A Comment on Tony Blair’s Knighthood

Unfortunately, I was unable to get this piece published in Varsity. Here is some correspondence I had with the paper:

Varsity has published two pieces about Blair, neither of which characterises the war as a crime, thus marginalising the views of many Iraqis, lawyers, peace activists and indeed Cambridge students. In light of Varsity editors declaring their commitment to featuring diverse perspectives, surely this stance on Blair’s legacy, which views the Iraq War not as a ‘mistake’ but an atrocity, should be represented?

My understanding is that had I repackaged the piece and taken the focus away from Blair’s knighthood, I might have had a chance at publication. But I don’t see why that should have to be the case. Varsity should publish letters from its readers. I felt irked that I could not directly respond to what I consider scandalous assertions in a newspaper that is meant to service the student community, especially as Varsity’s editors have made a point of declaring their commitment to a range of views. Anyhow, here’s my letter.

Jonathan Heywood writes (‘Knighthood or knightmare?’, 21 January) that ‘If you concede the existence of knighthoods, Tony Blair clearly deserves one’, because it is standard procedure for former prime ministers to be knighted.

I see no reason why conceding the existence of knighthoods should mean Blair deserves one. It is easy to imagine an honours system where state officials are rewarded based on merit rather than serving in a specific office. Of course, radicals since the days of Thomas Paine have understood that to bow before a monarch, as the present Labour leader has done, degrades the human character; and I would much rather have an honours system separated from such anachronisms. 

Instead of accepting a paradigm where prime ministers as destructive as Thatcher and Blair are automatically rewarded, perhaps we should be thinking seriously about alternatives. It is not that Blair’s knighthood should be revoked as a ‘one-off intervention’; rather, it is an occasion to reflect on the depravity of a political establishment that celebrates egregious criminals. The system is broken and needs radical change.

Heywood also registers ‘serious mistakes’ in Blair’s record, such as ‘the removal of Saddam Hussein’. To classify the Iraq War as a ‘mistake’, alongside ‘The expansion of Private Finance Initiatives’, is ridiculous. ‘Mistakes’ that contribute to the deaths of at least hundreds of thousands of people – we will never know the toll for certain because we do not count our own victims – are more properly characterised as grave crimes. The war was a flagrant breach of international law, and the fact that none of the senior officials involved have been prosecuted to this day is a stunning comment on the farce that is our justice system.

Heywood adds that Blair being honoured is a ‘completely meaningless issue’. It is certainly not meaningless for Iraqis, who are being insulted after being subjected to the horrors of war; it is certainly not meaningless for those who vigorously campaigned against the war before it was waged and have been proven right; and it is certainly not meaningless for everyone who lives in a less safe world on account of the proliferation of extremism promoted by Blair and Bush’s war – an eventuality that was predicted by British intelligence at the time. The honour itself might be trivial, but what it says about our political order is not. 

Despite Heywood’s affirmation of its meaninglessness, this sordid affair also has political implications for the Labour Party. Keir Starmer’s approval of Blair’s knighthood – while Jeremy Corbyn, who campaigned against the war, has had the whip withdrawn from him since 2020 because of a purportedly offensive social media post – reveals the execrable mentality of the Labour leadership. 

Labour has promulgated its idea of ethics for all to see. It says, ‘we consider the offence that may have been caused by a post Jeremy Corbyn made on Facebook of greater moral seriousness than the suffering of Iraqis killed, tortured and turned into refugees in the wake of Bush and Blair’s war.’

Talal Hangari


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