The unbearable heaviness of being Mr Blair
It must be hard to be Tony Blair: to live with the knowledge that you took your country into a wholly unnecessary, ill-thought-out, unjustified and probably illegal war in Iraq, an action that has led directly to the deaths of tens of thousands of people over there.
I don’t want to go into whether Saddam was bad. We know he was. The fact that other tame despots around the world are equally bad (Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, best buddy of the West until very recently, springs to mind) does not lessen his crimes one iota. But it does indicate that the justification for invading Iraq was not humanitarian. To think that the invasion of Iraq was in any way prompted by concern for the rights of Iraqi citizens is, frankly, naïve. Among other things, were it otherwise, wouldn’t they at least have paid some attention to the human toll, instead of dismissing those concerns with such blithe remarks as Gen. Tommy Franks’ infamous “we don’t do bodycounts” statement?
But I’ve got news for you. They might not be doing bodycounts, but plenty of people are: people who are prepared to do something about it.
Now that the war has been brought home to London, is Mr Blair thinking to himself, “what have I done?” We can only hope so. His apparent rage at any suggestion that there is a link between invading Iraq and terrorism in the UK doesn’t ring true. For a start, the perpetrators themselves have given the War in Iraq as their prime motivation. Moreover, it doesn’t seem right psychologically. He may be a dissembling, chameleonic politician with no consistent political philosophy beyond that which is currently expedient, but I don’t think he’s stupid, and I don’t think he can fool himself. To me, Blair seems to know that he is “the man who fucked up the UK”.
Ouch. That must hurt.
Why did he do it? In return for a share of scarce post-peak oil sometime in the future? (Possible.) Because he really believed Saddam to be a threat? (Don’t make me laugh.) Because Saddam was bad? (What kind of selective blindness must afflict him!)
Sadly, though, the British people bear the brunt. They voted Blair and co. back in; does that make them responsible? Not when you consider that there was no effective opposition, that the first-past-the-post system prevents minor parties from ever growing (if this is strong government, give me factional infighting and weakness every time!), and that Labour won the election with 35.3% of a 61% turnout, a whopping 21.5% of eligible voters—hardly a mandate. Blair et al do not speak for the British people in any significant sense, and yet those same people are, apparently, held responsible for his actions.
What can the British do? Stage a revolution? Depose Blair? It would take a lot more than a few hundred people getting blown up in London to pull that self-satisfied, conspicuously-consuming beast away from Ikea on a Sunday, let alone to rouse it into action, and the terrorists know this. To them, this degenerate passivity is yet another reason that the general public is a legitimate target. Importantly, though, before the invasion of Iraq, it wasn’t.
In attacking Iraq, Blair has prodded a sleeping dragon: one who knows that our lion is more interested in its own comfort than in fighting back.
Although to say that terrorists attack “because they hate our freedom” may make for a snappy soundbite, it’s intellectually without rigour. Terrorists are not stupid. They are misguided, frequently manipulated, and working to a moral code desperately in need of recalibration, but just deriding them as stupid freedom haters will not get to the root of the problem.
In spite of that, it’s impossible, unfortunately, to give them what they want at this point. Destroying civil society in Iraq has made it dependent on the rule of might represented by the coalition forces: pulling all the troops out now would hardly help matters. Well, they might stop bombing Londoners, but Iraqis might be even worse off.
So what do we do?
Apparently, we start shooting people in the head.
As an aside, did you notice how well-managed the release of information about Jean Menezes was? (In case you forgot, he was the Brazilian electrician killed by police because he looked like a terrorist to them.) It was absolutely masterful. Compare the original information:
- He was wearing a heavy jacket.
- He jumped the ticket barriers.
- The police ordered him to stop.
- He was shot five times in the head.
With that released about a week later:
- He wasn’t wearing a heavy jacket.
- He didn’t jump the ticket barriers.
- The police didn’t identify themselves. (According to an eyewitness; they have refused to release the CCTV recording.)
- They actually shot him eight times: seven time in the head and once in the shoulder.
But the significant deviances from factual accuracy in the initial report gave a gloss to the event that, at the time, indicated that there were strong grounds to consider the victim a terrorist. When the truth came out later, opinions were already fixed by the original information. Media manipulation in action: watch and learn!
Shooting people in the head won’t work any more. Well, it will kill them, but it won’t guarantee that they will fail to detonate their explosives. From now on, any self-respecting suicide bomber—don’t forget, they’re not stupid—will be using a “dead man’s switch” that explodes in the absence of continued pressure instead of a push-to-detonate trigger.
About the only thing that can help us now is intelligence.
In the meantime, freedoms are eroded, whilst liberty and human rights are discarded, viewed as being somehow anachronistic. Here are some annotated selections from Mr Blair’s speech today. Without wishing to exaggerate, the more I read it, the more I begin to wonder if he’s having a Reichstag episode.
So it is important to test this anew now, in view of the changed conditions in Britain. Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary amending the Human Rights Act, in respect of the interpretation of the ECHR. In any event, we will consult on legislating specifically for a non-suspensive appeal process in respect of deportations.
I suppose it ought to come as no surprise that human rights are now considered to be negotiable and subject to re-evaluation.
One other point on deportations. Once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the home secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national.
That’s rather vague. What is “active engagement” with a bookshop? Will this list be made available so that the law-abiding public can avoid accidental “engagement”? A word to the wise: next time you purchase a Holy Koran from the Islamic bookshop, pay in cash.
As has been stated already, there will be new anti-terrorism legislation in the autumn. This will include an offence of condoning or glorifying terrorism. The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK.
Now I envy the US, with its guaranteed freedom of speech. Making “condoning terrorism” an offence is scarily close to being a thought crime. Yet… how does it help to tell people that they can’t sympathise with the terrorists? I very much doubt that it will change their minds, or even halt the spread of such sympathies.
We have already powers to strip citizenship from those individuals with British or dual nationality who act in a way that is contrary to the interests of this country. We will now consult on extending these powers, applying them to naturalised citizens engaged in extremism and making the procedures simpler and more effective.
Perhaps I should stop now, lest someone in government takes exception to my words.
That’s another fine mess you’ve got us into, Mr Blair. I feel more and more glad that I have dual nationality.