Aziz Hartley

THE Muslim Judicial Council has saluted Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for refusing to participate in a leadership summit with former British prime minister Tony Blair and has lashed out at the event’s organisers for having invited Blair to South Africa.

Tutu withdrew from today’s Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in Johannesburg because of Blair’s active support for the US military invasion of Iraq on the basis that that country had weapons of mass destruction. The decision to invade was morally indefensible, a statement from Tutu’s office had said.

“We salute you Desmond Tutu. We are proud of you, of your example and for being a true leader unlike Tony Blair, who was used by the US [for] a war based on lies and injustice,” the MJC said in a statement yesterday.

The council said it was disappointed Discovery had invited Blair as a guest speaker to the summit.

“We are deeply concerned that Discovery Life has disregarded and chosen to ignore Blair’s role during the US’s illegal attack on Iraq that resulted in the loss of life of thousands of Iraqis. The military invasion was followed up by the plunder and theft of Iraq’s oil reserves,” the MJC said. Discovery chief marketing officer Hylton Kallner said Tutu had on May 23 accepted an invitation to the summit and that his withdrawal on Tuesday was unexpected.

“The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit brings together a range of leaders to debate the challenges that face the world’s economy, business, government and society. The event is not intended to reflect a political view or cause offence. Discovery Invest selected the speakers based on their experience as leaders from various spheres of society and therefore took a decision not to withdraw our invitation to any of the speakers,” Kallner said.

“We take the security of all the speakers and delegates to the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit events very seriously. Obviously, as a previous prime minister, Mr Blair has his own security arrangements,” Kallner said about whether special security arrangements were made for Blair after local lobby group SA Muslim Network had vowed to make a citizen’s arrest and have Blair charged.

Blair also shrugged off threats by SA Muslim groups to effect a citizen’s arrest on him in SA and to protest at the conference today.

“What I say to these groups is why don’t you actually go and protest against the people doing the killing? The vast majority of people dying from terrorist activity is Muslim-on-Muslim violence which is an outrage against the proper faith of Islam,” Blair said.

Blair’s spokeswoman, Ciaran Ward, said he was sorry Tutu had withdrawn from the summit.

“As far as Iraq is concerned they have always disagreed about removing Saddam by force – such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy. As for the morality of that decision we have recently had both the memorial of the Halabja massacre where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons, and that of the Iran-Iraq war where casualties numbered up to a million including many killed by chemical weapons. So these decisions are never easy morally or politically,” she said.

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