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British leader challenges world community

Most media reports of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech last week to the Labor Party focused on his ringing call to arms against terrorism. “This is a battle with only one outcome. Our victory, not theirs,’’ most press reports quoted him as saying. However, buried beneath those words were others: challenges to the international community. Grasping the larger potential of a moment in history and rallying support for the common good is what leadership is about. In this sense Blair was leading as he spoke out on:

  • Double standards: “People say we are only acting because it’s the USA that was attacked. Double standards, they say. … And I tell you if Rwanda happened again today as it did in 1993, when a million people were slaughtered in cold blood, we would have a moral duty to act there also.”
  • Africa: “A Partnership for Africa between the developed and developing world based around the New African Initiative is there to be done, if we find the will. On our side: provide more aid, untied to trade; write off debt; help with good governance and infrastructure; training the soldiers, with U.N. blessing, in conflict resolution; encouraging investment; and access to our markets. … On the African side: true democracy, no more excuses for dictatorship, abuses of human rights; no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states, to the activities of [Zimbabwe President] Mr. [Robert] Mugabe’s henchmen in Zimbabwe. Proper commercial, legal and financial systems.”
  • Environment: “Kyoto [treaty] is right. We will implement it and call upon all other nations to do so. But it’s only a start. With imagination, we could use or find the technologies that create energy without destroying our planet; we could provide work and trade without deforestation. If humankind was able, finally, to make industrial progress without the factory conditions of the 19th century; surely we have the wit and will to develop economically without despoiling the very environment we depend upon.”
  • Middle East: “We could breathe new life into the Middle East peace process and we must. The state of Israel must be given recognition by all; freed from terror; know that it is accepted as part of the future of the Middle East. … The Palestinians must have justice, the chance to prosper and in their own land, as equal partners with Israel in that future.”
  • Globalization: “I realize why people protest against globalization. We watch aspects of it with trepidation. We feel powerless, as if we were now pushed to and fro by forces far beyond our control. But there’s a risk that political leaders, faced with street demonstrations, pander to the argument rather than answer it. The demonstrators are right to say there is injustice, poverty and environmental degradation. But globalization is a fact and, by and large, it is driven by people. Not just in finance, but in communication, in technology, increasingly in culture, in recreation. In the world of the Internet, information technology and TV, there will be globalization. … The issue is not how to stop globalization. The issue is how we use the power of community to combine it with justice. If globalization works only for the benefit of the few, then it will fail and will deserve to fail.”
  • World community: “The critics will say: ‘But how can the world be a community? Nations act in their own self-interest.’ Of course they do. But what is the lesson of the financial markets, climate change, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation or world trade? It is that our self-interest and our mutual interests are today inextricably woven together.”
  • Freedom and justice: “So I believe this is a fight for freedom. And I want to make it a fight for justice, too. Justice not only to punish the guilty, but justice to bring those same values of democracy and freedom to people round the world. And I mean freedom not only in the narrow sense of personal liberty, but in the broader sense of each individual having the economic and social freedom to develop their potential to the full.”

Our hope, of course, is that these words are more than rhetoric. We hope they could encourage wider discussions aimed at looking further into the causes of anger, hatred and war.

National Catholic Reporter, October 12, 2001