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(photo credit: AP)
The war against terrorism can be won only by a culturally confident West willing to engage in a "battle of hearts and minds" with militant Islam, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown said.
In a major foreign policy address introducing new financial controls designed to cut off the flow of funds to terrorists from Western sympathizers, he spoke on Tuesday about the ideological conflict between the West and militant Islam.
Political pundits in the UK saw Brown's speech as a bid to strengthen his leadership credentials within the Labor party in the fight to succeed Tony Blair, and as an appeal outside the party to conservative-minded swing voters.
Brown's speech places the socialist politician to the right of Conservative opposition leader David Cameron on foreign policy issues, and suggests continued support by a potential Brown government of Blair's pro-Israel, pro-US policies.
We are "not just dealing with criminality. We are dealing with a terrorist ideology that supports the abolition of Israel, the creation of a caliphate," and "supports death" to those who "oppose the ideology of al-Qaida," he said.
"This is a long-term issue of hearts and minds" that cannot be won by force of arms alone, but through a "cultural campaign to isolate and expose the propaganda that comes from these terrorist groups," Brown told the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) Tuesday.
"We must expose the barrenness, sterility and violence in dogma of that extreme ideology" he said, and pursue a "cultural campaign as well as a military security campaign" against al-Qaida and its supporters.
Brown affirmed the government's Middle East policies and rejected calls for Britain to pull back from its close alliance with the US. He also endorsed former foreign secretary Jack Straw's call for Muslim women to forgo the veil in Britain.
Brown also repudiated suggestions that he had been an "11th-hour" supporter of the war to topple Saddam Hussein, saying he had worked "with Tony Blair in unison and harmony for the same result."
The Treasury "will take the lead in targeting terrorist finance and abuse of the global capital system," Brown said. The use of sophisticated forensic accounting techniques coupled with advances in information technology and improved international cooperation would interdict the flow of funds to terrorists, he said.
"Our aim is simple: Just as there be no safe haven for terrorists, so there be no hiding place for those who finance terrorism," he added.
Brown promised tougher financial scrutiny within Britain, and backed plans for electronic border controls, national ID cards and for granting police the power to hold suspects longer than 28 days without charges in terrorism investigations. He said the new security initiatives would be coupled with civil rights safeguards from an independent judiciary and through Parliamentary review.
However, "the isolation of extremists and ultimately an end to terror depends not just upon armies and treaties alone," Brown said. Success "depends upon winning hearts and minds."
"Today we have to argue not just against terrorism and terrorists, but also against the violent perversion of a peaceful religious faith," he said. "We are not engaged in a war against Islam," but seek instead to build a "common humanity amongst moderates of all faiths in all parts of the world."
The path to extremism in Britain and across the wider Muslim world is through disaffected youths holding a personal grievance, "or a grievance they see on the part of the community," Brown said.
Brown said a response that addresses both the "root causes" of these grievances and also breaks the ideological hold over militant Islam was essential.
"If we wait much longer in attempting through culture and through our battle of ideas to isolate extremist ideology, then we will allow another generation of al-Qaida supporters to develop," he warned.
In an interview broadcast Tuesday, BBC political editor Nick Robinson asked Brown if he thought it would be better for Britain if fewer Muslim women wore veils.
"That's what Jack Straw has said and I support," Brown said, repeating comments made in his Chatham House speech. "But I think the important thing is we have a proper debate on this, and in that debate look at all aspects of British citizenship that we think important."
He said this was a "sensible debate because anything that can break down barriers between communities should be debated," adding: "Anybody who is in this country should learn English, should be able to understand our history, our culture."
Brown's comments were the latest in a series of high-profile statements by politicians and community leaders reflecting a shift in British sentiment. The Sunday Telegraph reported this week that the traditionally quiescent Church of England had turned against governmental pro-Muslim multicultural policies.
In a report prepared for the Church of England's bishops, the Archbishop of Canterbury's interfaith advisor, Guy Wilkinson, said
"preferential" treatment given to Muslims, despite their comprising less than three percent of the population, had been harmful to the common good.