Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who is teaching a course at Yale on “Faith and Globalization” again this semester, said in an interview yesterday that he agrees with Yale’s decision to publish a book about the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy without including the cartoons.
Speaking to reporters for about a half hour in the President’s House on Hillhouse Avenue before he headed to his “Faith and Globalization” seminar, Blair also spoke about his views on everything from terrorism to American football, which he said he does not understand.
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Still, most of the discussion focused on more worldly matters, such as terrorism, religion and disease. Blair said he will participate in another public event at Yale sometime this fall, though he and University President Richard Levin are still working out the details and topic for that discussion. What follows is an edited transcript of the News’ discussion with Blair.
Q: It sounds a bit parochial, but how did the course at Yale go last year? Will anything be different this year?
A: We sort of sharpened various things since last year because obviously the first time it starts you’re learning, but it went extremely well last year. We had a great time with the students. Again we’ve had a lot of people apply to go on it this year. It’s probably getting more and more practical in its outlook, so we’ll deal more specifically with things like religion and violence, religion and conflict resolution, religion and gender, issues like that which I think are right at the forefront of people’s concerns. The interesting thing is, which is why we’ve had such a great response to taking it from different universities in different parts of the world, is that for a lot of students these issues are absolutely where their concerns are and where there interests are.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the cartoon controversy at Yale. How would you have approached that matter and is that an example of the sort of ails of globalization?
A: It’s certainly an example — I mean, the whole fury is an example of how it’s important to get a better and easier way of having a dialogue about things of religious sensitivity for sure. But I mean, I was heavily involved at this, I was Prime Minister at the time all this broke, and obviously it was condemned very strongly, the violence that surrounded it, but I really think from Yale’s perspective it made the right decision. Because this is not a piece of original research that Yale has suppressed. That would obviously be a completely different issue. The question is, does it reignite a controversy that has already been there or not. I think it was an entirely responsible and sensible thing that they did.
Q: Does it surprise you that you’re such a draw, almost a celebrity, in America, whether on David Letterman’s show or Comedy Central or in the classroom?
A: When you’ve been British prime minister for 10 years and after a fashion I speak your language, and also when you’ve been through all the difficult things we’ve been through with America, I suppose it’s not surprising that people kind of know who you are.
Q: On the subject of difficult things, do you tire of being asked about Iraq?
A: No, I think it’s totally natural when people do. But as you could see from the program, I’ve got a very strong view myself about it. These are hugely difficult questions. How you deal with this virus, which is what [terrorism] is in the world today, because you can see it in Afghanistan, it’s no different, is a really difficult question. I was talking about it with some of the people from Yale the other night. There are two choices: do you try and manage and contain it, which is one question or solution, or do you say no, you’ve actually got to surgically remove it. You’ve got to eradicate it. And obviously I took the second view, but I’m not disrespectful of the first view at all. It’s just when I look at the way this terrorism operates, I don’t think it’s possible really to compromise with it.
Q: Do you think former leaders, whether it’s you or Bill Clinton LAW ’73 or now George W. Bush ’68, can actually have a bigger impact once out of office than you did while in office?
A: Well, the ideal thing is to have less power and more influence. But whether that’s attainable or not I’ll tell you in a few years’ time.