Cults of Infamy, or “Forgiving Blair”

Friday, 10th September 2010 at 12:58 UTC 9 comments

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.


Entry filed under: Activism, Afghanistan, Iraq, Peace, Personal, Politics, Tony Blair.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 13:13 UTC

    Sounds very sensible- whatever one’s opinion od Blair, politics is moving on and although we shouldn’t forget the past we can’t get too caught up with living in it to face up to the challenges of today.

    I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you refer to ‘Justice is not a Christian value’- do you mean it’s a value not just for Christians, or that sometimes other things need to be considered too (ie Justice tempered with Mercy)?

  • 2. John Cooper  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 13:25 UTC

    I can understand the sentiments behind this post but don’t fully agree with it. The loss of Labour from Government doesn’t then immediatly mean Blair is then off the hook. The reason such a personal campaign has been persued against him is very much a symptom of the nature of the government her created.

    Building upon principles laid down within the Thatcher era he epitomised, and developed, the idea of the figurehead lead kitchen table cabinet. Collective responsibility, or int he governments case Cabinet Responsibility, to some extent falls away when politicians take a ‘back me or we crumble’ approach and build not policy but personality.

    I was pleased to see blair run scared of a few hundred protesters. I would be willing to forgive if he had listened to the millions marching instead of the hundreds shouting.

  • 3. John Cooper  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 13:37 UTC

    Note this doesn’t mean I don’t value the Labour Party and all it has achieved, but like Thatcher – sometimes them at the top take too much responsibility and it should always come back to bite them

  • 4. merrick101  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 13:37 UTC

    The word ‘justice’ has many connotations. I think you’re right to begin to unpack these various strands. The element of coming together to find a common platform of equity is different to the element of retribution and punitive measures.

    And certainly, the Stop The War focus on Blair and Bush makes it all too easy for whoever comes next to seem different. Let us not forget the temporary euphoria many felt when Brown took over, as if he hadn’t been the right-hand man of Blair’s tenure. The SWP and their various fronts always like to focus on a figurehead, it helps maintain their dualistic gladiatorial approach.

    But all that said, I do think it’s important to maintain our anger, even at those who’ve relinquished power. If we applied the standards of the Nuremburg Trials then every US president since then would have been hanged. If they actually thought they’d be continually vilified and risked being held to account for their actions, they’d behave differently. That will only come about if we don’t let them walk away in comfort and glory.

    That’s why every term of office as head of government should end with a Hague tribunal for crimes against humanity. The innocent would have nothing to fear, but oh, how that would’ve stayed Blair and Bush’s hands.

    And even if, as is overwhelmingly likely, that sort of pressure isn’t brought to bear, keeping our anger is about remembrance, and how that focuses our future direction.

    By maintaining Thatcher as a hate figure, we keep talking about monetarism, the poll tax, the demolition of trade unionism and so on. When she karks it there will be a surge of emetic drivel in the media, and it’s those of us who will be one the streets celebrating who carry forward a crucial message, keeping the memory and political orientation clear and educating those who’ve come since.

  • 5. James McMullan  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 13:42 UTC

    We should look to the system rather than the man; it is after all the system that allows negative issues to ocurr. We have developed a culture of ignorance in Britain that is quite appallingly vunerable to abuse. We have allowed governments to gain power over us rather than using their power for us. Too many dangerous precedents have been set whererby individuals follow their own agendas instead of caring for the people of this country. Money appears to rule actions, not ethics. The addage ‘power corrupts’ could not have been truer throughout the past government. Brown acting like a dictator in persuing his own ambition; Mandelson, made a Lord! What is the world coming to. There appears a higherarchy at work that is not accountable to those it is proported to serve: a system out of control.

    Blair is a symptom of the sickness of the apathy that exists in Britain. We appear to have lost the will to object, to think for ourselves. Before things improve the British people need to find their courage and examine the mess this country has become and find ways to erradicate its problems. We need ONE BRITAIN for all of its population. ONE SET OF RULES for all people whatever colour, creed or background; without which we will drown in a melay of difference which will be unreconcilable.

  • 6. Shir Carr  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 14:11 UTC

    A terrible mess was made in Iraque but, being Irish, I felt we are not the people to condemn Blair. I will never forget what peace has been achieved here. Tony Blair must be given some credit for it.
    However grim things are here not it is better than what was happening in the 70’s etc.

  • 7. merrick101  |  Friday, 10th September 2010 at 14:15 UTC

    “ONE SET OF RULES for all people whatever colour, creed or background”?

    Doesn’t difference of creed necessarily mean different sets of rules?

  • 8. John Cooper  |  Saturday, 11th September 2010 at 8:57 UTC

    Shir – Blair sealed the deal re Ireland but John Major made huge progress and it was Mo Mowlam who really got people round the table and talking.

  • 9. merrick101  |  Wednesday, 15th September 2010 at 10:44 UTC

    Shir, you’re right about the extraordinary achievements in Ireland (and John, you’re right to give credit to the Major government), but that doesn’t in any way absolve what has been done in Iraq and Afghanistan any more than having a standing order to the RSPCA entitles you to nail cats to trees.


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