The Archbishop, Oedipus, and the Golden Ass

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad writes: In late August, at a leadership summit in Johannesburg, anti-apartheid hero Archbishop Desmond Tutu refused to share a platform with Tony Blair. Citing Blair’s role in the immoral invasion of Iraq, he suggested that the former British prime minister belonged in the dock at The Hague, not on the international speakers’ circuit. Blair accused the Archbishop of repeating a “canard” and invoked the authority of “independent analysis” to assert that his mistake was honest and that he had been misled by bad intelligence.

If true, this should absolve him of moral responsibility for the war. One can make a reasonable argument that one’s honest mistakes or good intentions release one from moral culpability for the unintended consequences of one’s actions. But do they also exempt one from remorse?

In Sophocles’ immortal work, when Oedipus, the king of Thebes, discovers that the man he once killed in self-defence was his father and that the woman he married and sired four children with is his mother, the consciousness of his own innocence does little to ameliorate his guilt. Fate as an excuse offers little solace when the consequences of one’s actions are so terrible. Oedipus puts out his own eyes.

Tony Blair on the other hand has used an impenetrable wall of humbug to insulate himself from remorse and preserved his eyes for Mammon. With his government pedigree as a calling card and his prodigious capacity for bullshit as a resource, he trots the globe, selling snake-oil for exorbitant sums.

He has divested himself of guilt by adopting the logic of dreams which Freud (as noted by Slavoj Zizek) illustrated with a joke about a man who is accused by his neighbour of returning a damaged kettle. His defence: “In the first place, he had returned the kettle undamaged; in the second place, it already had holes in it when he borrowed it; and in the third place, he had never borrowed it at all.”

In the first place, Blair genuinely believed Iraq posed an imminent threat; in the second place, Saddam was a tyrant who needed removing regardless of the WMDs; and in the third place, Iraq is so much better off than before the invasion.

By choosing one, Blair might have convinced some; by marshalling all three, he has indicted himself. Blair piles on less out of stupidity than necessity. Obfuscation is necessary because none of Blair’s arguments stand up to scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email