2nd December 2010
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THE MEN & ARGUMENTS AT THE CENTRE…
… OF THIS SKEWED & FUTILE DEBATE
I titled my previous post –“Blair/Hitchens debate (Ailing Atheist Vs Crucified Christian)” for a reason. The reason for that headline was to highlight the imbalance of the starting point for these two proponents of their corners of the religion good/bad debate. Tony Blair was not “crucified” even figuratively speaking on the night. Of course not. That job was done politically, years ago and is still, painfully, ongoing.
But the effect of the groupthink which still pertains on politicians and perhaps particularly on Blair and his political decision on Iraq (even if semi-empathetic groupthink as in Toronto) was apparent to me when Blair said at around 4:20 into Video 3 –
“So I know very well that you can point and quite rightly Christopher does to examples of where people have used religion to do things that are terrible. And that have made the world a worse place. But I ask you not to judge all people of religious faith by those people, any more than we would judge politics [pauses – audience laughter] by bad politicians. Or indeed journalists by bad journalists.”
The audience guffaws seemed to imply – “bad politicians – like you, Tony?” (Of course the Canadians could have been thinking of their own politicians.) Their laughter was silenced with the next sentence when it was clear Blair was not referring to anyone there present. It goes without saying that he didn’t mean that Christopher Hitchens was a ‘bad journalist’, though perhaps his brother Peter, one arrogant and rotten journalist, imho.
Let’s be blunt about this – Tony Blair has political baggage. The ‘evil’ baggage is mainly press-inspired. The good, like that of Caesar, has largely been interred – somewhere in the back of many minds.
ASIDE: That, despite this new poll on the most successful government policy since 1980 (Source BBC):
MOST SUCCESSFUL POLICIES SINCE 1980
- 1. Minimum wage
- 2. Devolution
- 3. NI Peace process
- 4. Privatisation
- 5. Sure Start
Did you notice that all but number 4 were Labour policies under Blair? And note too that Blair continued Thatcher’s privatisation policy. Numbers one and two were noisily not supported by the Conservative party. And the highly successful Sure Start project is under threat under the present Con/Dem government. Devolution is a done deal, and the Tories are fully onboard now. Now that they know it gives them a chance to re-establish themselves in certain parts of the country. The Northern Ireland peace process was completed by Tony Blair personally. Don’t let them tell you it was John Major or the late Mo Mowlam. They played their part. But like winning the 2010 Olympics in 2005, Blair’s leadership was essential. Perhaps Cameron should have asked the Winner/Master to help in the World Cup bid today in Zurich.
My two/three observations on the debate:
Why do I describe this debate as “skewed and futile”? And, would I have described it so if Tony Blair had won?
To the level-headed, including Hitch, on the controversial issue of Iraq Tony Blair was largely right and even more right on other international issues. There is no doubt that many wanted to see Blair slammed into the ground in this debate, no matter their own religious interests or disinterests. They were fighting yesterday’s (lost) battles.
My answer to my own thoughts on the ‘skewed’ question: although necessary and a good exercise I conclude the Munk Debate on religion was skewed for these reasons:
- Hitchens has spent his life damning religion. He started as a schoolboy and has become more convinced of his position ever since. He won’t stop criticising the concept of religion till the day he dies, which hopefully will be some years off. I am a great admirer of Hitch.
- Blair found religion as a student at Oxford. He has spent most of his life in politics, not religion. He is not a scholar, yet, of religion.
- Religion has not had a good press recently, viz abusive Catholic priests, Islamist fundamentalism.
- It is grown-up these days, it seems, to be sceptical, especially of politics and religion. Blair falls into both categories. Two reasons, at least to be treated sceptically. A double whammy.
And the debate was futile for this reason:
It matters not one jot what the Toronto audience thought in the Munk Debate. The world is full to bursting with people who to some extent or other do believe in religion. It is estimated that 80% of the world’s population are ‘believers’. No two-handed debate between liberal-minded westerners in a western city will change that. Not in the short term, anyway.
And if Blair had come out on top?
I would still have felt it futile with regard to most of the world. If Blair had won despite the “skewed” effect of elements raged against him it would have been just as likely as that Russia [WikiLeaks – ‘mafia’] and Qatar [no history of football] could have won the 2018/2022 World Cups!
So, strange things happen in sport, religion and politics. (Not necessarily in that order.) Just as comparatively few outside Britain are all that bothered that England lost the 2018 World Cup today, few in the world have really noticed the Big Religion Debate.
Perhaps because it fundamentally missed the point.
To be continued …
Also see Analysis 1 – Results of the Debate
RELATED – REPORTS AND OPINIONS
- The Munk Debates site has sent round this report to those subscribed on the night.
- There is some audience reaction at Tony Blair’s Faith Foundation website
- BBC report & Video from Paul Adams
- The Canadian Globe & Mail reports
- Telegraph: “Tony Blair Defends Religious Faith”
5. CHICKEN OR EGG?
‘Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday his religious beliefs did not play a role in his decision to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq during a debate about the merits of religion in Toronto.’
Again, it hardly matters, but it was The SF Chronicle.
6. Paul Harris at The Guardian headlines with “Christopher Hitchens 1-0 Tony Blair”.
While we cannot reasonably expect a return bout, at least Mr Harris does point this out:
“Throughout the 90-minute debate Hitchens seemed to have the crowd’s sympathy. That might have been to do with his ill appearance due to cancer, but was far more likely to be down to the sharpness of his verbal barbs and the fact that 57% of the audience already agreed with his sceptical position according to a pre-debate poll, while just 22% agreed with Blair’s side. The rest were undecided.”
He balances that by being the only British write-up on the debate pointing up this:
“It even attracted a small but vocal knot of anti-Iraq war protestors accusing Blair of war crimes. Demonstrators unveiled placards that read “Arrest Blair” and “War criminals not welcome here”, proving that, as with the merits of religion, some arguments are unlikely to ever be settled with a single night’s debate.”
Well, it IS the Guardian, after all. Don’t expect lack of agenda.
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“All countries need a leader who isn’t afraid to fight terrorism. I believe Mr. Blair did a necessary job in helping his allies. Are we all just supposed to lie down and wait for them to come for us, I don’t think so.”
And – “Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the privilege of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – “I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is an honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”
Tags: 2003 invasion of Iraq, A Journey: My Political Life, AIDS, BBC, Catholic Church, Christopher Hitchens, Debate, faith, God, God Is Not Great, Google, Iran, Iraq, iraq war, Middle East, minimum wage, most successful policy since 1980, North Korea, politics, prime minister, religion, RUDYARD GRIFFITHS, Sure Start, Tony Blair, Toronto, United States, Winston Churchill