An Interview with George Galloway
By Karen Button
02/08/06 "ICH" -- -- The British Member of Parliament, George Galloway was in Egypt to testify about Britain’s involvement in Iraq’s invasion at a trial organised by the Arab Lawyers Union. Instead, he spent a sleepless night in a detention room at the Cairo airport, told he was a security risk. His Respect Party negotiated on his behalf; he was finally released, but only after the tribunal had ended.
Tired, but gracious, he gave most of his limited time to interviews. We sat in the restaurant of the Shepheard Hotel, an upscale hotel whose lobby is filled with Africans draped in colorful robes and in suits, Asians clustered in small groups, boisterous Arabs sitting around low tables laughing, and a few Americans—mostly businessmen. Ironically, as we talk about American imperialism, Britain’s participation, and the effects on regional politics in the Middle East, the background music swells into a crescendo of the Star-Spangled Banner and continues with other American march tunes.
George Galloway is an eloquent and passionate man, whether in Parliament, in the US Senate—where he flew last year to personally confront Republicans charging his misconduct in the Oil for Food Programme (his pointed questioning celebrated by the Left who’d been longing for this kind of courage from the Democrats)—or in person. His anti-war stance and 30 year support of Arab peoples has ensured his controversy; he is often in conflict with Prime Minister Tony Blair and doesn’t shy away from criticism of George W. Bush. He has been tireless in his support of the Iraqi people during sanctions and after, visiting the country, he says, over 200 times.
We met just prior to his departure back to the airport, and after he’d given an interview with Iraqi TV excerpts of which are included as they answer some of my own questions.
George Galloway, thank you for making this time. You were detained by Egyptian authorities as you entered to testify at a trial being held here. What happened?
Well, first I should say that President Mubarak today sent a personal envoy, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Egyptian Parliament to convey his sincere apologies for what happened to me and that the President was very upset. The envoy was Dr. Mustafa El-Feki. I accepted his apology and I’m grateful for the expression of sympathy from President Mubarak and so I won’t be taking that matter any further. But, you heard me say [last night] what happened to me…it was not a nice experience; it was unprecedented in my 30 years of working in the Arab world and I was very upset about it. But, of course, I accept the apology, which is a gracious one and I will put the matter behind me.
Were you given any reason for your detention? They at first said you were a security threat. Do you think it may have been to prevent you from testifying?
They say no. They say it was a security service mistake and that the security service must become more political, must know who is who and what is what. This is what they say.
You know that the Iraqi and Palestinian witnesses were denied visas?
Yes. This is inexcusable. I don’t know why Egypt continues to act like this because all Arabs look to Egypt as their model, if you like, that this is the greatest Arab country—it’s the most populous Arab country, it’s the most historical Arab country. Egypt has a role to play as a part of this Nation; it shouldn’t turn its back on the Arab Nation. This isn’t correct. I think the trial was hampered by the refusal of visas of participants, and of course that was added to by my absence.
There have been 20 former tribunals held on Bush and Blair’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. What particular importance do you think this trial had?
Well, you won’t really know that until later. The whole story about the straw that broke the camel’s back is that you never really know which is the last straw until it is the last straw. These tribunals are important in themselves, they certainly don’t do the struggle to end the occupation any harm, but their exact weight and importance will vary, but their accumulated weight and strength will only be seen after the event. If I tell you that I’m old enough to remember the Bertrand Russell Tribunal against the Viet Nam war in the 1960s, it didn’t seem like that big of deal at the time, but historically, it has enormous importance and has, indeed, been the model for other such tribunals ever since. A perspective will have to be gained on these events by time.
Was there a significance that this was held in an Arab nation?
Yes. It has made a big impact, I think. It’s been very widely covered. It’s been good that it took place here. To be fair to Egypt, there are not many Arab countries, if any, that would have allowed the tribunal to take place there at all.
About the recent cartoons of Islam. In your viewpoint are there any hidden reasons for this; why now? in this campaign?
You may have heard me say to the Iraqi TV that, first of all, you don’t have to be a Muslim to be on the receiving end of the imperialist lash. People of Cuba, for more than 40 years, have been in that position. The people of Cambodia and Viet Nam lost millions of people, in our lifetime, under the lash of American imperialism. So, you don’t have to be a Muslim. But, in recent years, after the fall of the Soviet Union, unconquered Islam was the only territory free from the globalisation of capitalism and its imperialist foreign policy. The only people still resisting in the world, other than the Cubans, are the Muslims. This brings them into conflict with the tyrants, because Islam forbids its believers to accept tyranny and injustice. It commands the believers to stand up against injustice. And as Bush and Blair and Co. speak the very language of injustice and are, themselves, establishing tyranny around the world, inevitably this brings them into conflict with Muslims.
Now, the good thing is that there millions of people in non-Muslim countries, millions of non-Muslims, who are equally opposed to globalised capitalism and the imperialist war machine which comes from it. So, the Muslims have allies amongst non-Muslims and this is the phenomenon we have seen over the last few years. The development of a massive anti-war movement around the world where Muslims and non-Muslims were on one hand because they share a rejection of occupation, war, exploitation, despoliation of the earth, its environment.
This alliance is potentially world-changing, because the Muslims alone cannot, their allies alone cannot, but together, we might be able to change the world.
How can we narrow the gap between the West and Islam, the West and the Arabs?
Well, there are many things that can be done, for example, the Cairo Conference, which I’m one the founders of, is an attempt to bridge this gap between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world between these allies that I talk about. This is one way. By Muslims participating in the anti-war movements around the world. This is a way to do it. To reject the separatism of the Islamist extremists who say that voting is haram (forbidden), that working with non-Muslims is haram, calling people kofar (atheist) and so on. This separatism should be rejected and Muslims should throw themselves whole-heartedly into the broad and mass movement in the world. Of course, we are not helped by some of the negative phenomena of Islamist extremism. If young Muslims are so angry that they blow themselves up on the London Underground, killing innocent people, this is a big setback. This drives people apart when we should be bringing them together.
These are things that need to be done, but I want to caution you on this point. The division is not between West and East, certainly not between Christianity and Islam. We believe in the prophets, peace be upon them. George W. Bush believes in the profits and how to get a piece of them!
George Bush is no representative of Christianity or of the West. This is a battle between the "bad" people and the others, and there are many bad people in the Muslim world who are ruling some Muslim countries, who are acting as slaves for the bad people in the West. There is not a clear division between Muslims and non-Muslims. There are many good people in the non-Muslim world and good people in the Muslim world and we need to find each other.
It seems though in the West, the US and the UK in particular, with their project of globalisation, is attempting to use religion as a divide, as a tool to accomplish this.
Yes. When George Bush said that it was a "crusade," even if it was a mistake to say it, it is what he meant. It betrayed the thoughts that were in his mind, because Bush has put himself at the head of an army of Christian fundamentalists and Zionist forces in the United States. This apocalyptic language of Armageddon and so on is what they really believe. I don’t think he really believes it. I think Bush didn’t find God, he just found the Party of God, America’s Hezbollah, the Party of Christian Fundamentalism, and he decided to ride it to power. And it’s been, up to a point, very successful.
Many who are working against corporate globalisation think that the Iraqi resistance, the real Iraqi resistance, is in some ways, on the front line of resisting that globalisation. Do you have a response to that?
Well, in the sense that the occupation intends to make Iraq just another pawn in the game, subject to the unalterable and irresistible forces of globalised capitalism and the resistance is opposing that, then yes, the resistance in that sense is an anti-globalisation force. If the occupation succeeds in forcing Iraqi farmers to deal with their world-wide conspiracy of patenting of seeds and so on, this will make Iraq just another brick in the wall. The Iraqi resistance does not want to join that wall. The Iraqi resistance wants Iraq to be an independent and sovereign nation, following its own path. Cuba, too, refuses this path to be just another brick in the capitalist wall, so incurs the wrath of the United States likewise.
And, as we’re seeing in Venezuela…
Yes, Venezuela. Bolivia will shortly follow suit. Any country which breaks from this consensus, Iran also, to a degree. Iran is insisting on its rights, rights which other countries have and is being openly threatened with war as a result. There are many countries now beginning to break from this pre-determined path. We must all support them as well as we can, even if we have disagreements, as we do in Iran, for example. Even where we have disagreements with Iran, if I have to choose between Iran and George Bush, I choose Iran.
You mentioned Hezbollah…can we speak about Hariri. Do you think Syria is responsible for the assassination of Hariri and for the current chaos in Lebanon?
No, I don’t believe that Syria is responsible for the death of Hariri because Syria is the main loser from this crime. States don’t normally commit acts such as that when they know, as any fool could have predicted, that the world will come down on top of them. So, I don’t believe that Syria is responsible at all for this crime. There may have been some Syrians involved, but I don’t believe that President Bashar Assad took a decision to blow up Hariri. This would be madness! Someone else is acting in Lebanon. Who that someone else is, you don’t have to look far, just a few miles. Down the highway, down the south of Lebanon, you see the very power who has both the interest and the capability of fermenting the type of chaos in Lebanon, which we have seen.
It seems there is some type of European-American agreement towards Iran and Syria. What is the interest?< br>
Let’s discuss what the goal is first. The goal is to break the regime in Damascus, not because of anything bad that it’s done, and it has done some bad things, but because of the good things that it does. What are they? Syria will not sign a surrender of peace with Sharon, Syria will not kick out the resistance from Damascus, she will not break her strategic alliance with Hezbollah, she will not—the is the most important thing—she will not open her borders for the United States to use Syria as a military base to crush the Iraqi resistance. She will not allow the United States to use her territory to destroy the Iraqi resistance. For all of the reasons, America wants to either destroy the regime in Damascus or to push them to their knees.
Iran has some of the same elements, but an additional one, Iran is a mighty country, wealthy, populous, with real historic and religious weight. If such a country becomes a nuclear-armed power, this will change the balance of power in the area very considerably. Not just, by the way, to Israel, but to the detriment of America’s puppet regimes in the Arabian Gulf, which is something often missed by commentators. In fact, Iran’s track record indicates that it would seek to use its political power in its own region rather in Israel. It’s more likely Iran would use its new strength on behalf of its co-religionists in Saudi Arabia, for example, or in Bahrain, than it would attack Israel. I think they have no intention of attacking Israel. Hamid Ajahon’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. So these are the goals.
Why the Europeans have joined is more problematic? They certainly share the latter fear, but why France, for example, has decided to throw its lot in with America on the Syrian-Lebanese issue is explicable by France’s refusal to accept that it is no longer an imperial force. The reason France is back in Cote de Vor is because it doesn’t accept that it’s no longer an empire and it’s now trying to recover some of its empire in the Levant. If it can increase its influence in Lebanon and Syria, this will be some kind of—you might say small—renaissance in the French imperial power.
About Iran, how do evaluate events there?
Well, the Iranian government should insist upon its legal and sovereign rights. No one has the right to bully Iran out of exercising its rights under the Non-proliferation Treaty and its rights as an independent sovereign country; the Iranian regime is to be congratulated for its refusal to bow the knee to these bullies.
The West is in a very difficult conundrum with Iran, not least as have said earlier with Iraqi TV, because Iran is much more powerful than it was before, thanks to Bush and Blair and their invasion of Iraq. If anyone strikes Iran, Iran will answer the strike in Iraq. And who is in Iraq where Iran is strong? Britain. We have 8,000 young men in the south of Iraq at the mercy of 10 million or more Shiite Muslims, many of whom are closely allied with Iran. They want to punish Iran, they want to bully Iran. Iran is standing up to them and Iran now has a card, which it can play in Iraq, which makes it un-invadable. They will never invade Iran because the cost would now be too high, not just because Iran would fight them, but because they would fight them in Iraq and they could make Iraq completely ungovernable for the night if Ayatollah Khomeini were to call for a general uprising in the south of Iraq against the occupation. The occupation would have to leave on the first flight. This is how powerful Iran is now in the south of Iraq.
Do you think the US will attempt the Iraq scenario in Syria?
Obviously, Syria is weaker than Iran. It doesn’t have the wealth, it doesn’t have the population, it doesn’t have the homogeneity that Iran largely has. It is much more vulnerable geographically. But, the Syrian regime is not as weak as Bush thinks it is. First of all, Bashar Assad is a very smart guy. He proved the exception to my rule, which is that hereditary leadership is a bad idea. In fact, I think he’s a very good idea, Bashar. And I think the Syrian regime is playing its cards well. Secondly, the main problem about invading Syria is that those who will gain will not be pro-American moderates, but hard-line Islamist forces. In other words, the alternative to Bashar in Damascus is not a slave to the West, it will be someone even more difficult to deal with than Bashar Assad. So I believe they will concentrate on the latter course of action, not trying to destroy the regime in Damascus, but to try and weaken it, to try and force it into bowing the knee on some of these questions that I talked about.
About the court in Cairo, what is the aim of it especially in America and Britain?
Ironically, America and Britain would never have heard of it if I had not been held at the airport and stopped from attending it, so in that sense I should be grateful for what happened to me. I will take the verdict of the trial into the British Parliament next week; I will deliver the sentence to Mr. Blair. It’s political theatre, it has a value which will be seen only in retrospect. It will not necessarily change anything today; it might contribute to changing everything in the longer term. So, I congratulate the Arab Lawyers Union in holding this trial. I’m sorry I didn’t attend, but I’m glad that I was a part of it.
Lastly, one thing very different in this trial is that Sharon and Palestine were included; former trials have only been about Iraq. What’s the purpose?
Well, it’s quite right that these three war criminals should be on trial together. They are part of the same axis of evil; it’s an axis which begins in Pennsylvania Avenue, it runs through Downing Street and it ends in Occupied Jerusalem in the Capitol Room of Sharon. So, it’s right that these three should be on trial together. They are co-accused of war crimes and they are all enemies of peace in the world, so I’m glad they were all tried together.
Throughout this interview flashes went off as photographers would walk up and snap photos of this man who is an obvious hero in the Arab world, one of the few Westerners who has taken an unequivocal stance on their behalf. Yet, his real position is one that focuses on bringing together the world’s burgeoning movements against war and globalised capitalism, summed up in the motto from the World Social Forum: Another World is Possible.
George Galloway interview with Iraqi TV:
You were to be a public witness in the trial against Bush, Blair and Sharon, what would you have told the court?
I would have told the court that the British people can see very clearly that Mr. Blair has committed crimes against Iraq; he also committed a crime against us. He lied to us in Parliament, to the Queen, to his own soldiers; he lied about the reasons for the war and he lied about the consequences of the war. This is treason, because he did it through a conspiracy with a foreign president, George W. Bush, against the knowledge and against the interest of his own people.
Why is British policy linked to American policy?
Because Prime Minister Blair is umbilically connected to George Bush, as he was to Bill Clinton before. Once I had a personal meeting with Mr. Blair at the time of the Desert Fox attack on Iraq in 1998. I asked him: why are you allowing this special relationship with Bill Clinton to take our country to these kind of policy disasters? He told me: This special relationship is our foreign policy. We have only one foreign policy, this special relationship with the United States.
But this is a profound mistake. Britain is, first of all, is a proud and ancient, historical nation. We had an empire across the world when the Americans were still cowboys. We know the Middle East better than the Americans will ever do. So, we have our own interests in this region. Second, we are a European country. The European mainland is twenty miles away from us, America is thousands of miles away from us. And because of our special relationship with the United States, we prejudiced our position as a European country. The European regard us as a Trojan horse for American interests. And thirdly, while a warm relationship with Bill Clinton was understandable, no one in Britain understands how anyone can fall in love with George W. Bush. At least Bush has the excuse that he is stupid. What about Mr. Blair? He is an Oxford-educated, highly-skilled lawyer.
What about this kind of marriage between the British and the Americans? What is the effect on the region?
The Arabs are paying the highest price. And the broader Muslim world is paying it too, because that is the way the world is divided today. Islam is the last unconquered territory. The Soviet Union is defeated. Socialism is defeated. Nationalism is depressed. But, Islam is unconquered. And because Islam commands the believer to reject injustice and tyranny, this makes Islam automatically in a collision course with these tyrants, Bush and Blair. And, Islam has millions of soldiers. Millions of soldiers to resist this globalisation.
From your talking, we understand that these extremists are not from Islam, but are borne from the American and British policies.
This is undoubtedly true. If you look at Iraqis—the best example—the radicalisation of Iraq, the Islamist invasion of Iraq is the result of the policy of Bush and Blair. And so you see the law of 'unintended consequence’. For example, Iran became much more powerful in Iraq as a result of the policy of Bush and Blair. So, now when they threaten Iran, unjustly and illegally threaten Iran, they have to face the fact if they strike Iran, Iran will strike them in Iraq! This is not what they intended to happen. The Chinese have a saying, that sometimes the enemy struggles mightily to life a huge stone only to drop it on its own feet. And this is what they’ve done in the Muslim world!
We understand the British and the Americans are modern in all kinds of fields. Why have they failed to grasp this strategic fallout?
That’s a very good question. How can it be that the United States, this hugely successful country, the most dynamic, the most talented, the most scientifically-advanced people in the world, came to choose twice George W. Bush as their president? Is the greatest man in the United States? This is ridiculous! So there is a disjunction between the importance of countries of like Britain and America and the quality of the leaders they produce.
But, they don’t have the excuse that they weren’t told about this. Mr. Blair told British television a month ago that he had been surprised by the scale of the Iraqi resistance. But, he has no reason to be surprised. I personally told him, man to man, just him and me, close as I am to you right now, I told him: The Iraqis will fight you with their teeth if necessary and they will fight you forever until you leave! I told him that Iraqis are still talking about the British in the 1920s. They can still tell me which families didn’t fight the British in the 1920s! The Iraqis are very tough people…and when Baghdad falls, it will not be the beginning of the end, it will be the end of the beginning! When Baghdad falls the war will begin! I told him: You will face suicide bombers, car bombers, roadside bombs, and the day will come when the hundreds will become thousands and the thousands will become millions. All of this I told him man to man, face to face before the war! So, he has no reason to be surprised.
Are you reading the Iraqi history or are you just guessing this strategy from any country that would resist an occupation?
Well, it’s both. Any dignified people—and nobody is more dignified than the Iraqis—will never accept foreign armies occupying their country, taking away their young men, insulting their women, stealing their wealth. The British would never accept it! If Hitler had landed in our country, when we stood alone, when the Americans were watching the war on the news, every dignified person in Britain would have—day and night—planned in which way they could attack this foreign occupation. They would have cut the throats of any of the occupier they could find!…because the British are a dignified people. The Iraqis are not less dignified than us. But also I knew the specifics of the Iraqi situation. Iraqis know that the imperial powers and Israel want to break Iraq, because they don’t want to see any strong Arab country. An Arab country with a population with water, with oil, with gas, with educated people, with a sense of itself as a nation…they don’t want to see such an Arab country. They want to break Iraq and the Iraqis know this!
If I have one message for the Iraqi people, it’s to stay at one people! Don’t allow the enemy to break Iraq!
Other articles by Karen Button www.insurgent49.com