We will wait for ever for Blair to face a reckoning

It is Blair's judgement not whether he told the truth that should be called into question.

When I finally got into the additional viewing facility, which holds around 700 people, the day's work had already started. I felt like I'd walked into a church mid-way through a service -- a hushed quiet over the room, Tony Blair's face dominating a large projection screen at the front of the auditorium, a surprisingly emotional experience.

Everyone was watching the screen intently, listening to his words, scrutinising, looking for something. There was a palpable sense of people wanting to bear witness to this, almost as if they were there just so Blair knew that people were watching him, keeping him honest. Part-way through the first session, someone stood up on a chair and started shouting that he couldn't take any more of this -- perhaps hoping to start a riot, perhaps just emotion boiling over -- but he was quickly shouted down by the people there and escorted out by security guards. The audience was intent on auditing.

Well before today it was quite clear that what many people were searching for -- a catharsis, the emotional satisfaction of a proper reckoning for the continuing disaster of the war's aftermath -- wasn't going to happen. This wasn't a courtroom. This inquiry hadn't been convened to judge anyone, despite many people there professing the ludicrous hope that Tony Blair could somehow be prosecuted as a war criminal.

And so as the session wore on, Blair projecting complete confidence in his previous judgements and a smirk constantly lurking around his lips, it started to dawn on people that he wasn't going to reveal anything particularly new. As time went on there was more fidgeting, people started to leave as lunch got closer, and a sense of futility descended.

We'd heard all this before, and it's a pretty coherent narrative, easy to defend -- he did the best he could with the intelligence given to him, flawed as that has turned out to be, and he'd do the same again given the same circumstances. People winced as he talked about his work as the Middle East peace envoy, as he constantly harked back to his experience in Bosnia, as he quoted from his previous speeches like they were part of a prestigious canon.

The hullaballoo about Blair lying, sexing up and dissembling misses the point that what should really be called into question is not whether he's being truthful -- I think he is in the main, despite his abhorrent vanity and unshakeable self-belief -- but his judgement. It's enough that our prime minister had bad enough judgement to drag us into a war with an aggressive ally (not forgetting Spain and Italy), seemingly without proper planning for what to do once the war had been won.

You don't need anything more for this to be a tragedy, and I would suggest that the wilder accusations don't derive from a sober analysis of the facts, but the profound and intense distress that comes from feeling ignored (the largest-ever peacetime demonstration in the UK didn't stop the war) and hoodwinked (those who reluctantly trusted Blair's assessment that war was the only way to solve the problem). We, the electorate, also voted him back into office after it became clear that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and perhaps hate ourselves because of that.

So still we wait -- and we will wait for ever. Unless something unforeseeable happens the only reckoning Blair will face is the one after death, but only if his religious beliefs turn out to be correct, which isn't much comfort for an atheist like me -- I'll have to burn in hell before Tony Blair faces a real reckoning.

Today was simply justification, when what people really needed was absolution through his confession.

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Twitter

Getty
Show Hide image

25 times people used Brexit to attack Muslims since the EU referendum

Some voters appear more interested in expelling Muslims than EU red tape.

In theory, voting for Brexit because you were worried about immigration has nothing to do with Islamophobia. It’s about migrant workers from Eastern Europe undercutting wages. Or worries about border controls. Or the housing crisis. 

The reports collected by an anti-Muslim attack monitor tell a different story. 

Every week, the researchers at Tell Mama receive roughly 40-50 reports of Islamophobic incidences.

But after the EU referendum, they recorded 30 such incidents in three days alone. And many were directly related to Brexit. 

Founder Fiyaz Mughal said there had been a cluster of hate crimes since the vote:

“The Brexit vote seems to have given courage to some with deeply prejudicial and bigoted views that they can air them and target them at predominantly Muslim women and visibly different settled communities.”

Politicians have appeared concerned. On Monday, as MPs grappled with the aftermath of the referendum, the Prime Minister David Cameron stated “loud and clear” that: “Just because we are leaving the European Union, it will not make us a less tolerant, less diverse nation.”

But condemning single racist incidents is easier than taking a political position that appeases the majority and protects the minority at the same time. 

As the incidents recorded make clear, the aggressors made direct links between their vote and the racial abuse they were now publicly shouting.

The way they told it, they had voted for Muslims to “leave”. 
 
Chair of Tell Mama and former Labour Justice and Communities Minister, Shahid Malik, said:

“With the backdrop of the Brexit vote and the spike in racist incidents that seems to be emerging, the government should be under no illusions, things could quickly become
extremely unpleasant for Britain’s minorities.

“So today more than ever, we need our government, our political parties and of course our media to act with the utmost responsibility and help steer us towards a post-Brexit Britain where xenophobia and hatred are utterly rejected.”

Here are the 25 events that were recorded between 24 and 27 June that directly related to Brexit. Please be aware that some of the language is offensive:

  1. A Welsh Muslim councillor was told to pack her bags and leave.
  2. A man in a petrol station shouted: "You're an Arabic c**t, you're a terrorist" at an Arab driver and stated he “voted them out”. 
  3. A Barnsley man was told to leave and that the aggressor’s parents had voted for people like him to be kicked out.
  4. A woman witnessed a man making victory signs at families at a school where a majority of students are Muslim.
  5. A man shouted, “you f**king Muslim, f**king EU out,” to a woman in Kingston, London. 
  6. An Indian man was called “p**i c**t in a suit” and told to “leave”.
  7. Men circled a Muslim woman in Birmingham and shouted: “Get out - we voted Leave.”
  8. A British Asian mother and her two children were told: "Today is the day we get rid of the likes of you!" by a man who then spat at her. 
  9. A man tweeted that his 13-year-old brother received chants of “bye, bye, you’re going home”.
  10. A van driver chanted “out, out, out”, at a Muslim woman in Broxley, Luton
  11. Muslims in Nottingham were abused in the street with chants of: “Leave Europe. Kick out the Muslims.”
  12. A Muslim woman at King’s Cross, London, had “BREXIT” yelled in her face.
  13. A man in London called a South Asian woman “foreigner” and commented about UKIP.
  14. A man shouted “p**i” and “leave now” at individuals in a London street.
  15. A taxi driver in the West Midlands told a woman his reason for voting Leave was to “get rid of people like you”.
  16. An Indian cyclist was verbally abused and told to “leave now”. 
  17. A man on a bike swore at a Muslim family and muttered something about voting.
  18. In Newport, a Muslim family who had not experienced any trouble before had their front door kicked in.
  19. A South Asian woman in Manchester was told to “speak clearly” and then told “Brexit”. 
  20. A Sikh doctor was told by a patient: “Shouldn’t you be on a plane back to Pakistan? We voted you out.”
  21. An abusive tweet read: “Thousands of raped little White girls by Muslims mean nothing to Z….#Brexit”.
  22. A group of men abused a South Asian man by calling him a “p**i c**t” and telling him to go home after Brexit.
  23. A man shouted at a taxi driver in Derby: "Brexit, you p**i.”
  24. Two men shouted at a Muslim woman walking towards a mosque “muzzies out” and “we voted for you being out.”
  25. A journalist was called a “p**i” in racial abuse apparently linked to Brexit.