Voices: Tony Blair’s knighthood is an insult to people like me who grew up in the shadow of the Iraq war

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  • Tony Blair
    Tony Blair
    Former prime minister of the United Kingdom (born 1953)
A petition calling for former prime minister Tony Blair to be stripped of his knighthood is approaching 500,000 signatures on change.org  (PA)
A petition calling for former prime minister Tony Blair to be stripped of his knighthood is approaching 500,000 signatures on change.org (PA)

In the early hours of 2022, we learned that former prime minister Tony Blair was to be awarded a knighthood on the new year honours list. Yet his name is a shuddering reminder to people like me of some of the most heinous war crimes committed in recent memory, and the devastating atrocities that continue to unfold in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

When the news broke that Blair was to receive a knighthood, I had a distinct sense of disbelief and shock. In my opinion, he is thoroughly undeserving of this honour – it is an insult to the people of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as to the people of Britain.

As a millennial, I am part of the generation that vividly recalls growing up in the shadow of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In early 2003, I remember seeing news coverage of people marching in the streets, unfurling their white banners against the looming threat of a destructive war.

Up to 2 million people took part in Stop the War Coalition protests. The demonstration in London on 15 February 2003 was the largest protest ever held in Britain. Although my peers and I were schoolchildren, we knew something was wrong. We witnessed the people of the UK uniting against injustice, and marching because they feared what lay ahead.

The weeks, months and years that followed saw endless destruction and chaos in Iraq. The Iraqi people were robbed of their lives and livelihoods. We watched televised scenes of buildings falling, homes being bombed, and both military personnel and civilians being killed.

Cases such as Abu Ghraib and Camp Bread Basket heaped disgrace upon western troops, and showed us the devastating horrors and inhumanity of war. It seemed that our government wished to cause long-lasting chaos and destruction, all for a short-term sense of victory.

The British public knew such a war would have devastating implications, and Blair appeared to me to ignore this, while our country became a fertile breeding ground for extremism and a prime target for terrorism. My generation saw clearly how these events were linked to each other like a chain reaction.

I was 11 years old when the 7/7 bombings happened, and it feels like only yesterday – despite being 17 years ago. A total of 52 people were killed and hundreds injured. I vividly remember the day it happened: my mother dropped me off at school, and as she walked back, she saw bodies being carried out of the station. Blair put our country at huge risk and we had to suffer the consequences.

Although Blair may believe that he left Iraq in a peaceful condition, the power vacuum that ensued allowed Isis – one of the most brutal terrorist groups – to capitalise on political and social disarray. Its members spread violence and fear throughout the region.

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In the UK, we received harrowing news of hostages taken and sickening violence against innocent civilians. This was another appalling consequence of the war, and part of the seemingly endless tragedies the Iraqi people have been forced to face.

Then, on 30 August 2021, US president Joe Biden made the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan – another country destroyed by the “war on terror”. History repeated itself. Afghanistan was left in disarray and in the hands of the Taliban.

I am 27 now, and the events that followed Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq are still very fresh in my mind. My generation grew up surrounded by this timeline of atrocities.

In my opinion, awarding him a knighthood makes a mockery of the experience of everyone who remembers what happened. His actions have shamed our country – and this still weighs heavily in many of our hearts.

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