He claims to be a champion of the Arab Spring, but what does George Galloway really stand for?
By George Grant
George Galloway, . . .[restrict]one of the most vociferous opponents of NATO’s intervention in last year’s revolution in Libya, is back in the British Parliament.
Throughout a deeply divisive campaign, the new Member of Parliament for Bradford West played on heavy anti-war sentiment amongst the town’s large Asian community as well as widespread dissatisfaction with the three main political parties, Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Galloway, who was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for allegedly calling on Arabs to attack British forces in Iraq, won the seat on Thursday from Labour by more than 10,000 votes.
With his trademark modesty, Mr Galloway remarked of his victory on the next morning that it was “the most sensational result in British by-election history, bar none” and represented a “Bradford Spring” uprising by thousands of people.
At a stroke, Mr Galloway likened himself not just to the hundreds of thousands of Arab souls who have risked their lives for democracy over the past year but – no less – to their leader; in Britain at least. Indeed, Mr Galloway has long claimed to be a friend of the Arab world in what he perceives as its struggle against the West, and Israel in particular.
The reality, however, is somewhat more complicated.
Mr Galloway is a man who has built his entire career on the crude but simple philosophy that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. His enemy, like many on the far Left of the British political scene, is of course his own government.
Whether he is a friend to Arab democrats or a friend to Arab dictators seems to be informed by this mindset as much as anything else.
It was this philosophy that led him to stand before Saddam Hussein in Iraq in 1994 and utter those infamous words: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability, and I want you to know that we are with you, hatta al-nasr, hatta al-nasr, hatta al-Quds [until victory, until Jerusalem]”.
Likewise, in 2005, Mr Galloway praised Syrian president and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad as a “breath of fresh air”, following a visit to the country. What he liked in particular about President Assad was that his regime “is independent of us [the UK], and that is why our government, and more particularly the US government, wants to destroy it”.
But what of last year’s revolution in Libya? It would be untrue to claim that Mr Galloway was a supporter of Colonel Gaddafi in principle. The problem is that his policy recommendations – if followed – would most certainly have benefited Gaddafi last year in practice.
Mr Galloway’s narrative was that Libyans, and indeed all Arabs, must decide their own destinies, free from the interference of “Western countries with the mud of colonialism still on their boots”. No matter that when ordinary Libyans tried to do just that in February last year, Colonel Gaddafi responded with such murderous brutality that a failure by NATO to intervene would most certainly have led to a collapse of the pro-democracy uprising and the maintenance of Gaddafi’s autocratic rule.
That is not Mr Galloway’s problem.
Now that Libyans are truly free to determine their own futures, which they can and must do free from Western interference, Mr Galloway has gone largely silent. You can be sure that what will prompt him to speak out on Libya again will be if the country’s current difficulties exacerbate, in which case Mr Galloway will claim that the chaos is a result of NATO’s intervention, and by extension NATO’s fault.
This same narrative informs his views on NATO’s involvement Afghanistan. No matter that it is the Taliban who are now responsible for fully four-fifths of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations. It is NATO, according to Mr Galloway, that bears true responsibility. No matter that those same insurgents are guilty of throwing acid in the faces of girls who go to school, and hanging children they suspect of ‘spying’ for the Afghan government. Withdraw all British, American and other NATO forces from the country immediately, says Mr Galloway, and let the Afghans determine their own future. The only problem is that fewer than 10 per cent of Afghans actually want the Taliban as their government, but that is what they would risk getting if the Western-led forces simply abandoned them without warning now.
Again, that is not Mr Galloway’s problem.
So too in Syria. “Hands off!” cries Mr Galloway. But what does ‘hands off’ really mean? In effect it means leaving the Syrian revolution to be crushed. Even in Iraq, a war disastrous both in its timing and its consequences, Mr Galloway’s pious opposition had a very obvious, and very unsavoury, flip side.
This, then, is the reality of the man now leading the “Bradford Spring” in the UK. He claims to be a champion of democracy. Indeed, for the sixth time in his career, he has been its direct beneficiary. But just how well would his policies for Libya and other countries seeking to transition from dictatorship to democracy really benefit ordinary people living there? The answer, of course, is not at all.
George Grant is a Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society based in London.
Since the outbreak of the Libyan Revolution in February 2011, he has provided extensive analysis to UK parliamentarians and other policymakers both on the conflict and Libya’s subsequent efforts towards democratic transition.
He writes frequently for a number of international newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian and the Washington Times, and regularly appears on broadcast outlets including the BBC, Al Jazeera, Channel 4 News and Sky News. [/restrict]