Journalist and broadcaster Lauren Booth, 43 – Cherie Blair’s sister – now wears a hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque whenever she can.
I’ve known Lauren for many years – ever since I tried to get her a job on the London Evening Standard. I admired her brave stand over the Iraq War, and the fact that she wasn’t prepared to let family loyalties stand in the way of her principles. It may well have ensured that she and her family weren’t exactly welcome guests at Tony and Cherie’s’ soirees when he was Prime Minister, and had the run off the grace and favour Chequers in the Buckinghamshire countryside.
Apparently Lauren decided to become a Muslim six weeks ago after visiting the shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh in the city of Qom.
“It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy,” she said in an interview today.
When she returned to Britain, she decided to convert immediately.
Lauren works for Press TV, the English-language Iranian news channel – has stopped eating pork and reads the Qur’an every day. And while I’m not a fan of Press TV, a particularly smart exercise on behalf of the Iranian Government – and a station that was deliberately muted during the recent unsuccessful street risings against the Iranian Government, I would never question Lauren’s professionalism
She has stopped drinking alcohol and says she has not wanted to drink since converting.
Before her spiritual awakening in Iran, she had been “sympathetic” to Islam and has spent considerable time working in Palestine, she said, adding that she hoped her conversion would help Blair change his presumptions about Islam.
In this I am not altogether sure what presumptions Tony Blair does hold about Islam. I remember hearing that he had decided to study the Qu’ran, but that was after he had decided to launch an attack on Iraq. I notice that he is one of the few remaining defenders of the ‘War against Terrorism’, and seems to believe that radical Islamic fundamentalists still pose the biggest threat to countries such as the United States and Britain.
But it is difficult to see that Blair is actually hostile to Islam per see. After all Lauren Booth is not the only member of the Blair family to ‘convert’. Tony Blair famously became a Catholic, abandoning the Protestant church in the process, and of course sets some account by his ‘Faith Foundation’.
I would argue that both Tony and Lauren have found their natural homes, both driven by their completely opposite positions on the Iraq War. I would also argue that for Lauren this has been a real journey of discovery, having witnessed at first hand the suffering of many Muslims, especially in the Israeli occupied territories, while for Tony ‘guilt’ may be a major factor.
Tony Blair is of course still in denial over Iraq. The more threadbare and unsustainable the arguments became, the more defensive the position he took.
I was – and am – on Lauren’s side. Indeed I took the political fight to Blair over Iraq in the Labour Party. But I remain deeply sceptical about religion, and the role it has and continues to play in conflict, so while I wish Lauren well, and radiate in the embarrassment this will all cause Tony Blair, this wouldn’t be my chosen route.
But maybe I am missing something?