Cults of Infamy, or “Forgiving Blair”
This last week I, like everyone in the UK, have been forced to encounter once more the face of Tony Blair beaming from shops, newspapers, TV sets, and even from my own computer. I’m no less convinced that the man is a murderer and a war criminal than I was, say, 5 years ago. But I’m becoming aware of the need to let go of some of my loathing for him as an individual, before it gets the better of me.
I remember going to a talk by a Christian Aid staffer at Greenbelt last year, entitled “Justice is not a Christian value”. It was a rather bizarre topic, you might think, but essentially the point was that reconciliation and justice can often push each other out – he used examples from South Africa, Ireland and more.
The cult of celebrity can work both ways, and too often campaigns end up as cults of infamy – individual business men and politicians (often also male) become the target instead of the underlying system. The problems I see with this are perhaps 3 fold:
First, politically, it makes no sense to vilify one person when a systematic analysis of the situation would point to deeper issues – power, privilege and greed.
Second, because people have a habit of moving on and being replaced. Just as a rebranding can be used to outmanoeuvre campaigners, so can a change of head-honcho – with equally surface level effects. The campaign must begin a complete bottom-up redesign.
And third, and perhaps most important of all, you risk some pretty nasty long term effects on a personal level. As campaigners, we are motivated by a mix of love and rage – sometimes termed righteous anger – but over time, often the first thing to go is the love, and then we are reduced purely to anger. When you stop lying awake at night out of concern for others, and start being awake at night out of rage at an individual, something has gone wrong.
Stop the War Coalition have made a rod for their own backs by focusing so closely on Blair and Bush that it is hard to connect the wars to Cameron and Obama. At the same time, there is a risk that the anti-cuts campaign could be tied too closely to images of Cameron to ensure that the same campaign can continue once the Conservatives are removed from office and the task of rebuilding the social safety net and collective services takes over.
I really don’t struggle to forgive people who have personally aggrieved me. But to find the ability to forgive someone like Tony Blair takes a huge amount of resolve. The hatred may not be sustainable and may damage our capacity to act out of love and concern, but the forgiveness – essentially the letting go – doesn’t happen either, so a sense of burn-out takes over.
I should point out that I’m not really talking about forgiveness in the sense of “that’s all right, fine, whatever”, but forgiveness in the sense of letting go of the animosity that is so often toxic – the victimhood, the revenge seeking, all that stuff. Much as Blair should still face war crimes charges, do I want to go on obsessing over this course of events? Its important that ultimately the struggle for a better world makes us a better, stronger person and not a hateful shell.