12th September 2010
Should we be worried about Blair’s free speech?
So asks Guy Aitchison, at Open Democracy
Aitchison: “… a crucial bit of context to this discussion which always bears repeating, is that although Blair is a “mainstream democratic politician”, as Green notes, he is also responsible for a war which led to the deaths of well over a million people, producing four millions refugees, sectarian violence and torture and increasing regional instability and the threat of terrorism. There is a compelling case that this was also an illegal war and that Blair should be facing a tribunal in The Hague.”
In the light of the above quote, forgive me if I conclude that this – “worried about Blair’s free speech?” – is one of those rhetorical questions to which, it is assumed, we all know the answer – “NO, NO, NO.”
It’s no more than a kind of plea of the type – ‘there you go, we REAL democrats REALLY DO think about these things, for EVERYONE, REALLY. Even for those about whom we have come to negative conclusions.’
- Correction, it IS more than that. It is also an opportunity to state again how wrong and illegal and disastrous was the Iraq invasion, according to them and their fellow-travellers aka The Stop The War Coalition. Even though, even if, it wasn’t any or all of the above.
- Correction 2. And it is more even than that. It is an attempt to distance themselves and other “civil-righters” with a “yes, but no but” from the decision Tony Blair took regarding cancelling his London public book-signing and postponing his private book launch party, both last Wednesday. And wait… wait, please do! There’s an and another thing which is just as important.
- Correction 3: It is the attempt to gloss over, in the hope that none of us will notice, that these people, these characters, these riotous rentamob types have been permitted to TAKE AWAY THE RIGHTS OF THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAD PLANNED TO ATTEND THE BOOKSIGNING at Waterstone’s and of those who had planned to come to the private party.
Are they REALLY saying that THEIR rights of association do not count? Do not matter? Do not enter into the debate?
Let us see if the Peace in Our Democracy Against the War gang can justify that THEFT OF CIVIL & HUMAN RIGHTS.
It is an OUTRAGEOUS position, especially when taken by people purporting to be consistent in their approach to civil liberties for all. Civil liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of association for ALL? All, as long as you’re not Tony Blair. He can go hang, as it were.
What we are presented with by Open Democracy is this argument:
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, SO…
Although in principle he HAS human rights such as freedom of speech and association, he doesn’t really deserve them, BECAUSE –
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, AND…
We also believe he destroyed our civil liberties. And anyway –
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, AND…
He disappointed us on the Left of politics, by leaning to the Right, and managing therefore to oust the Tories as the natural party of government. BUT…
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, EVEN IF…
He was electorally, historically hugely successful – three record-breaking times, FGS! BUT still –
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, AND…
The press, right and left think he is a liar. They have no ulterior motives. They must be right and anyway –
We don’t approve of Tony Blair’s decision over Iraq, AND ANYWAY…
He hasn’t been tried yet. He’s getting away with it. Not even arrested yet! Give us a chance. We’ve only been trying for about seven years!
I could go on, but you get the picture. Never in the field of political assassination has any politician been so studiously targeted, blackened and all but destroyed.
THE UNDESERVING ONE
To support this attack AND OPEN DISREGARD FOR the rights of (nearly) ALL these Open Democracy/Our Kingdom people link so-called rotten policies to Mr Blair alone, ad hominem style.
Regardless of any good he or his party may have done (and Blair’s government, for which I did not vote, was with hindsight THE most reforming and progressive for DECADES) HE is clearly the Undeserving Few One.
UTTER, UTTER HYPOCRISY
The thinking seems to go like this: If others continue to argue that the freedom of speech and association of Tony Blair, his admirers, friends and colleagues are as unquestionable, irrevocable, irreducible and as protected under the law as those of, for instance Binyam Mohamed (the non-British, but still unquestionably protected British resident known to have trained for jihad) it’s obvious innit mate?
These others clearly don’t see the whole troof as it is written – Openly Democratically, like.
This is disgraceful hypocrisy. We are NOT talking about a convicted or escaped criminal here. Mr Blair, his friends and admirers are ordinary citizens, protected each and every one under the law. Under the law. That’s what I call “crucial”, whether these creatures call him ‘war criminal’ or ‘Jesus Christ’.
Civil and human rights DO APPLY to all, of course.
Except when civil and human righters say they don’t.
Interesting aside: Coincidentally a commenter at this article at Open Democracy also refers to one of their favourite bones of contention – Binyam Mohamed
GUY AITCHISON’S ARTICLE AND COMMENTS AT ‘OPEN DEMOCRACY’ [Noteworthy references are indented and in dark red]
Should we be worried about Blair’s free speech?
The cancellation by Tony Blair of several events on his book tour this week due to fears of disruption by anti-war protesters has led to concern in some quarters over the former Prime Minister’s “free speech”.
Whilst it’s unsurprising to find devoted acolytes of Blair, who are still prepared to defend the Iraq invasion, such as LabourList columnist Paul Richards(1), denouncing “Trots” for daring to publicly challenge their hero, concerns have also been expressed by two respected commentators on these issues.
(1)At Labour List, Paul Richards says: “The Trots call it vanguardism – they lead, we follow. Those who dissent disappear. For that reason there was more at stake than whether Blair’s suit got egged, or even the cost of policing the signings. There is an important principle in play – that if a citizen wants to meet another citizen and ask them to sign a book, no-one should be able to use violence and threats to prevent it.”
Blair had been due to attend a book signing in Waterstones, Picadilly[sic], followed by a launch party at the Tate Modern on Wednesday, but pulled out of both events because of the “inevitable hassle” it would cause the public and the burden it places on the Metropolitan police
Padraig Reidy(2), of Index on Censorship, describes Blair’s decision as “practical, but hardly ideal”. He doubts the protests would have turned as “violent” as they were in Dublin where protesters threw eggs and shoes at Blair, but notes that the fear that they might has clearly informed Blair’s decision. In which case “a literary event has been closed down due to fear of violence” which “sounds like mob censorship”, according to Reidy.
(2)Padraig Reidy, Index on Censorship, says: “Clearly the violent scenes in Dublin have made Mr Blair think again. But would things in London inevitably have turned out the same? I’m not sure. An equivalent group to Eirigi does not exist, and the groups that have previously protested against Blair have not, to be fair, turned violent. Then again, they might have decided to follow the example of the Dublin crowds. In which case, a literary event has been closed down due to fear of violence. Which, to me, sounds like mob censorship.”
Writing on the New Statesman blog, David Allen Green(3), a lawyer who blogs as “Jack of Kent”, agrees with Reidy from “a principle-based” standpoint. He concludes by asking “should all people of goodwill now shout out: For Tony Blair and Free Speech?”
(3)David Allen Green: “A retired politician is promoting a publication to those who may wish to purchase it. This is not some extremist politician, but a former mainstream, democratic politician. And this is not just any former mainstream, democratic politician, but the only UK party leader to have won a decisive general election with a sustainable majority since 1987. But that politician cannot do any events. The events are being cancelled. Is this a cause for concern?”
It would be too easy, perhaps, to point out the irony of people agonising over the free speech of a former Prime Minister who did so much to undermine that right when in office, so let’s stick to why civil libertarians shouldn’t be adopting Green’s rallying cry.
The first point, and a crucial bit of context to this discussion which always bears repeating, is that although Blair is a “mainstream democratic politician”, as Green notes, he is also responsible for a war which led to the deaths of well over a million people, producing four millions refugees, sectarian violence and torture and increasing regional instability and the threat of terrorism. There is a compelling case that this was also an illegal war and that Blair should be facing a tribunal in The Hague.
Yet, judging by his media appearances, Blair has clearly learnt nothing from the disaster in Iraq, and in the course of promoting his book, has been agitating for military aggression against Iran. In this context it is impossible to regard these book signings as simply another benign “literary event” and the protests, by extension, as somehow inappropriate or an over-reaction. These are events used by a prominent politician, with considerable influence on the world stage, to promote an aggressive and militaristic ideology and worldview that has caused wide-scale destruction and loss of life. The people who choose to exercise their democratic right to protest outside the book signings are, as they see it, fulfilling a moral imperative to publicly condemn Blair’s crimes and prevent further ones.
And while passions run high these were to be, despite various smears, explicitly non-violent protests. Stop the War Coalition(4) had called for peaceful protests outside Waterstones and the Tate Modern; there was no incitement to violence, or suggestion that protesters should physically try and block Blair and others from entering the venues.
Note this “war criminal” handle from the STOP THE WAR COALITION – Wednesday 8 September 5.30 Protest when Tony Blair hosts party at Tate Modern
(4) “Blair was forced to cancel a Waterstone’s book-signing when it became clear how an event for a war criminal was being hosted as if he was like any other outhor. [sic]A protest at the Tate Modern gallery has been called for the same reason.”
The decision to cancel the event was Blair’s and not that of the protesters or the police. Blair explained his decision on the grounds that he “didn’t want the public to be inconvenienced by the inevitable hassle caused by protesters” and wanted to avoid an “extra strain on police resources, simply for a book signing.” It wouldn’t be too cynical, given who we’re talking about, to suggest that concern for his public reputation also played a role in this decision, but crucially it was his call.
The fact is that protests will always be an inconvenience to the public in some way – that is, after all, how you get your point across – and police time and resources will have to be taken up if they are to fulfil their legal duty to facilitate the right to protest. Protesters, acting in the belief they are raising urgent moral and political concerns, can hardly be expected to weigh up these considerations in some kind of cost-benefit analysis – the cost and inconvenience of protest is something we all agree to put up with as the price of living in a free society.
Whilst anti-war protesters are making use one of the few outlets they have to remind us of Blair’s crimes, the man himself will never lack a platform for his views. Since the publication of A Journey we have been subjected to, what Gerry Hassan has dubbed “Blair Week”, with endless sofa appearances, newspaper interviews, and wall-to-wall coverage and promotion of his book by the BBC, of the kind that got them into trouble when they did it with U2’s album.
Instead of the book signing, Blair opted for an appearance on ITV’s This Morning with Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby for what was doubtless a cosy chat. There will be many more such appearances to look forward to in the months ahead as Blair seeks re-entry into British public life.
So whilst we can all agree with Green that “defence of free expression is often most important when the beneficiary is unpopular”, let’s not go rushing for our copies of Voltaire just yet.
I left a comment there, pasted below, in case they delete it. I somehow do not trust the so-called Openly Democratic:
As far as we know the decision to cancel was Blair’s. Certainly fear of civil unrest in London with rentamob in tow was a valid reason. HE would have been blamed if it had gone ahead and there had been gridlock, or even if someone had been seriously injured. You know that. He would also in that circumstance have been accused of cashing in despite the threats.If your name’s Blair, heads you lose, tails you don’t win.
I take issue with the whole premise of this article. It is disgraceful from someone calling himself a “civil libertarian” to conclude that Blair does not have freedom of speech rights because, it is said by some, he made an ‘illegal’ political decision.
Par for the course argument, but even MORE disgraceful when one thinks about it, than at first reading. It casts light on the TRUE thinking of some so-called “liberal thinkers”. Ending with the aside to, and ignoring of Voltaire for confirmation of your stance. Voltaire did not use qualifications. You do.
Somehow, because YOU and others consider that the Iraq invasion was illegal, and therefore Blair was a war criminal, albeit an unconvicted and untried one (but ignore such inconsequential technicalities – purlease folks) somehow he, alone amongst humans has no human rights, no rights of association, no free speech rights.
That conclusion, which is clear to see gives the lie to all the protests of those who profess to be liberal-minded. If you can’t understand that, you understand little about free speech, civil liberties and democracy.
And if you don’t care about the “important” Blair’s freedoms, which I conclude you don’t – what about ours? The rest of us? The 600 who queued quietly to get their books signed in Dublin, while 200 rioted? The majority number of supporters c/w the minority protestors who likely would have turned out at Waterstone’s too and were denied that by rentamob?
The good people of this country, the majority, who DON’T think of our former prime minister as a war criminal? What about them/us? Their/our rights?
For over three years we have been denied the right to listen live to probably the last half century’s moving force for good in British politics in case we’re all blown up by some madman, encouraged by a malign media, a literati which understands zilch about Blair and the reasons for Blair, and so-called civil libertarians.
This is a dreadful state of affairs, and is as far removed from real true liberalism as any ‘liberal thinker’ could ever have imagined.
But thank you for writing this, nonetheless. JUST what I was looking for. I will use it here.
UPDATE, 17th Sep 2010
I just added this comment to another commenter at Openish Democracy:
“Whether or not the Iraq war was illegal is not a matter of YOUR belief.”
Nor is it a matter of YOUR interpretation of the law. That’s the nub of all of this – the INTERPRETATION of international law, in association with such factors as the relevance of earlier UNSC mandates.
Imagine the stink if Tony Blair were ever charged with ANYTHING under international law. Imagine, as you no doubt do frequently, Blair in a dock over this. He’d wipe the floor with the UN over its irresponsibility and endless failures to act over more than a decade on its own resolutions.
As for this nonsense –
As others pointed out, none of Blair’s freedoms has been violated, he published his book and got ample air time to spew his hatred and war-mongering (Iran), this ME “peace” envoy of the EU.
I DO firmly believe his freedoms were violated. Violated by the threat of violence towards him and others at the London booksigning. Which part of “violence” do you not understand? I notice that thousands turned up pro and against the Ground Zero mosque. I did not hear any reports of violence. But the 200 yobs in Dublin, the rentamob – inciting online a bigger turn-out for London WERE violent. Even as they screamed “Police Violence” at a most unviolent-looking policewoman.
Haven’t seen the pictures? Go here.
Oh, and if you think his remarks about Iran were “spewing hatred” you are some fool.
This “ME peace envoy”, btw, to cast some light on your ignorance, is NOT of the EU ONLY, but of the Quartet – UN/US/Russia AND EU. And he is not a “peace envoy”, but their representative.
If he was NOT doing a good job out there, do you think Mahmoud Abbas would still be content to work with him?
Which freedom of yours was violated by not being able to get a signed copy of a war criminal’s book?
The freedom to meet a much admired former prime minister!! Obviously! Tough to understand? Btw, Mr Judge and Jury, he is NO WAR CRIMINAL. Not charged, not tried, not found guilty, and never will be.
I honestly care more about the freedoms of the invaded and occupied Iraqis than about your discomfort.
Oh, do you now? Honestly? Were you in Saddam’s Iraq helping those oppressed by him – murdered by him for three decades? NO. This is sel-serving tripe you serve up. You care nothing for the Iraqi people. You care about nothing apart from proving a great British prime minister a criminal.
As for your last three questioned remark, I could tell you a story, but you probably wouldn’t believe it. You certainly wouldn’t understand it.
Anyway this website of so-called Open Democrats, where freedom is OK, except for those with whom you disagree, has a mention at my little place. Why? Because you’re worth it.
On the Open Democracy page there is also this, with these telling articles. (Just so you know):
Coming to terms with Blair
- Should we be worried about Blair’s free speech?, Guy Aitchison
- The roots of Blair’s hostility to Freedom of Information, Maurice Frankel
- The first Tony Blair book and the failure of New Labour, Gerry Hassan
- Blair’s flawed approach to peace in Norther Ireland, Robin Wilson
- The coming Scottish revolution and Tony Blair’s memoirs, Gerry Hassan
Guy Aitchison is co-editor of openDemocracy’s UK blog, OurKingdom. He is one of the originators of the Take Back Parliament protest movement for fair votes and also campaigns with Power2010. Before that he was deputy director of the Convention on Modern Liberty.
- For Tony Blair and free speech (newstatesman.com)
- Free Speech blog by Padraig Reidy – —Padraig Reidy
- New Statesman blog, David Allen Green – “For Tony Blair and Free Speech?”
- Labour List, Paul Richards says: “The Trots call it vanguardism – they lead, we follow… if a citizen wants to meet another citizen and ask them to sign a book, no-one should be able to use violence and threats to prevent it.”
RECENT related posts at this site
- Morgan ‘The Nails’, on “nailing” Tony Blair Vs Ban Blair-Baiting petition
- Tony Blair’s Book Best-Seller EVER at Amazon. Got it, scum-mob?
- Jeremy Vine hears from admirers of “The Great Tony Blair” (Radio 2)
- Tony Blair book-signing is off. They’ve won. Inmates running the asylum
- Tony Blair’s (Waterstone’s) London book-signing may be OFF
- Videos: Tony Blair on RTE. Kate O’Sullivan on ATTEMPTING and FAILING to arrest Mr Blair at Dublin booksigning
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Tags: 2003 invasion of Iraq, binyam mohamed, David Allen Green, Dublin, freedom of speech, Guy Aitchison, Hague, history, Index on Censorship, Iraq, Jack of Kent, Labourlist, London, new statesman, Open Democracy, Our Kingdom, Padraig Reidy, parliament, Paul Richards, politics, Right-wing politics, Stop The War Coalition, Tony Blair, Voltaire