Fraser to Tutu: Morality is not about having clean hands

We carried an item on Saturday about Desmond Tutu’s contention that former President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair should face prosecution at the International Criminal Court for their role in the war in Iraq. Tutu has also written an op-ed essay for the Guardian in which he says:

Leadership and morality are indivisible. Good leaders are the custodians of morality. The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was good or bad or how many of his people he massacred. The point is that Mr Bush and Mr Blair should not have allowed themselves to stoop to his immoral level.

If it is acceptable for leaders to take drastic action on the basis of a lie, without an acknowledgement or an apology when they are found out, what should we teach our children?

My appeal to Mr Blair is not to talk about leadership, but to demonstrate it. You are a member of our family, God’s family. You are made for goodness, for honesty, for morality, for love; so are our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in the US, in Syria, in Israel and Iran.

I did not deem it appropriate to have this discussion at the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg last week. As the date drew nearer, I felt an increasingly profound sense of discomfort about attending a summit on “leadership” with Mr Blair. I extend my humblest and sincerest apologies to Discovery, the summit organisers, the speakers and delegates for the lateness of my decision not to attend.

This morning, the Rev. Giles Fraser, a Guardian columnist took issue with Tutu’s decision not to meet with Blair:

The reason I recoil at Tutu’s decision is that it smacks too much of the sort of thinking that he has, in other contexts, done so much to dismantle – the idea that it is the purpose of morality to make one feel better about oneself, to feel that one is on the right side, that one is with the angels. But morality is not about having clean hands. When it comes to Iraq, the fact that most of us have lifestyles dripping with oil cannot be insignificant. Oil and blood are mixed together in the unholy eucharist of modern life. This is the cup from which we all drink. How can we ostracise those presiding at this feast if we are also drinking from the same cup?

What do you think of Fraser’s point? To what extent are we all complicit in crimes committed by our leaders–if indeed, as not all would agree, the war was a crime?

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