terms of religiosity, indeed, the US was closest to its Latin American neighbours and to India, with over 80% declaring themselves religious. But even American godfearing paled by comparison with the almost universal observance reported in Muslim countries. In Indonesia and Pakistan, 95% of those questioned said that they were "very religious". Only 55% of Americans were equally devout.
At the other end of the scale came Western Europe (especially France and Britain), Australia, and East Asia. The Japanese, indeed, are almost as irreligious as the French. They are also, it occurs to me, the two countries in the survey with the fastest and best-developed train and broadband networks. Coincidence?
The report also covered - and foregrounded - the prevalence of religiously-based hatred. With typically parochial self-laceration, the Guardian chose to lead its coverage - indeed, virtually confine its coverage - to the news that prejudice against both Muslims and Jews (but especially against Jews) was growing in continental Europe. That was not, in fact, the case in either Britain or the US (something the commentary seemed oddly unwilling to celebrate). To be fair, the same findings were stressed in the preamble to the report itself. The discovery also gave an opening for a typical piece of special pleading by Inayat Bunglawala, who chose to blame "regular and quite deliberate attempts on the part of some of our national newspapers to incite anti-Muslim prejudice." The hand-wringing Rabbi Jonathan Romain, meanwhile, took the opportunity to demand "zero tolerance and cracking down on even mild prejudice, be it in the classroom, office or on the street."
Reading through the report, however, what I found most striking had little to do with Islamophobia in continental Europe. What it actually laid bare was an extraordinary, worldwide, and apparently growing hostility towards the Jews.
In Turkey, for example, 76% of those questioned were willing to admit anti-Jewish sentiment: up more than 50% since the last time. In other Muslim countries, already strong antisemitism persisted. It was 95% in Egypt, 96% in Jordan, 76% in Pakistan, 66% in Indonesia. In Lebanon, which is religiously mixed, Jew-hatred reached 97%: presumably that means that Christian and Muslim Lebanese are equally bigoted. In general, levels of anti-Jewish sentiment were lowest in the English-speaking countries and, after that, in Western Europe (except, for some reason, Spain, where anti-Jewish sentiment has rocketed in the past year to an extraordinary 46%).
Interestingly, in Muslim countries the level of hostility towards Jews was strongly correlated with two other factors: religiosity, and enthusiasm for Saudi Arabia. Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan all scored unusually highly for all three.
Negative feelings about Jews also existed at a fairly high level in non-Islamic countries in Asia, South America and Africa, averaging around 40%. It was particularly marked in China, with about 55% anti-Jewish (though, to be fair, the Chinese were equally unimpressed with Muslims and Christians). In China, Japan and Korea, a few expatriate bankers aside, there are no Jews, so it's unclear why they should inspire such hostility. Poland and Russia were next: around a third expressing such sentiments. In France, a figure of 20% hostile to Jews might seem alarming; yet almost 80% of French expressed the opposite feeling, the highest level of philo-semitism in the world. Only in the three English-speaking countries of the USA, Britain and Australia were anti-Jewish sentiments below 10%; in all three countries, pro-Jewish feelings were above 70%.
The report claims that there is a strong correlation, in continental Europe, between anti-semitism and hostility towards Muslims, which tends to be even higher but is exhibited by similar sorts of people (the old, the ill-educated). Yet there were other correlations, too. In secular Asian countries (China, Japan and Korea) negative feelings about Jews existed alongside similar feelings about both Christians and Muslims. The latter reached 61% in Japan. Perhaps the Japanese just despise foreigners. In Pakistan and Turkey, anti-Jewish sentiment went together with anti-Christian sentiment. In other parts of the Muslim world, however, there was much less hostility towards Christians. In Egypt 46% were anti-Christian, but 52% were positive. In Jordan the anti-Christian figure was just 23%.
The following, then, might be taken as approximately (very approximately) the current state of inter-religious loathing:
Americans, Australians, British and French: like Christians and Jews, don't have much problem with Muslims.
Germans, Russians and Poles: Not so keen on Jews and Muslims; quite like Christians.
Spanish and Mexicans: Don't like Muslims or Jews; growing numbers also dislike Christians
South Americans: don't like Muslims or Jews
Africans: love Christians and Muslims; don't like Jews
Muslims: hate or don't mind Christians; really hate Jews.
Indians and Pakistanis: dislike Christians and Jews. Many Indians don't like Muslims much, either; Pakistani views of Hindus not canvassed, but unlikely to be positive.
East Asians: don't like Christians; hate Muslims; also hate Jews.
Or, as Tom Lehrer put it more than 40 years ago:
Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
And everybody hates the Jews.
The Protestant/Catholic enmity seems a bit old-fashioned nowadays, but otherwise little has changed.
Something for Tony Blair to consider as he embarks on the next stage in his attempt to persuade the world that faith is a force for tolerance and harmony in the world.