Blair: Western values must triumph over radical Islam
Global battle is for hearts and minds, prime minister says
British Prime Minister Tony Blair: "This is a global fight about global values."
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LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The conflict in the Middle East, as well as others involving Muslim extremists, revolve around "modernization within Islam" and whether the Western system of values can "beat theirs," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in a speech Tuesday.
Speaking to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Blair went on to say that the struggle was between moderate, benign values versus the hatred and intolerance of fundamentalism.
"Even the issue of Israel is just part of the same wider struggle for the soul of the region," Blair said. "If we recognize this struggle for what it truly is, we would be at least along the first steps of the path to winning it. But I fear a vast part of Western opinion is not remotely near this yet."
He added, "Whatever the outward manifestation at any one time -- in Lebanon, in Gaza, in Iraq, and add to that in Afghanistan, in Kashmir, in a host of other nations, including now some in Africa -- this everywhere is a global fight about global values.
"It's about modernization within Islam and out of it. It's about whether our value system can be shown to be sufficiently robust, true, principled and appealing that it beats theirs."
The strategy behind Islamist extremism, Blair said, is based "on a presumed sense of grievance that can motivate people to divide against each other. Our answer has to be a set of values strong enough to unite people with each other.
"And this is not just about security or military tactics -- it is about hearts and minds. It's about inspiring people, persuading them, showing them what our values at their best stand for. And just to state it in these terms underlines how much we have to do."
Many Westerners wonder if the United States and Europe pay too high a price for supporting Israel, and Blair said he can understand why many Muslims condemn that alliance. But "absent from so much of the coverage is any understanding of the Israeli predicament."
The prime minister said he "wants the war (between Israel and Hezbollah) to stop now" and that the loss of civilian life in Lebanon is "unacceptable." But he did not back down from his support for Israel.
The Jewish state, he said, has been targeted by Hamas and Hezbollah, which have captured Israeli soldiers, provoking Israel's response. Re-energizing the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be "fundamental" to defusing the conflict.
Blair also took aim at Iran and Syria, which back Hezbollah financially.
"We need to make it clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: Come into the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us, or be confronted.
"Their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability, their desire to see wrecked the democratic prospects in Iraq is utterly unjustifiable, dangerous and wrong. If they keep raising the stakes, they will find that they have miscalculated."
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