A review of George Galloway’s new book – Dave Rich – Engage Journal Issue 1: January 2006

I’m Not The Only One
by George Galloway

Allen Lane £10 pp185

Part autobiography, part political memoir and part manifesto, I’m not the Only One marks George Galloway’s departure from the Labour party and the beginning of his new political life as the sole MP for Respect: The Unity Coalition. As befits a man in such a position, the book reeks of self-justification, vilification of political opponents old and new and predictions of a glorious new world ahead.

“Anti-Americanism”, we are told, “is sweeping the young generation and will be the prevailing mind-set, the most powerful ideology, of the first half of this century”. Although cast here in a 21st century setting, it is Galloway’s pro-Soviet cold war stance that underpins all of his political judgements. While most of this book is devoted to describing Galloway’s relationship with the Arab world, and in particular Iraq, it would not appear to be the interests of Arabs or Muslims that guide Galloway’s instincts. He opposed the Afghan mujahideen in their fight against the Soviet occupation of their country in the 1980s; he opposed what he describes as “the foreign invasion of what remained of Yugoslavia in defence of the Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999”; he supported the Iranian revolution, but only because the Shah was allied to America. Perhaps most galling of all for his current friends in the Muslim Association of Britain, he describes Gamal Abdel Nasser – who executed Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb – as “one of the greatest men of the twentieth century”, and reveals that, of all the Arab countries, he was politically closest to Syria in the early 1980s – at around the same time that Hafez Assad launched his brutal repression of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, killing approximately 20,000 people in the town of Hama.

In his account of the break up of Yugoslavia, and his opposition to it, Galloway is his usual forthright self, accusing Britain, Germany, France and the United States of “stimulat[ing] and assist[ing] the nationalist serpents who had been crushed but not killed by the rocks of pan-nationalism.” As for the new states created in its place, “Bosnia-Herzegovina is a failed state”, while “Drugs, prostitution, people-trafficking, crime and the logistics of fundamentalist terrorism have become Kosovo’s main exports and their only foreseeable earner in the future.” Galloway goes on to question whether it was ever wise for the minorities that made up Yugoslavia to seek their independence: “Clearly, every nation has the right of self-determination. But a nation also has the right not to exercise that right. It has the right to decide instead to be a part of a larger multinational state, and indeed in the modern world it seems sensible that it should do so.” However, it seems that Galloway is a little more circumspect in his views when addressing a Muslim audience, telling Muslim Weekly (in a more recent interview) that he “walked the streets of Pristina and elsewhere in Kosovo highlighting the disastrous policy of Belgrade of seeking to centralise their country rather than to let the different constituencies of Yugoslavia have their autonomy.”

In the style of the anti-war left, Galloway catalogues countless wars, coups and crimes in the developing world and lays the blame for all of them at the door of American and British imperialism. This is the case irrespective of the purpose or outcome of the intervention: so the British “recolonization” of Sierra Leone, for instance, is condemned without any discussion of its immense popularity amongst the local population. Needless to say, the similar cold war meddling of the Soviet Union does not get a mention. Most of the institutions of Western power and domestic British politics are treated to a conspiracy-themed, populist polemic that would not be out of place in Socialist Worker or at a Respect rally – but then that is not surprising, given Galloway’s current key audience. His writing style mirrors his oratory, with a stock of buzzwords and soundbites repeated throughout: part demagogue, part music hall cabaret act. This book is not the place to look for considered political analysis.

As Galloway admits, his political judgements are instinctive rather than “a cautious and considered analysis of every relevant fact.” The problem is that, having made the instinctive judgement, Galloway ignores any facts that suggest he may be on the wrong track. This essentially emotional approach to politics can lead to some very dark places and leaves little room for compromise. On his first trip to Beirut, in 1977, Galloway met the heads of several Palestinian terrorist factions, including “the leader of the Munich Olympics operation”. This trip was a “life-changing episode” and the “radical chic” he experienced left a lasting impression on him. Palestinian refugees, he writes, have had their land stolen by “foreigners…who often had houses of their own in Brooklyn, London or wherever”. Holocaust survivors and the victims of pogroms and state antisemitism in the Arab world, Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union have no place in Galloway’s narrative. When Galloway twinned Dundee with Nablus, “the Zionist movement…got busy in a way which only they can.” Even his infamous “until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem” speech to Saddam was made in 1994, when the Oslo peace process was at its zenith – a peace process that Saddam always opposed.

It is Iraq, though, with which Galloway will always be associated, and it is here that the lengths to which he will go to defend his political position are truly breathtaking. Thus “the area now known as Kuwait was clearly a part of the larger Iraqi whole”, and its recovery a “national article of faith”. Saddam’s attacks on the Shia south and Kurdish north, involving massacres of large numbers of civilians, were in fact civil wars with “massive violence on both sides”. Saddam “may have been a killer but he was not a thief” – an impressive inversion of orthodox morality, with echoes of David Irving’s assertion that Hitler was morally superior to Churchill because he refused to order assassinations of Allied leaders. The current wave of sectarian suicide bombings in Iraq may actually be perpetrated by “the occupation itself, or by those collaborators who need it to continue…a tried and tested tactic of both America and Israel”. And so on. By contrast, Galloway’s caveats that Saddam Hussein was “careless” about human rights and “committed real and serious crimes against the people of Iraq” are far from convincing. Even his criticism that Saddam was wrong to rule with such brutality and total lack of democracy is based only on the tactical consideration that it left him vulnerable to attack. Galloway’s claim to have been an opponent of the Saddam regime is further undermined by his revelation that “virtually alone of all foreigners I never had a minder, I could go where I wanted and speak to whomsoever I pleased.” Did he never stop to think why, in such a tightly-controlled police state, he was the only foreigner trusted to that extent? Even the claim by Saddam’s translator that Galloway was “hated” by Saddam for saying that he supported the people of Iraq but not their leader has an element of farce. Galloway uses this to contrast himself with “the sycophants who endlessly praised and pledged their loyalty to him” –an inadvertent swipe at none other than Tony Benn, who the same source named as Saddam’s favourite foreign visitor; and who is quoted on the back of the paperback edition of this book.

For a man famed for his courage to speak out, no matter how controversial his message, Galloway appears to stumble a little when discussing the fate of Ken Bigley, the British hostage beheaded in Iraq. At first, he is “poor Ken Bigley” who, “painful though it is to recount, for the resistance…was a part of the military occupation” by virtue of working as a contractor for the US military. However, a few pages later, Galloway himself insists that all such foreign contractors in Iraq (presumably including “poor Ken Bigley”, but this time not by name) are criminals and “legitimate targets for acts of resistance”.

There are also hints of assistance to Saddam’s regime. After their invasion of, and removal from, Kuwait in 1990/91, Galloway advised “many in Baghdad” that they would have been more successful in overthrowing the Kuwaiti royal family had they engaged in a more patient strategy of subversion and eventual revolution, rather than an overt invasion (exactly the kind of policy for which Galloway condemns the “imperialist” West throughout this book). Before the more recent Iraq war, Galloway again advised the regime, this time to avoid conventional warfare and adopt guerrilla tactics: “The only war that can be fought against a superpower is a war of movement. I brought Tariq Aziz all the writings of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung on the arts of revolutionary war and he had them translated into Arabic. Fight a war of movement, take the uniforms off, swim among the Iraqi people and whatever their views on the regime, they will undoubtedly provide deep aquifers of support for a patriotic resistance.” Quite apart from the fact that for soldiers to remove their uniforms and base themselves within a civilian population are both technically war crimes – and exactly the kind of tactics that maximise the danger to Iraqi civilians – the provision of guerrilla warfare manuals to Tariq Aziz might count for some as giving material support to the war effort of an enemy. But then, while Galloway is typically ambiguous about who he actually wanted to win the war, he makes it very clear that his sympathies now lie with the resistance in Iraq. He even quotes an email he received from the “al-Jihad Brigades” that names Galloway and the French Holocaust Denier Roger Garaudy as two of the people “honourably and firmly defending us” (Galloway shows no embarrassment at the association with Garaudy). The email also wishes Galloway well on the formation of Respect – which Galloway later describes, in a clear tribute to, and mirror of, the Iraqi resistance, as fighting “a war of movement rather than position…ours is a guerrilla army that will hit and move and prepare to hit again.”

Respect has its origins in a dinner between Galloway, Andrew Murray of the Stop The War Coalition and Seamus Milne of the Guardian – its very own Granita moment, although in Camden rather than Islington – and is the vehicle for Galloway’s immediate political future, believing as he does that the Labour party is beyond redemption. His most vicious words are reserved for those erstwhile comrades on the left who he feels have betrayed him and the principles to which he has clung. As he condemns these traitors, “apostates” and frauds, one is left with the impression of a child crying that all his old friends have moved on – or perhaps just grown up – while he is still playing the same juvenile games. But then he is just as capable of the kind of hypocrisy of which he accuses so many others. He denounces MPs who “guzzle at the troughs of the newspapers”, but fails to mention his own well-paid column for the Mail on Sunday. He laments the lack of editorial freedom or investigative powers in the British press, but ignores the impact of his own litigious record. And his verdict on Robin Cook – “betraying everything he stood for…I would never trust Robin Cook as far as I could throw him” – was transformed to “Labour to his fingertips and a courageous, outstanding figure” on Cook’s recent untimely death. Still, as Galloway himself would probably tell you, what else do you expect from a politician?

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