Back to home page
International Socialist Review Issue 44, NovemberDecember 2005
George Galloway's Boston speech, September 13, 2005
Paying a blood price for a lie
IN MAY of 2005, GEORGE GALLOWAY, newly elected British member of Parliament for the Respect Party, came to Washington, D.C., to appear before a Senate subcommittee that claimed—without ever talking to him—that he had enriched himself through the scandal-plagued Iraq oil-for-food program.
What happened next was a rare political moment: to the surprise of the assembled senators, congressional aides, and press, Galloway turned the tables on his accusers, calling attention to the dishonesty and hypocrisy that led to the war in Iraq.
For ten days in mid-September, George Galloway returned to the U.S., speaking in cities across the country, including in Washington, D.C., at the 300,000-strong demonstration against the war on September 24. Galloway also debated Christopher Hitchens in New York. Anywhere from 400 to 1,200 people showed up for each event to hear his strong antiwar message. The tour was sponsored by The New Press, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, International Socialist Review, and the National Council of Arab Americans.
Tour organizers faced considerable stonewalling from some liberal quarters that refused either to endorse or promote the event. Galloway’s support for Palestine, his willingness to take a stand in favor of Iraq’s right to resist the occupation, and his third-party politics, were apparently too much for them to stomach. In many cities, there was a virtual blackout on coverage of the tour.
Some particularly ugly attacks on Galloway appeared from journalists Greg Palast and LA Weekly commentator Marc Cooper. Galloway responded to the attacks by Palast effectively (www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=1&ItemID=8776):
Until a couple of days ago I hadn’t heard of Greg Palast in years, the man who claims to have been pursuing me with questions for two months. He has never phoned, written, emailed or made any other contact with me, which is curiously reminiscent of the behavior of the U.S. Senate committee. Having now forced myself to look at his pernicious writing, it seems like the deranged ramblings you might expect to find pushed out from under the door of a locked ward. He claims to be a journalist. He clearly doesn’t get much work.Alan Maass, editor of Socialist Worker, also responded (www.socialistworker.org/2005-2/560/560_03_Galloway.shtml), delving into why perhaps Galloway elicited such negativity:
Cooper is explicit about why antiwar activists can’t be too radical, or they will frighten away Democratic Party politicians, the movement’s only hope for having an impact. “The peace movement,” Cooper wrote in LA Weekly following the September 24 demonstrations, “can achieve its goals only by building a political coalition broad enough, forceful enough and credible enough to provoke a policy sea change. A huge proportion, if not the majority, of the Democratic Party has to be onboard.”In spite of that, however, Galloway was able to reach thousands. Had more forces gotten on board to build the Galloway tour, it could have had an even bigger impact in terms of reigniting the antiwar movement on a more solid footing.
A blog of the tour, audio recordings of several speeches,
and Galloway’s response to Greg Palast, can be found at www.isreview.org/gallowaytour.shtml. You can also hear Galloway’s speeches, as well as read a transcript of his September 19 Chicago speech, at www.traprock.org. Here we present Galloway’s first speech, delivered in Boston at Faneuil Hall on September 13.
BROTHERS AND sisters, comrades and friends, ladies and gentleman. Thank you very much for that wonderful introduction and that wonderful welcome. And to my fellow speakers this evening, my congratulations on the contribution you have made to this splendid meeting—the first meeting of a tour that will take me up the East Coast of the United States, into Canada and into the Midwest, and then down the West Coast, culminating in the great demonstration for peace in Washington, D.C., on the 24th of September. I was very proud that the first of these meetings should be in Boston, and especially in this historic hall—in this place that has been graced by the finest revolutionaries that the world has ever seen, the freedom fighters who fought to free this country from colonial rule.
My favorite parliamentarian in Britain is a man whose statue is the very first statue that a visitor to parliament comes upon—a man called Charles James Fox, who was expelled twice from the British Parliament. The first time he was expelled for supporting the American Revolution, and the second time for supporting the French Revolution. On that occasion, he tabled a resolution in the house that admittedly was a little provocative, in which he congratulated the people of France on the execution of their king and queen and looked forward to the day when the same fate would befall all the crowned heads of Europe. But every time he was expelled, he was returned to Parliament by the people who supported these great causes.
Now, of course, if poor Mr. Fox were able to see the political class in the United States today, and he was able to see George W. Bush, he may wonder at the use to which the people of the United States of America have put their freedom. But I believe that Fox would conclude that the fate and destiny of the United States of America is for the American people alone, and that the support for freedom, the support for revolution, and the support for the right of an occupied people to be free must be unconditional.
You see, this is a subject to which we shall have to return, and I shall I’m sure be dealing with it in detail tomorrow night when I debate with the apostate Christopher Hitchens. I mention this for two reasons. One, being of Irish background myself, and two, because I’m here in Boston where so many Irish came. When the Irish masses rose up against the British Empire on O’Connell Street in Dublin and seized the general post office and proclaimed the Irish republic, there was much chatter amongst the liberal-progressive classes in Bloomsbury in London that these Irish revolutionaries were priest-ridden, bomb-trotting, Celtic-Gaelic obscurantists, to whom they refused to give a certificate of good character.
But the point, ladies and gentlemen, is not what the chattering classes of Bloomsbury thought of the Irish revolutionaries, but what the Irish people thought of the Irish revolutionaries. That is the point. You see, in such circumstances, we in the occupying countries have only one choice to make. Whether we are with the occupier, or whether we are with the rights of the occupied to struggle to be free of that occupation. That’s the only question that should concern us. This is a subject to which I shall return when I talk about the struggle of the Iraqi people to free themselves from the foreign occupation which has been illegally and violently imposed upon them.
But first I want to, at this time of the year, so close to the anniversary of the great crime that was committed in the United States on 9/11 in 2001, I want to deal with this broader question. You see, these airplanes on 9/11 may have appeared to come out of a clear blue sky. But in fact, these monstrous mosquitoes flew out of a swamp of bitterness, and hatred and enmity, which exists against us, throughout the world, but most markedly in the Muslim world. It is a swamp that we have flooded with new grievances on a regular basis. And in that swamp mutates the kind of monsters who can believe that killing thousands of innocent people in the United States of America, or killing innocent people on buses and underground trains in London, is a way to punish the guilty people in America and England.
This mutation is a powerful mutation. It is pregnant with dangers not only for us, but also with real dangers for the people of the Muslim world themselves, for as professor Keach just said to you, the main recruiter of support for this mutation is not bin Laden. It is not any of the Islamist obscurantists who wish to feed upon it. The greatest recruiter, the greatest creator of this hatred, bitterness, and enmity are the leaders of Great Britain and the United States themselves. And you see, the British Parliament was recalled just days after 9/11. I was lucky enough to speak in that debate, and if you’ll forgive me quoting myself, this is what I said. “If we handle this crisis the wrong way, we will create 10,000 new bin Ladens.” Is there a sentient being left in this land who believes other than that we did handle it the wrong way, and that we created not 10,000 new bin Ladens, but hundreds of thousands of new bin Ladens throughout the Muslim world? This is the problem we must confront.
Instead of draining the swamp of the bitterness and hatred by reversing the policies and the prejudices that watered that swamp, we embarked upon a course of action that deepened, ever-deepened, that swamp. And so we made a bad situation worse. So we made even more people hate us even more intently. What kind of policy is that? How can it be a policy toward terrorism if that policy creates more terrorism? How can it be a policy toward making us safer if it actually puts us in greater danger? How can it be a policy to move forward, when it is a policy that takes us back?
You see, I listened to Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Blair—Mrs. Bush II—I’m coming to Mrs. Bush I later. I listened to them in a synchronized radio broadcast in which they invited us on the first anniversary of 9/11 to remember those heartbreaking messages of love and farewell left from their mobile phones by those American women on those airplanes, on the answering machines of their loved ones. They asked us never to forget those heartbreaking messages—as if we could. But as I said at the time, just because Afghan women don’t have mobile telephones, and their families don’t have answering machines, it doesn’t make their deaths delivered form the sky any less obscene than those American women killed on 9/11.
But when I said it, as I looked around the Parliament at the powerful people to whom I was saying it, I knew that for them that apparently self-evident truth was not a truth at all. We have to face up to this, for the rich and powerful people who rule our countries and our world, the blood of some people is more valuable than the blood of other people. The blood of American and British and Israeli and Western people for them is worth more than the blood of poor, Black, Muslim people from other parts of the world. Nobody counted the dead in Afghanistan.
Nobody is holding a minute silence for the dead people in Fallujah. Nobody’s raising money at charity concerts for the massacred in Jenin in Palestine. They don’t count the same. This is an undeniable truth, which may yet be ungrasped by most of our own people, but was long ago grasped by the people of the poor world, and most precisely by the people of the Muslim world. The people of the Muslim world know that we care more about Israelis than we care about Palestinians; that we care more about Americans than we do about Afghans; and that we care more about British people than we do about Iraqis. And they are mad as hell about that. They are mad as hell about that.
Now, at the time of 9/11, people asked me. OK, well if not this, what? If not the unleashing of overwhelming deadly force by the richest and most powerful countries in the world against the poorest and most ragged people on the earth, then what? What would drain this swamp? And I said, there are three things in particular that we need to do. First is to stop the unending, bottomless, and unconditional support for General Sharon’s Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian people, and its dispersal of the Palestinian people around the world. This is a key question, and in the United States you have to grasp this—and even some people in the antiwar movement have not grasped this. This Palestine question is the flaw at the heart of the West’s attitude to the East, of the non-Muslims’ attitude to the Muslim world. You see, the double standards that are so brazenly obvious to the Arabs, to the Muslims, and to many others—but not alas to our legislators—are at the core, a cancerous core, of this crisis in relations between East and West.
Iraq was broken on the wheel of economic sanctions because of the need to demonstrate the unacceptability of the acquiring of other people’s territory by force. It was broken on the wheel of sanctions, and a million Iraqis died—most of them children. Most of them died before they even knew they were Iraqis—but dying for no other reasons but that they were Iraqis— on the grounds that no regime must be allowed to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Iraq was broken because of the need to impose the authority of the resolutions of the UN Security Council.
But Israel has occupied other people’s territory by force for decade after decade after decade. Israel we know—thanks to the whistle blowing of the brave Israeli hero Mordechai Vannunu, who spent nearly two decades in solitary confinement for telling us—Israel is in possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons and the missiles with which to land them on any and all Arab capitals. Israel sits on top of a mountain of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Israel has broken more UN Security Council resolutions than all of the other countries in the world put together. Yet Israel is not subject to economic sanction or invasion.
Thanks to the United States of America, Israel is endlessly rewarded with money and weapons and political and diplomatic support, precisely for its breaking of these resolutions. We may not see it that way—indeed, in the United States it seems to me precious few people see it that way. But I can tell you in the Arab world, in the Muslim world—around the world—that double standard is as plain as can be.
The second thing that had to be done to drain this swamp was to end the agony of the Iraqi people. I went to Iraq in 1993 and 1994. I had never been to Iraq before. It was the only Arab country I had not visited. I would not have been welcome there if I had, indeed I would have been arrested as a known and vociferous opponent of the Iraqi dictatorship. I used to be demonstrating outside the Iraq embassy in London when British ministers and businessmen were going in and out selling them guns and gas. I never take any lectures from anybody about the dictatorship in Baghdad. But you see, when I went there in 1993 and 1994—before there was any oil-for-food program, when there was mass starvation in the land, when the suffering was literally unbearable to watch, which is why so few Western politicians went there to see it—I saw mass funerals of little children, who were dying at the rate of one every six minutes of every day and night. I listened at the door of the labor ward in a hospital in Baghdad as a woman gave birth by caesarian section without anesthetic, for there was no anesthetic to be had.
When I went there in 1993 and 1994, I was very clear, as was a brave American politician called David Bonnier, a Democratic Party congressman, once the chief whip on the hill. I haven’t heard of him in a long time, I assume he’s out of politics now. He described this policy as infanticide masquerading as politics. And that is exactly what it was. I argued after 9/11, that as well as changing course on the issue of Palestine, we had to end this crucifixion of the people of Iraq because we have fallen out with the dictator that we helped into power, we armed, we made strong, we encouraged to attack Iran, and invaded to halt the Islamic revolution of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
And the third thing we would have had to have done, is to stop propping up the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other—not one of whom would be in power for five minutes if it were not for the military, political, diplomatic, and financial support of your country and mine. Which is why Muslim people don’t know whether to laugh or cry when they hear George Bush and Tony Blair talking about liberty. The masses in Pakistan, for example, who one day had a general who had seized power in their country, who wore a uniform, who was subjected to an arms embargo, who was suspended from the British Commonwealth, who was routinely described, indeed memorably described, by President Bush just before his first election, when he was asked in that wonderful question and answer session about the names of world leaders with whom he’d have to be dealing in a few weeks.
Bush was asked who was the ruler of Pakistan. And he said, “The general.” And the interviewer asked, “Do we have a name here? General who?” And Bush answered, “We just call him the general.” Well, of course, very soon they stopped calling him the general. He stopped being a military dictator who had seized power illegally, exiling and imprisoning his opponents. He became not General Musharraf, but President Musharraf, a great and wise statesman who must be given all the weapons and all the help he needed to follow Washington’s orders all the more precisely. Indeed, he was even allowed to acquire—what?—nuclear weapons, the very pursuit of which (fruitless as it turned out) had led to Iraq being crucified and a million Iraqis slaughtered.
Or we could look elsewhere. We could look next door to Palestine, to the great state of Egypt. Mr. Hitchens and Co. tell us that one of the fruits of the attack on Iraq is that there’s now democracy in countries like Egypt. Where last week, the president, who has ruled for twenty-four years, was reelected with 88.6 percent of the vote, in a rigged election where he chose who was allowed to oppose him, where he controlled all of the media, and where he even imprisoned his main opponent just a few months before the election. As a matter of fact, President Hosni Mubarak got more votes in this democratic election than he got in what he admitted was a rigged election six years ago. He got 84.6 percent of the vote in the rigged election, and 88.6 percent of the vote in the free and fair election, just to encourage the other rulers to go down that route.
But of course, we didn’t do any of these things. We didn’t stop rewarding Sharon, we stepped up the rewards to Sharon. We didn’t stop killing Iraqis. We killed even more of them. We didn’t stop propping up the dictators in the Muslim world, we enhanced and increased our support for those dictators. Indeed, let me give you the surprising news: The security forces of Colonel Muammar Qadhafi are now being trained at Sandhurst, Great Britain’s West Point. His army officers are being trained at Sandhurst, and his intelligence officers are being trained—god help them—by the British intelligence services, MI5 and MI6—so Qadhafi’s done for. Now, did Qadhafi become less of a dictator after the attack on Iraq? Who are these security forces being employed against? Is Qadhafi’s army to defend him against an external aggressor, or is it for use against his own people to keep Qadhafi in power, and likewise his intelligence services. We know the answer very clearly to these questions. So what do you think the Libyan people think when they hear Tony Blair talking about liberty and freedom, when they know that Qadhafi’s forces are being trained by Tony Blair’s military and intelligence apparatus?
So we did all the wrong things, and we made the world an even more dangerous place than it already was.
And that brings us to Iraq. You know, if democracy means anything, it must mean the holding to account of political leaders for mistakes—let’s be charitable and call them mistakes—as big as this one. Everything that George Bush, Norm Coleman, and the American and British political class told us turned out to be a lie. And everything the antiwar movement told us turned out to be right. They told us that Iraq had links with al-Qaeda. It turned out to be a lie. But it’s certainly true today.
Every al-Qaeda supporter in the world is descending like spores on the open wounds we’ve created in Iraq. And just like in Afghanistan, later to travel around the world and practice what they’ve learned in Iraq. They told us that hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers invading and occupying an Arab Muslim country would reduce Islamist fundamentalism. I said at the time, you know, if you believe that, you really need medical help. Is there anybody outside the Oval Office or 10 Downing Street who believes now that Islamist extremism is less as a result of what we’ve done?
They told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. I’m not even going to waste your time by developing that point. Because the worst lie that they told is the one I want to focus on. They told us that the Iraqi people would welcome these foreign invaders with flowers and with rice. But instead the Iraqi people have welcomed the foreign invaders with something much hotter and much more sharp. That’s where Cindy Sheehan and the other military families in the U.S. and in Britain come in. Because you see it’s their sons who are paying the blood price for that lie. And it wasn’t that they weren’t warned. The antiwar movement warned them repeatedly that if you invade Iraq you will be opening the gates of hell. The Iraqi people will fight you with their teeth if necessary, to repel your invasion.
And to think otherwise is to be guilty of a racist fantasy. That alone of all the people on the earth, the Iraqis would welcome foreign armies to invade their country, occupy it, and begin to loot and steal their things. What kind of people would welcome such a thing? Is there a people on the earth who would welcome such a thing? If, god forbid, somebody landed in my country, some foreign army invaded my country, occupied it, installed a puppet government there, and proceeded to steal its things, every self-respecting person in Britain would fight that occupation to the best of their ability, and that’s what’s happening in Iraq, exactly what’s happening in Iraq.
And that’s why we have to be clear about this question. I’m coming to an end now, making an appeal to you for clarity on this question. It’s what I said right at the beginning of this speech. It’s not our duty to design the Iraqi resistance, or to design whatever political settlement will emerge when the foreign occupiers leave—as they will have to leave. We have only one choice to make as citizens of the U.S. and of Great Britain. It’s one that George Bush coined for us when he said, “You’re either with us or against us.” Well, you’re either with your country going around the world, invading other people’s countries, occupying them and stealing their things, or you’re against it. And if you’re against it, you must be there on the 24th of September in Washington, D.C., to tell the world that you are all against it. Thank you very much indeed.