February 7, 2006
The British Member of Parliament, George Galloway was in Egypt to
testify about Britainís involvement in Iraqís 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 Americansómostly businessmen. Ironically, as
we talk about American imperialism, Britainís 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 Senateówhere he flew last year to personally
confront Republicans charging his misconduct in the Oil for Food
Programme (his pointed questioning celebrated by the Left whoíd been
longing for this kind of courage from the Democrats)óor 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
doesnít 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 heíd
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 Iím grateful for the expression of sympathy
from President Mubarak and so I wonít be taking that matter any further.
But, you heard me say [last night] what happened to meÖit 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
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 donít 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 countryóitís the most populous Arab country,
itís the most historical Arab country. Egypt has a role to play as a
part of this Nation; it shouldnít turn its back on the Arab Nation. This
isnít 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 Blairís invasion
and occupation of Iraq. What particular importance do you think this
Well, you wonít really know that until later. The whole story about the
straw that broke the camelís 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 donít 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 Iím old enough to remember the Bertrand
Russell Tribunal against the Viet Nam war in the 1960s, it didnít 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. Itís been very widely covered.
Itís 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 donít
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 donít 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
Well, there are many things that can be done, for example, the Cairo
Conference, which Iím 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 donít think he really believes it. I think Bush didnít find
God, he just found the Party of God, Americaís Hezbollah, the Party of
Christian Fundamentalism, and he decided to ride it to power. And itís
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 weíre seeing in VenezuelaÖ
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 HezbollahÖcan we speak about Hariri. Do you think Syria is
responsible for the assassination of Hariri and for the current chaos in
No, I donít believe that Syria is responsible for the death of Hariri
because Syria is the main loser from this crime. States donít 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 donít
believe that Syria is responsible at all for this crime. There may have
been some Syrians involved, but I donít 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 donít 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>
Letís discuss what the goal is first. The goal is to break the regime in
Damascus, not because of anything bad that itís 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 notóthe is the most
important thingóshe 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 Americaís puppet regimes in
the Arabian Gulf, which is something often missed by commentators. In
fact, Iranís track record indicates that it would seek to use its
political power in its own region rather in Israel. Itís 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 Ajahonís
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
Franceís refusal to accept that it is no longer an imperial force. The
reason France is back in Cote de Vor is because it doesnít accept that
itís no longer an empire and itís 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 ofóyou might say smallórenaissance 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 doesnít have the wealth, it
doesnít have the population, it doesnít 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 heís 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
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. Itís 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. Iím sorry I didnít attend, but Iím 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. Whatís
Well, itís quite right that these three war criminals should be on trial
together. They are part of the same axis of evil; itís 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, itís 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 Iím 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 worldís burgeoning movements against war and globalised capitalism,
summed up in the motto from the World Social Forum: Another World is
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,
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 Iraqisóthe best exampleóthe
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
consequenceí. 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 theyíve 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?
Thatís 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
But, they donít have the excuse that they werenít 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 didnít fight the British in the
1920s! The Iraqis are very tough peopleÖand 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, itís both. Any dignified peopleóand nobody is more dignified than
the Iraqisówill 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 haveóday and
nightóplanned in which way they could attack this foreign occupation.
They would have cut the throats of any of the occupier they could
find!Öbecause 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 donít 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 nationÖthey donít 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, itís to stay at one people!
Donít allow the enemy to break Iraq!
To view articles by Karen Button online, go to www.insurgent49.com