Former UK leader Tony Blair speaks in Sarasota

SARASOTA — While visiting Sarasota with his family and doing what most British tourists do ­— “got sunburnt the first day” — former British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday told a packed house at the Van Wezel that he has also been “in touch with the extraordinary and world-changing events playing out across the globe.”

“Our way of life is the way of the future. People in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen want the same freedoms we have,” Blair offered in a speech for the Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall lecture series. “There are modern democratic forces there, but they aren’t very well organized.”

Blair said Islamic extremism has been allowed to take hold in the Middle East and in North Africa because the citizens of those countries have been living under dictatorships for so long that “the political energy of the people was siphoned off into deep Islamic beliefs.” Those forces use terrorism to get their way, Blair said.

But with access to technology allowing a view of democracy and uprisings in surrounding countries, those populations are now fighting for freedom and creating unorganized democracies that are yet to be tested.

“It needs to be the norm for people of different cultures, different faiths, to live together, to create security and diplomacy,” Blair said.

In a world going through enormous change so quickly, he said, the United States and the United Kingdom need to stand together as examples of thriving, strong and secure democracies.

The simple test of a country and its way of life. said Blair, is: “Are people trying to get out of it or into it?”

For more about Blair's speech, pick up a copy of Thursday's Bradenton Herald.