Could Desmond even get a 2:2?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

For any of you unaware, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s surname has earned him a prominent place in British academic slang. Despite Tutu’s moral force in the apartheid era and grandfatherly like nature, his name can strike up fear of that, ‘Only quite good’ degree that is the lower second class honours. 

However, many graduates prove a 2:2 is not deserving of its negative connotations with their success. The archbishop for his part often conveys a political and historical analysis hardly deserving of his connection to that classification. My premise here is clearly tongue-in-cheek, but Desmond Tutu’s contribution to today’s Observer makes for quite the read.


In a smug piece on why he refused to attend a seminar when Tony Blair would be present, the archbishop opens by condemning the Iraq war as a conflict which, ‘has destabilised and polarised the world to a greater extent than any other conflict in history’.

This is a no less than startling claim to make. Yes, the liberation of Iraq led to an upsurge in civil unrest. In addition to this, poor post conflict governance from the victorious forces led to a power vacuum which bred instability. However, to claim that this conflict led to more conflict and instability than either of the World Wars, Napoleon’s revolutionary wars or numerous imperial wars is almost laughable.  Any 2:2 graduates worth their salt could tell you that.

The archbishop goes onto bemoan how Iraq drove the region towards the Syrian and other Arab Spring conflicts. In a sense, he is right. The removal of a brutal dictator sent a clear message: that the age of the tyrant in the Middle East was ending. I suppose the archbishop would rather the world stood by and let Saddam, Gadhafi and co get away with it? This is certainly what one can interpret from his remarks. 

Since no WMDs have ever been found in Iraq, supporters of the war have focused on Saddam’s crimes against his own people as justification for their cause. A little late, perhaps, but the archbishop goes as far as to dismiss it as irrelevant.  He claims the central point is that Blair and Bush should not have, ‘stooped to his level’.  

I’m not entirely sure if the Archbishop knows what he is dealing with here.  Saddam’s army was responsible for the Al-Anfal genocidal campaign against the Kurdish people, and other smaller ethic groups in northern Iraq. It is agreed around 200,000 people were killed, with the use of concentration camps and chemical warfare upon innocent civilians. With all due respect, one has to wonder if the Archbishop has any idea of the gravity of his statement. 

The Archbishop’s cause is that both Bush and Blair should be put to The Hague to answer for their actions. He cites the Iraqi death toll at 6.5 per day in 2011. A horrendous total, but how can these deaths be contributed to the invasion? A large assumption is made by the Archbishop that the regime would have remained stable alongside the growth of radical Islamic terrorism and the Arab spring protests. And if it had, is this a good thing? 

Thomas Jefferson comes to mind: “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the boisterous sea of liberty”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been an eminent moral force for decades, and a hero to many. However, capable of a ‘Desmond’ degree classification in History or international relations? Possibly not. 

By Ross Graham

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