News & Current Affairs

September 19, 2008

Blair gets serious on comedy show

Blair gets serious on comedy show

For a man who has sat down for interviews with Jeremy Paxman – not to mention his 2005 grilling from Ant and Dec – Tony Blair seemed surprisingly ill at ease talking to Jon Stewart on US television’s Daily Show.

But Mr Paxman rarely lulls his guests into a false sense of security – they know they are in for an inquisition.

On the Daily Show – liberal America’s favorite TV program – Jon Stewart uses charm to win confidences from his guests.

Stewart – a staunch opponent of the Iraq war and the Bush administration – appeared to be genuinely interested in finding out what Mr Blair thought about the war, and about the president.

He was not looking to score points or catch him out.

But, if anything, the relaxed line of questioning seemed to make Mr Blair more wary.

And, other than the admission that he “would have been shocked” if he had known in advance just how much bloodshed and disorder the Iraq war was going to unleash, he gave little away.

We learned that “it would have been complicated” for Mr Blair to convert to Catholicism while he was still in Number Ten.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show

But we knew that.

And Mr Blair divulged the basis of his close relationship with President Bush: “I like him”.

But we knew that too.

He managed to win a few laughs when he offered to have a word with President Bush to persuade him to come on the show.

Mostly, however, it was the host who provided the jokes.

At times, the conversation was pretty serious for a comedy show.

There was an in-depth discussion of whether radical Islamist movements like Hamas, al-Qaeda and Hezbollah should be lumped together as a single threat.

Mr Blair argued that they were all linked, while Mr Stewart maintained that the groups had different aims and motivations and should be dealt with separately.

‘Pet’ issues

One topic that was not touched on was the state of politics back in the UK.

Perhaps unsurprisingly on a show aimed at a US audience, Mr Stewart asked no questions about Gordon Brown’s recent troubles.

Of course, no guest comes on a chat show these days without something to plug, and Mr Blair was no exception.

He is about to begin teaching a course at Yale University on “faith and globalisation”.

Not that anyone watching was going to be able to sign up for the course on a whim (although Jon Stewart expressed an interest in doing so).

All in all, both men got what they wanted out of the encounter.

Mr Blair’s wariness meant that he was able to talk about his pet issues – faith and security – without giving away any hostages to fortune.

Jon Stewart got a chance to quiz a man who had been at the centre of one of the most controversial policy decisions in recent US history.

And, as he himself pointed out, he is unlikely to be getting such privileged access to any members of the current administration in the near future – even if Mr Blair does put a good word in for him with his friend George.

August 23, 2008

Protest boats sail for Gaza Strip

Protest boats sail for Gaza Strip

Gaza protest boat

The boats are carrying 40 activists, 200 hearing aids and 5,000 balloons

Two boats carrying members of a US-based pro-Palestinian group have left Cyprus in an attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The boats left the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Friday morning. The journey is expected to take about 30 hours.

The Free Gaza protest group said about 40 activists from 14 countries were on board the boats.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2007 when the militant group Hamas took control of the territory by force.

Since then, Israel has allowed in little more than basic humanitarian aid as a means of isolating Hamas and persuading militant groups to stop firing rockets into Israel.

The closure of Gaza’s borders by the Israeli and Egyptian authorities has also meant that very few Gazans have been able to leave.

‘Supporting Hamas’

Before Free Gaza’s boats set sail on Friday, the Israeli foreign ministry warned them to steer clear of the Gazan coastline, which it said was “the subject of an [Israeli Navy] advisory notice” that warns off foreign vessels from the “designated maritime zone”.

Gaza/Cyprus map

“We assume that your intentions are good but, in fact, the result of your action is that you are supporting the regime of a terrorist organization in Gaza,” the ministry wrote in an open letter.

The two vessels – named Liberty and Free Gaza – are carrying 200 hearing aids for children and 5,000 balloons.

“No matter what happens we have already achieved our goal by proving that ordinary citizens with ordinary means can mobilize a defense of human rights for Palestinians,” organizer Paul Larudee told the AFP news agency.

“We want people to see the Palestinian problem as one of human rights, not feeding them rice,” he added.

The activists include Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British PM Tony Blair, who is now an international Middle East peace envoy. Also on board is left-wing Greek MP Tasos Kourakis.

Israel withdrew its settlers from Gaza in 2005, but it still controls its coast, airspace and borders, and, until a ceasefire with Hamas was agreed in June, carried out regular military operations in the territory.

However, correspondents say the truce has not improved the situation for Gaza’s population, except to reduce the number of Israeli incursions and the number of rockets fired by Palestinian militants.

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