Exposing the Big Lie
Interview with George Galloway
by Eric Ruder
International Socialist Review,
George Galloway is Respect Party member
of parliament (MP) for Bethnal Green and Bow in East London. He
recently electrified the United States with his appearance at
a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing on May
17. CNN's Wolf Blitzer described Galloway's speech in the Senate
as "a blistering attack on U.S. senators rarely heard"
in Washington. He is touring the United States from September
13-25, 2005. The tour is sponsored by The New Press, International
Socialist Review, and the Center for Economic Research and Social
Change. This month, The New Press is publishing his book Mr Galloway
Goes to Washington (see review in : this issue). He was interviewed
by the ISR's Eric Ruder.
Why do you think that the antiwar movement got it right-about
Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or the lack thereof, and the
: absence of any connection between Iraq and : al-Qaeda-when world
leaders like George Bush and Tony Blair got it wrong?
I think the antiwar movement was guided by the journalistic principle
first annunciated by the great Claude Cockburn, father of Alexander
and Patrick. Cockburn's principle was that nothing is true until
it's been officially denied. And, of course, the corollary is
also true-that which the state and the government claim should
be treated as a lie until it's proved otherwise. While the mass
media and the gullible among the political legislatures accepted
hook, line, and sinker everything they were fed by the state,
it all turned out to be false.
I think we instinctively imagined that
there was an absurd level of demonization of Iraq going on, a
total exaggeration of its potential danger, and the demonization
of its leadership out of all proportion. After all, Saddam Hussein
committed real and serious crimes against the people of Iraq,
most of them when he was Britain and America's best friend. In
fact, by the time of the beginning of sanctions in 1991, until
the overthrow of the regime, it was Britain and America who were
slaughtering the Iraqis, not the Iraqi regime. There was an Iraqi
child dying every six minutes under the sanctions. Even Saddam
Hussein never dreamt of batting averages like that.
What impact do you think that the July bombings in London have
had on the political climate there?
The government obviously is trying to make it into a 9/11 moment,
complete with our own variation of the Patriot Act. The antiwar
movement is trying to make it into a Madrid moment and hold the
government to account for the role that it played in creating
the conditions in which the London bombings took place. The truth
is, it's presently neither. The government's best efforts, helped
by the very same tame media machine that swallowed all their lies
in the first place about Iraq, are trying their very best but
failing to persuade people that there was no link between the
two things. When I said so on the day of the bombing on the seventh
of July in the House of Commons, the sky fell on top of my head.
The political class and the media attacked me in the most virulent
But within ten days, 85 percent-85 percent!-of
the British people in the opinion polls were saying that the two
issues were linked. So the government is certainly failing to
make it a 9/11 moment. So far we haven't made it a Madrid moment,
but there may well be things going on under the surface in the
governing party, because there must be a realization dawning ever
so slowly that Britain has to make a change of course, and it's
not going to be able to do so with its current leadership. Its
current leadership, which already announced its own retirement
(albeit four years off), cannot be said to be sitting securely
in its place at this time.
We're bringing forward our scheduled November
demonstration to September 24, which coincides of course with
the U.S. demonstration. This is the day before the Labor Party
conference opens, and obviously the movement is trying to impact
on that conference in the strongest possible way. A number of
the big unions, who've got 49 percent of the votes at the Labor
conference, were already lined up to vote for immediate withdrawal,
or withdrawal of British troops by Christmas. The bombing in London
has not yet changed their policy, but of course there's quite
a bit of time to go between now and then.
If all the unions stand firm, then the
Labor conference will pass a resolution demanding either immediate
withdrawal by our British forces, or, at worst, the withdrawal
of troops by Christmas.
Has anti-Muslim racism increased as a result of the bombings,
or as a result of government reactions to the bombings?
Well, both, markedly. There's a 700 percent increase in the number
of assaults on Muslims since the seventh of July, and that almost
certainly underreports the extent of the problem. Many Muslims
have just chosen to shrug off the odd kick, and certainly they\re
had to ignore a pretty savage stepping up in ugly Islamophobic
rhetoric against them. There have been some assaults on Muslim
property. At least three mosques have been attacked.
The government and the gutter media have
been stepping up the assaults, too. The government has launched
a new raft of so-called anti-terror proposals, which are all pregnant
with the death of the very way of life that we say we are all
trying to defend, not least freedom of speech, freedom of worship,
freedom to choose one's own priests.
Today, people who are apologists for the occupation of Iraq say
that without U.S. or British forces there, there would be civil
war. What's your view?
I know the Iraqi people very well, and I have the fullest confidence
that they are not in need of foreign forces to mend their broken
state. There are people who are trying to foment one-some of them,
playing with fire, don't really want one, but want to keep the
danger of one right at the top of the agenda for their own political
purposes. But there is no civil war in Iraq. There's a war by
the Iraqi resistance against the occupying foreign forces and
their domestic collaborators.
This is the case in every anti-colonial
struggle. In Vietnam, the Vietnamese people's resistance was meted
out both to the foreign army and their domestic collaborators.
In every anti-colonial struggle, that is true. Now, it does happen
to be the case that most of the collaborator forces of the puppet
regime in Baghdad are Shiite Muslims. They are being attacked
not because they are Shiites, but because they are collaborators,
because they are part of the occupation state. That does not constitute
a civil war.
Of course, there's an absolute requirement
on the resistance, and this is something I say in every one of
my speeches here and in the Middle East, and in my daily communication
with Iraq: It is an obligation of the resistance to so conduct
its resistance as to minimize the danger of civil war, to conduct
itself in a way that is tending toward bringing the Shiite Muslim
population into the resistance. And many, of course, are in the
resistance-some of them armed, and some of them not armed. In
the latter case, some of them not armed, but who have been armed
in the past and might be armed again in the future. I'm thinking,
for example, of Moqtada al Sadr's group, and his Mahdi Army, which
is not involved in armed struggle at the moment, but is collecting
signatures-has collected more than a million signatures-demanding
an end to the occupation. It regularly organizes demonstrations
and other mass activity. They are a part of the resistance, albeit
one that at the moment is not actually fighting the occupation
But there are many Shiites in the resistance
fighting the occupation. And we must all conduct everything that
we do with a view to maximizing the unity of the Iraqi people,
and struggling against any tendency towards division on a confessional,
sectarian, or ethnic basis. But much more has been made of this
than is the case. If you talk with Iraqis, there's far less of
this apparent confessional strife than is routinely reported and
puffed up here in the Western media. Most Iraqis, including most
Shiites, believe themselves to be Iraqis first, Muslims next,
and Sunnis and Shiites third. So, we shouldn't exaggerate this
problem, but we must struggle to address this problem, and I am
all the time trying to encourage that.
Now, as to the danger of civil war if
the occupier withdraws-that is, of course, what every occupier
always says. We have more experience of this here than you do.
We've occupied more countries for longer, and it is always the
case that the occupier claims that he'd like to go but he can't
really go because the natives would tear each other apart. That
simply isn't true.
What do you think accounts for the U.S. quagmire in Iraq?
I think, as George Bush himself might put it, they "misunderestimated"
the Iraqis. They thought that this would be a pushover, and they
thought that it would then act as a terrorizing big stick for
others, and the other dominos in the region would fall, and the
world would take note and be suitably terrified of American power.
But, of course, if I may be allowed to quote Chairman Mao in your
magazine, the enemy sometimes struggles mightily to lift a huge
stone, only to drop it on its own feet. And that's precisely what
Instead of terrorizing the world with
American power, they have demonstrated the limits of American
power. They have demonstrated that America has ferocious power
in the air, above rocket-propelled grenade range, but they cannot
control a single street in a country that's resisting them. And
that has effectively stopped them in their tracks. So I think
it was an opportunistic attack by Bush on Iraq. He thought in
the wake of 9/11 that it was a smart idea to achieve both the
goal of taking control of Iraq, but also terrorizing the world
and knocking over a few dominos in the region, principally Iran
and Syria, and no doubt forcing countries like North Korea and
others to bow the knee to American power.
What role does Israel's occupation of Palestine play in this equation?
GG A tremendous role. But I always insist-and
I insist on it to your audience, even though they almost certainly
know it-that it's not the case, as some like Pat Buchanan and
others claim, that America works for Israel. It's the other way
around. Israel works for America. Israel works for imperialism.
It's not that there's a Zionist lobby acting as the tail that
wags the dog. The dog always wags the tail. And Israel's purpose,
in its creation, was to keep the Arabs divided and weak and to
be an advance guard for imperialist interests in the region, the
full importance of which was only just becoming known when the
Zionist enterprise sprang forth. And now, Israel is an indispensable,
nuclear-armed military superpower acting on behalf of imperialism
in the Arab world.
One of the reasons for keeping the Arabs
divided and weak is, of course, so that the imperialist countries
can steal their wealth, so that they could keep them in their
box, so that they don't unify and challenge their domination of
the region. But of course a consequent need is to make sure that
no Arab power emerges that can balance Israel, let alone threaten
it. Israel's overwhelming military superiority has to be maintained.
And so one of the reasons for attacking Iraq was for Israel, but
not because imperialism is working for Israel. It's the other
There has been a debate in the U.S. about whether the antiwar
movement that is opposing the occupation of Iraq also has a responsibility
to take up the issue of Palestine.
GG I know this is a vexed question in
the U.S., and I only gingerly approach it. It's best if I describe
the situation here in Britain. We do not require people who oppose
the war in Iraq also to have our view on Palestine. We are confident
that when drawn into the antiwar movement, the bigger picture
will become clear to almost everyone who participates in it, and
that's exactly what happened. When we started the Stop the War
Coalition, we did not require people to sign up to what we would
call "freedom for Palestine" as part of the deal, but
a couple of years in, probably less than a couple of years in,
and after several demonstrations, we introduced the slogan "freedom
for Palestine," and not only did it not make a blind bit
of difference to the numbers attending our demonstrations, our
greatest demonstration, on February 15, of some two million people,
had these two slogans: "No war on Iraq" and "Freedom
for Palestine." So there is no evidence that it weakened
or divided the movement in Britain.
Now, I understand that there are bigger
problems in the United States. There's less clarity, frankly,
on the Israel-Palestine issues amongst the general population
than there is here, there's a more powerful pro-Israel lobby in
the United States that has clouded this question.
You recently traveled to Syria and Lebanon, and I wonder if you
could comment on the idea coming out of Washington that most Iraqis
actually welcomed the U.S. and are grateful to the U.S. for removing
Saddam Hussein and bringing democracy. This even extends to other
parts of the Arab world, where Washington claims this has touched
off democratic uprisings in Lebanon and so on.
GG That thesis is enough to make a horse
laugh. Let me start with Lebanon. The so-called revolution in
Lebanon was not for democracy, because if there were democracy
in Lebanon, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah-the head of Hezbollah-would
be the president of the country. Whatever else they where demonstrating
for, it was not democracy. They were not seeking the right of
the Lebanese people to elect their government on a one-person,
one-vote basis, which is most people's definition of democracy.
They were in fact demonstrating, most of them, for the preservation
in aspic of an utterly outdated confessional, undemocratic system,
and they got the full support of George Bush for that.
The Christians in Lebanon constitute some
20 percent of the population, but have most of the political support
and most of the wealth. So, whatever else the cedar movement was,
it was not a Cedar Revolution for democracy The truth is, the
United States has no interest objectively in democracy in the
Arab world, because the first thing a democratically-elected government
in any Arab country would do would be to ask the United States
to leave. The second thing would be to ask Israel to leave, and
if they have an embassy there, to close it. The third thing they
would do is step up their support for the Palestinian people.
The fourth thing they would do is insist that their democratic
government stop using their country's wealth to enrich further
the imperialist countries and start using it to develop their
own countries and so on and so on.
So, objectively, they have no interest
in democracy. What they want to do is put a new lipstick on the
ugly face of the dictatorships they've long been supporting, like
the dictatorship in Cairo, where they realize that the Mubarak
era has become a faintly embarrassing farce. They don't want the
Egyptian people to choose freely a new government, so they seek
some kind of new footing in some cosmetic rearrangement of affairs.
In fact, the Arab people are boiling with rage, but they are also
I found a big echo in every speech I made-and
I made one every day-to Lenin's words that there are decades when
nothing happens, but there are weeks when decades happen. And
those weeks may well be coming in the Middle East sooner than
we think. And the Iraqi resistance is the reason for that. It
has emboldened all Arabs and all Muslims everywhere, and I think
it has emboldened people as far away as Latin America - Ecuador,
Bolivia, and so on.
Your speech in May before a U.S. Senate subcommittee electrified
debate in the U.S. about the war on Iraq and inspired antiwar
activists across the country. It was such a breath of fresh air
when you told Reuters in plain terms, "I have no expectation
of justice from a group of Christian fundamentalist and Zionist
activists under the chairmanship of a neocon George Bush who is
prowar. I come not as the accused but as the accuser." And
it brought a smile to the faces of many antiwar activists when
you called Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), the chair of the committee,
a 'prowar, neocon hawk and the lickspittle of George W. Bush."
But did you expect that you'd have such an impact, that your appearance
and criticisms would make headlines around the world?
No, I really didn't. I was extremely keen to have a go, and many
years of pent-up wishes came true, and I knew that it had gone
well when I walked outside the door. But my first indication was
when a Black janitor in the building punched the air and said,
"Way to go, bro. You sent George Bush back to his ranch."
He was the first person I encountered as I came out of the building.
I better not identify him further, in case he loses his job, but
he is an employee of the U.S. government.
I then went to the Aljazeera studios in
Washington, and they told me that it had been broadcast live by
them-the whole thing, forty-five minutes or so-and I later learned
that twenty-three million people had watched it on Aljazeera live.
Frankly, a good proportion of them wrote to me and phoned me since.
And I had a hero's welcome, really, in the Middle East over the
last two weeks. I got more than 22,000 e-mails from the United
States alone, which is pretty phenomenal. Almost all of them were
friendly, and that's funny, because whenever I write an article,
say, in the Guardian, most of the e-mails I get are from the United
States, and most of them are hostile, and some of them in the
most lurid and awful terms. But, on this occasion, so complete
was the victory, I think, the enemy went back into its Fox hole
(emphasis on Fox with a capital "F").
I did read an article by one detractor you may be familiar with,
named Christopher Hitchens, who wrote that he was appalled that
you would be so rude and contemptuous towards a body so esteemed
as a U.S. Senate Subcommittee.
Towards my betters, yeah. I noticed he reached for the phrase
"working class" when describing me. That seemed to be
the thing that stuck in his throat, that unlike him I had no gilded
youth or Oxbridge education, I left school and went to work in
a factory, and I learned my trade in the labor movement. He accentuated
that in everything that he wrote-"working-class white boy"
and insults like that. He is the perfect definition of Ernest
Hemingway's description of a popinjay in Death in the Afternoon.
I commend it to you-the word could have been invented for Christopher
Hitchens, possibly with prescience, was. But I don't honestly
take him seriously. Very few people in Britain do, and I hope
fewer people in America do-now that he has crawled across the
political terrain to the extent that he is virtually a George
Bush script writer and cheerleader.
The Labor Party expelled you in 2003, and then tried to smear
you in what you described as a 'kangaroo court." But you
came back and ran as a Respect candidate and beat out a prowar
Labor MP. What did your campaign have to do to reach voters, and
what do you think this says about antiwar sentiment?
First of all, it was the first left of Labor victory in English
politics since 1945. Respect is powerful amongst immigrants who
are overwhelmingly Muslim in the East End of London. But we also
got support from a clear majority of Black people, and a sizable
minority of white people. And we did that by trying to synthesize
our antiwar ideas and our progressive economic and social program.
We effectively declared ourselves as a
labor party with a small "l"-a party that would stand
for the workers when no one else was doing so; that would stand
for the people now too old to work; for their grandchildren, still
too young to work; for the poor, the immigrants, the asylum seekers;
those who preferred peace to war; the trade union militants; the
environmental campaigners; civil liberty campaigners, and so on.
We had a broad platform, which can be viewed on our Web site,
www.respectcoalition.org. I think we had something for everyone.
Not only did we win a seat, but we came
second in three other seats, which is in a sense an even more
remarkable result than mine, because I'm pretty well known in
Britain. Our candidates in the other three were not, but they
came second in a party that's only one-and-a-half years old. This
is unprecedented. We came third in another, we came fourth in
four others, and four of the ten biggest swings against the government
on the night were scored by us. So, nobody is in any doubt that
we're a new political force to be reckoned with.
What do you think are the main tasks in building the antiwar movement,
particularly in the U.S. and Britain?
We're concentrating a lot of our efforts on the military families.
And that's obviously a path which has been trodden before in the
Vietnam conflict, but which is I think particularly powerful.
If it can be achieved, it's important to find unity among the
different antiwar forces, which requires some sacrifice programmatically
and tactically, but is well worth the effort. We also should work
to bring the Muslim population fully and wholeheartedly on board.
There are many millions of Muslims in America. There are two million
in Britain, and we have the support of the vast majority of them,
and we have the active engagement of a very significant number
of them. And that, too, I think, is likely to pay dividends if
it is followed in the U.S. And that means not picking fights with
the Muslim population on the issues which may be important but
which are inevitably of a lesser order than war or occupation,
and leaving those issues at the door for later. That's the approach
that we take, and I recommend it to others.
Action speaks louder than words. The more
activity and action we have, the more the media have got a chance
to report them, even if they don't want to always. If we don't
take actions, they'll not be able to report them. So whilst letter
writing and e-mail writing are all very good and necessary, they
are not sufficient. We need action. That's why these demonstrations
that are coming up on September 24 are very valuable.
What do you think about the debate over immediate versus eventual
withdrawal, which has been a significant point of contention here
in the U.S.?
That the occupiers will have to withdraw is undeniable. They can
withdraw now, or soon, or they can withdraw later-when they have
lost still more young men, sent to die for the lies of Bush and
Blair; when they have disfigured their own political system and
community relations within their own countries, even more than
what already exists; when they've made more people in the world
hate them even more intensely; when they've endangered their citizens'
lives, and the interests of their country, and the reputation
of their country.
I would have thought it's better to do
it sooner rather than later, because eventually they will have
to withdraw. Iraq is ungovernable by them, and that much is already
obvious. And the resistance is getting stronger by the day, not
weaker, as even the occupiers make clear. lyad Ailawi, the former
puppet prime minister, has said three times in the last fortnight
that America has lost the war in Iraq, and he's right about that.
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