George Galloway on shifting sands
11 March 2011
George Galloway spoke at a meeting at the London School of Economics on Monday, in which, according to this Jewish Chronicle report, he made several astonishing statements. I wrote last week about the celebration of stupidity at LSE, but Galloway's performance is something else entirely. Despite his reputation as a fearless straight-talker, Galloway is as liable as anyone to self-contradiction, obfuscation and sometimes transparent bluster. His LSE appearance was typical.
Firstly, there's this:
[Galloway] denied giving money to Hamas despite video footage showing him handing bags of cash to leaders.
He was questioned about video footage during a Viva Palestina convoy to Gaza in 2009 where he is seen saying: We carried a lot of cash here. We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all the contents. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics. The government of Palestine is the best people where this money is needed.
But on Monday he said: I did not give bags of cash to Hamas. I gave money, ambulances, wheelchairs, medicine, food, childrens clothes, teddy bears to the 1.6million Palestinian people under siege in Gaza.
This is bizarre, because when the Charity Commission investigated allegations that Galloway's Viva Palestina organisation had given money to Hamas, the Commission reported (no longer online) that Galloway told them the following:
Mr Galloway also confirmed that he had handed over £25,000 in cash to Hamas and acknowledged that this was not the Charity's money. In addition he informed the Inquiry that in order to distance the Charity from this act he had been very clear that it was 'personal money' that had been handed to Hamas.
So Galloway told the Charity Commission that he did give money to Hamas, but told the LSE students that he didn't. These two statements are obviously impossible to reconcile. It is possible that the Charity Commission and/or the JC have mis-reported his remarks; but otherwise there is a contradiction which only Galloway can explain. Perhaps, when speaking at the LSE, Galloway simply forgot what he had told the Charity Commission last year.
The video to which the JC report refers is of Galloway after he arrived in Gaza with Viva Palestina in March 2009:
The fuller, exact quote from Galloway is even more explicit than the one in the JC report:
Just in case the British government or the European Union want to face me in any court, let me tell them live on television: I personally am about to break the sanctions on the elected government of Palestine. By Allah we carried a lot of cash here. You thought we were all fat. We are not fat. This is money that we have around our waists ... We are giving you now 100 vehicles and all of the contents, and we make no apology for what I am about to say. We are giving them to the elected government of Palestine, to the Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. Here is the money [holds up bag]. This is not charity. This is not charity. This is not charity. This is politics. [starts to take money out of the bag and hand it over].
Galloway often makes a distinction between Hamas itself, and the government in Gaza which was formed by Hamas and is led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. However it is worth noting that the UK and EU sanctions to which he refers specifically prohibit funding Hamas, not the government of Gaza per se. So his claim that his actions broke these sanctions either suggests that he knows his distinction does not hold water, or is simply bluster for the cameras.
Galloway has chosen a less orthodox political career than most - a "lunatic fringe MP" is how one Wikileaks cable records him being described in a conversation between British and American diplomats in Cuba. Nonetheless, the record shows he is just as capable of double standards as the career politicians he regularly castigates. His current image is that of a scourge of Middle Eastern dictators and he can currently be found across the media attacking Britain and other Western powers for supporting non-democratic Arab regimes. According to the JC:
He criticised Britain for propping up every corrupt king and every tyrant, every dictator for as long as that dictator agrees to open his country, his economy, to our corporations.
A quick scan of the House of Commons' Register of Members' Interests for the period when Galloway was an MP shows that he was not averse to accepting money or gifts from Middle Eastern rulers whose countries fall well short of democratic standards. For example, in November 1997, January/February 1999, March/April 2000 and December 2001 he visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with costs paid for by the UAE government. He also built up an impressive watch collection: Between November 1997 and April 2000 he received four different watches as gifts of the UAE government or one or other of its ministers. The UAE may not be the most brutal of Arab dictatorships, but according the the US-based organisation Freedom House it is definitely "not free":
The UAE is not an electoral democracy. All decisions about political leadership rest with the dynastic rulers of the seven emirates, who form the Federal Supreme Council, the highest executive and legislative body in the country. The seven leaders select a president and vice president, and the president appoints a prime minister and cabinet. The UAE has a 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), half of which was elected for the first time in 2006 by a 6,689-member electoral college chosen by the seven rulers. The other half of the council is directly appointed by the government for two-year terms. UAE officials have said they intend to grant universal suffrage for the 2010 FNC elections. The council serves only as an advisory body, reviewing proposed laws and questioning federal government ministers.
There are no political parties in the country. Instead, the allocation of positions in the government is largely determined by tribal loyalties and economic power. The emirate of Abu Dhabi, the major oil producer in the UAE, has controlled the federations presidency since its inception. Citizens have a limited opportunity to express their interests through traditional consultative sessions.
Although the UAEs constitution provides for some freedom of expression, the government has historically restricted this right in practice. The 1980 Printing and Publishing Law applies to all media and prohibits defamatory material and negative material about presidents, friendly countries, [and] religious issues, and [prohibits] pornography.
The UAEs mostly foreign workers do not have the right to organize, bargain collectively, or strike.
The judiciary is not independent, with court rulings subject to review by the political leadership.
This report is from 2010, so it is possible that democracy and human rights have regressed significantly over the past decade, and that the UAE was a beacon of democracy when Galloway was a regular recipient of their government's generosity. I doubt it, though.
Nowadays Galloway works for Press TV, an Iranian state TV channel. According to the JC, he defended his position there to the students at LSE, saying:
Because I dont believe that the government of Iran is a dictatorship I have no problem about working for Press TV in London which is a British owned television station.
Galloway's claim that the London arm of Press TV is "British-owned" is an example of how, by missing out some key information, it is possible to be totally misleading without actually saying anything that is untrue. Press TV is indeed registered as a company in the United Kingdom, but it is merely the local branch of an international TV network that was created by the Iranian state broadcaster IRIB, which lists it as one of its family of national and international TV channels; and its headquarters are in Tehran.
He also said:
There are many things wrong with Iran. One thing they do have is elections. They elected a president that you or I might not have voted for but I am in no doubt that Ahmadinejad won the presidential election.
Galloway is right that the Iranian president is elected, although many people believe that the last election was rigged. However he surely also knows that, in Iran's complex political system, the president is subordinate to Ayatollah Khameini and much of the real power lies with unelected bodies of clerics. He must also know that the Iranian government can be extremely brutal in repressing political opposition and dissent amongst its own people, just as much as Egypt under Mubarak, or Libya under Gaddafi, or any of the other regimes he castigates Western governments for supporting. But to admit this would be to invite accusations of hypocrisy, so instead he blusters his way through. He did the same with Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The Register of Members' Interests records a stay in Baghdad in May 2000, which Galloway described as being "paid for by the Baghdad Conference, a collection of NGOs working on the sanctions issue." The idea of genuinely non-governmental Iraqi NGOs operating in Baghdad in 2000 is a sick joke.
Here's another, smaller example, of Galloway's ability to switch his views when the situation demands it. In my 2005 edition of Galloway's autobiography, I'm Not the Only One, Galloway accused Robin Cook of:
betraying everything he stood for I would never trust Robin Cook as far as I could throw him.
When Cook died in August of that year, Galloway paid tribute:
It is a bitter blow to the Labour movement, who wanted to see Labour become Labour again. He was Labour to his fingertips and a courageous, outstanding figure.
Galloway is hardly the first politician to swallow his true thoughts and say the 'right thing' when a long-standing colleague passes way. But this is hardly the mark of a fearless 'truth-to-power' speaker.
By the time Galloway wrote I'm Not the Only One, the Iraqi insurgency was in full swing and taking the lives of British and American soldiers with increasing frequency. On page 155 of my copy, Galloway laments the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq and explains that he opposed the war:
Not because I hate our soldiers ... but because I care for them more than the politicians who sent them to kill and to be killed for a lie.
At the time of writing, the Iraqi resistance are attacking the invaders an average of 87 times a day. By the time you read this it may be more. In the month of September 2004 more than 2,700 military operations were undertaken by the resistance.
All of which comes just two pages after an astonishing admission, whereby Galloway freely admits to having recommended the tactics of guerrilla warfare to the Iraqi government before the 2003 invasion, and even to having given them instruction books on the subject:
I had many conversations in Iraq about what might happen if the US invaded the country. I encouraged them to avoid attempting to fight a war of position against a superpower.
'Don't stand in lines, or hunker down in trenches,' I used to say. 'You will be mown down or buried alive.' The only war that can be fought against a superpower is a war of movement. I brought Tariq Aziz all the writings of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung on the arts of revolutionary war and he had them translated into Arabic. Fight a war of movement, take the uniforms off, swim among the Iraqi people and whatever their views on the regime, they will undoubtedly provide deep aquifers of support for a patriotic resistance.
I have no idea if Tariq Aziz ever did get Galloway's guerrilla warfare books translated into Arabic, or whether they were used to train the Iraqi insurgents who killed so many British and American troops in the aftermath of the 2003 invasion. I expect that the Iraqi army needed little instruction in the dark arts of warfare. But it's the thought that counts; and I do sometimes wonder, when George Galloway sits on Stop the War Coalition platforms next to the parents of British soldiers killed in Iraq, whether he feels proud, or ashamed, or neither, that their sons may have been killed by people who were trained with the books he gave to Saddam Hussein's Deputy Prime Minister.