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Will a million signatures stop the honouring of a war criminal?

January 11, 2022 at 7:47 pm

Tony Blair, UK’s former prime minister, in Singapore, on November 18, 2021 [Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg via Getty Images]

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, says Mr Blair deserves knighthood, the title of “Sir” bestowed on him by the Queen, the UK’s highest honour, for “making Britain a better country”. On the other hand, more than a million British citizens (including those of Arab and Muslim origins) signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of this honour by the Queen, saying that he is a “war criminal”.

A number of newspapers, with headlines such as “Honour Tony Blair?! He should be on trial for disaster in Iraq” by Britain’s The Sun newspaper. Britain’s Stop the War organisation, which is most famous for its opposition to the British government’s foreign policy of war and imperial expansion, since America declared a “war on terror” and invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, is urging people to protest against the honour.

What we all know is that, despite the global outcry against the war, and despite the participation of two million British citizens in the largest protest march Britain has ever seen, the first of its kind in which people demonstrated against a war before it was waged, Blair chose to ignore the protesters and start the war. It was waged with fabricated accusations, which were exposed to the public after the invasion, and in order to solidify the Anglo-American foothold in Iraqi lands and resources, the destruction of the state, and the neutralisation of the principled Iraqi position on the Palestinian issue. This puts us in front of important questions about the importance of popular initiatives to pressure governments or influential parties to change their policy towards a particular issue. Will the petitioners now succeed in pressuring the Prime Minister, a Conservative, to try to persuade the Queen to withdraw her honour to Tony Blair? How many citizens need to sign the petition so that their voice has a real impact? Is there any hope to change the royal decision? If this does not happen, we are faced with the most important question: what is the use of signing petitions?

People sign petition calling for Tony Blair to be stripped of his knighthood over his crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

People sign petition calling for Tony Blair to be stripped of his knighthood over his crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

It seems impossible in terms of pressuring the Queen to change her decision to honour Blair, as it mainly has to do with the British royal tradition that previous prime ministers receive a knighthood, regardless of their party or their domestic or foreign policy. Rather, the success of the Prime Minister and his government is often measured by the foreign policy based on the economic well-being of the country. Is there anything more profitable than industries related to wars and the appropriation of the resources of countries that are ravaged by wars and conflicts, of all kinds, which is what Blair accomplished?

From this imperialist expansionist perspective, it is unreasonable for the Queen to withdraw the honour, especially since this would necessarily mean admitting or, at least, prosecuting Tony Blair as a war criminal, because he decided to launch a war that harmed Britain itself, not Iraq. It is also difficult to prove that he harmed Britain as a country because the British people re-elected him in the period following the invasion and occupation of Iraq, at a time when the occupation armies were receiving blows from the Iraqi resistance. This can be translated, on the ground, as Tony Blair has succeeded in attracting “patriotic” sentiments to defend British soldiers defending “democratic values” and protecting Britain from a threat that would target it within 45 minutes, as Blair put it.

READ: Blair’s knighthood is a royal act of treachery against his victims in Iraq and Afghanistan

Lord Chilcot’s report on the Iraq war, after a seven-year investigation, reached conclusions that questioned the credibility of Blair’s claims, especially about the threat to the British people, but he stopped here and did not go beyond this so that Blair would not be put on trial for his contribution to waging a war that caused the death of 1 million Iraqis and 179 British soldiers, and led to the establishment of the Islamic State and the perpetuation of the continued violence in Iraq today. Among the report’s conclusions is that the Iraqi president did not pose an immediate threat to British interests at the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, intelligence did not, undoubtedly,

prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction, and there were alternatives to war that had not been fully considered, causing the killing of British soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Why, then, isn’t Tony Blair on trial as a war criminal, or at least why isn’t his royal honour withdrawn? In response to the second question, which also applies to the first, British journalist and presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, says that, while one million people signed a petition to demand the withdrawal of the Medal of Honour from Blair in a country with a total population of 70 million, 69 million have not done so, although signing the petition electronically, requires no effort. In other words, they either do not want to, or they do not care about the whole issue. Clarkson explains that the only realistic way to prevent Blair from receiving the honour is to hold a formal referendum on the issue, but after the disaster of Britain’s exit from the European Union, there is no sign of that happening.

READ: 1m sign petition asking Tony Blair’s knighthood rescinded

Does this preconceived sense of failure lead us not to participate in any collective initiative for change? There are successes, though few, that refute the “predestination” of failure. On 10 October 1998, for example, the Chilean dictator Pinochet was arrested on charges of “genocide and terrorism that includes murder” during his visit to London, in particular, according to an arrest warrant that human rights activists succeeded in activating. They took advantage of the principle of universal judicial authority, which allows countries to pursue cases involving acts of torture, genocide and other crimes against humanity regardless of where the crime was committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators of those crimes or the nationalities of their victims. In October 2009, Moshe Ya’alon, the deputy Prime Minister of Israel cancelled a trip to Britain for fear of being arrested for war crimes committed against the Palestinians. In January 2010, former Israeli minister, Tzipi Livni, cancelled her visit to Britain after an arrest warrant was issued against her. It is known that Tony Blair no longer dares to walk the streets of his native country, Britain, in order to avoid the anger of the people and, who knows, with the changing balance of global and local power, a persistent Iraqi-British human rights group may be able to bring him to trial, in the near future, as a war criminal, whatever his title.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 10 January 2022 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.