Tonight, Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, spoke at UB as part of our “Distinguished Speakers Series.” So, I went to go see him. Why not? He ran one of the most powerful nations in the world for 10 years, the man has to have SOMETHING interesting to say.
One of my English professors staged a protest outside of Alumni Arena on the grounds that Tony Blair cannot be a “distinguished speaker” because he is guilty of war crimes. I wrote an article about the protest, which you can read HERE, but the gist is that my professor and this group feel Blair is responsible for the escalated hate and tensions in the Middle East and that in tandem with former president Bush, killed thousands of Afghan and Iraqi women and children.
Now, I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s common knowledge that I am no fan of George W. Bush. I feel like he struck back on the Middle East under false pretenses. He said it was defense after 9/11, but I feel like that was just a cover-up. He was looking to exploit oil interests and be a bully. He did not care about American safety or terrorist threats or peace.
After seeing Blair speak tonight I don’t think he shared the same motivation as Bush. His whole speech was about working together as a cohesive unit to achieve peace. He defended his actions in Iraq and Afghanistan saying that he truly and honestly felt that at the time it was the best course of action to make a point. Yes, I truly believe that violence isn’t the answer but I respect Blair in not only making the decision but still sticking by it, even two years after he resigned his post.
Maybe it was his charming smile or his cute British accent. Maybe he’s just a really good politician and knows how to push the right buttons and blow the right amount of smoke up your ass…but I found myself really loving his “the world is changing for the better, let’s all get along message,” even if I don’t necessarily agree with his means.
I came to respect Tony Blair as a world leader who did the best he knew how. Sure, he pissed a bunch of people off but you can’t be the leader of a country and have everyone love you all the time. At least he stands by his decisions, unlike Bush who likes to pretend that the last eight years never happened.
Aside from this what also angers me about the protesters is that though they are all about free speech and civil liberties they kept asking students, faculty and staff of UB to not go Blair’s speech. This is a renowned research university that bases itself on a melting pot student population and endless opportunities to learn and expand your intellectual horizons. What about the freedom to learn what I please without be harangued by signs and conga drums, protesters? What if a student was truly curious about what Tony Blair had to say but didn’t go because they were persuaded by people handing out flyers? I know there’s no way to stop that because of freedom of speech and that college kids should know how to make up their own minds, but it still irritates me.
I guess I just don’t agree with protesting Tony Blair’s appearance based on what he did while he was in office. He hasn’t been in office for over two years. He’s not in the position to commit any more of these “war crimes” people are accusing him of, so why can’t you just be respectful? Picket signs? Okay. Congregating in front of the arena? Fine. But yelling obscenities and calling him names? Not okay. There is a way to voice your opinion without being crude and rude.
Maybe I’m starry-eyed and naive. Maybe I just have a tendency to believe the best in people despite the evidence to the contrary. This is all probably true, but at least I know how to respect people whose opinions differ from mine. At least I know how to voice my distaste without being crass and caustic.
Why can’t we all just get along?