By cjohnson | September 25, 2005 5:50 am

George Galloway On Thursday night I decided to do a teensy bit of activism, and go and listen to the final speech on George Galloway’s USA tour. It was after a long day, and so it was a pleasure to sit on the bus and let it trundle from USC to Vermont and Wilshire, from where I walked the block and a half to the Immanuel Presbyterian Church, where it was held. Here is the teaser for the event from the website:

George Galloway is Respect party 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, when he turned the proceedings into a condemnation of the war in Iraq. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer described Galloway’s speech in the Senate as “a blistering attack on US senators rarely heard” in Washington.

Anti-war activists and members of the Arab community will join British MP George Galloway at Immanuel Presbyterian Church at 7pm on Thursday, September 22 to demand money and resources for hurricane relief, not war. This event will accept donations to be sent to New Orleans with a delegation from the Campus Anti-War Network.

It was a huge turnout and I was happy to pay my $12 for a ticket. Looking at the website now, I note (after the fact!) that the media sponsor of the event was KPFK. That makes so much sense now, in retrospect: The most peculiar (and refreshing) thing about the event was the fact that this was a slice of Los Angeles which is not a snapshot of “the beautiful people”, but instead a mix of various sorts of people of several ethnic and economic persuasions – all deadly earnest about their leftwingness, and were notably a lumpy and imperfect bunch to look at (thank goodness). In fact, politically, I felt a bit of a fraud compared to most of those people – positively middle-ground in my politics and convictions in comparison! The fact that they might have been all KPFK listeners might explain it. If you don’t know, KPFK is a station which has a very very strong social conscience, so strong that sometimes I can only listen to them for about ten minutes before I get thoroughly depressed about the current political atmosphere, and to some extent the current state of the world. I switch off not because I don’t agree with them but because I do agree, but it is just sometimes too much to continue listening….

So if those guys were real KPFK listeners, it would make sense, given their apparent dedication. They gave all the speakers (there were several “support acts” which were very good – representatives of various anti-war groups, Arab-American groups, etc) very enthusiastic support, and cheered and waved fists a lot to punctuate anything that was remotely like a political rallying cry. A lot of them also looked like public radio people…the same sort of people I saw when I went to a recording of This American Life a long time ago in New York. I have to say that my feeling is that these were not just all diehard liberals, but there were also genuinely pissed-off “ordinary” people who normally would not consider themselves as “political”. This is encouraging.

Anyway, how was Mr Galloway? I won’t trouble you with any details, as you’ve either heard them or can look them up for yourself. His main theme was anti-war, and anti-iraq-war in particular. What struck me (having only listened to snippets of the guy in interviews, bookended by opinion and commentary about what he said) was that he’s very intelligent, and that he makes a lot of common sense (at least on this issue). He’s not the far-left nut that he is often portrayed as. I would go as far as to say that he is rather like a sort of Al Sharpton for the UK. During the Presidential elections last year, there was this bizarre situation where Sharpton – as a participant – would express a lot of sensible, common sense thoughts on a range of issues, domestic and international. However, on the news about the debate immediately after, this was never mentioned and all you’d get is the standard clips showing him to be a far-left reactionary nutcase. Most of the country therefore has this view of Sharpton that means that he’ll never be taken seriously as speaking any words of wisdom. Galloway is treated in much the same way in the UK press. Like Sharpton, his remarks -heavily edited- are prefaced by words and phrases (and reminders of examples of political misjudgements or mistakes made by the speaker arbitrarily far in the past) which undermine the remarks and sap them of their power…But if you listen to his whole speech, it actually makes a lot of sense, overall. I’m not saying I agree with every last thing he says, just that overall he has a lot of really sensible things to say, and I wish that more could hear him unedited.

On an irrelevant note, on the subway ride home, the woman sitting next to me saw me scribbling equations and decided (after clearly thinking about it for some time) to talk to me on the basis of this (she said), since she wanted to know what I thought of the film “What the Bleep…”, as she called it, which she saw just recently. Unfortunately, I only got to mumble a few words about the issues for about half a minute before my stop came up, so I scribbled on a bit of paper, urged her to check out our discussions of science here, and frantically ran off the train. I’ve no idea if on the strength of this behaviour she did not just think I was a nut, and won’t ever talk to a scientist again, having thrown away the scrap of paper I pushed her way. Oh well….


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellany, Politics
  • Adam

    Galloway has always seemed to me to be a self-serving populist, nay, rabble-rousing, ratbag. He speaks really very well, though.

  • Plato

    as to the woman on the bus, I do believe people are genuinely interested at heart. I have seen other comments on that show and wonder if this is part of the frustartion that you are experience with programming that is going on?

    On the part about activism, I remember when I was quite young with my brother at a local park, where religion was past to the group I was with as we listen to the bands that played every Sunday.

    Next thing we know, we are down at this hall in the questionable part of town ,entered this room with benches. We noticed this white curtain draped across what seemed to be a stage. It wasn’t long before this curtain was drawn back and revealled this large tub of water that you could immerse yourself in.

    Well you can guess my surprize to see my younger Catholic brother, getting baptized:) I was to say very perturbed by this “activism” to join the talk given to us and berated my brother for this. It is very funny in retrospect. I was to hard on him.

    Activism can have a very draining effect on a person as you imply. Bascially, if we can ever do the “right thing”(?) will this carry one? Enough conviction?

  • Belizean

    I’ve recently heard Mr. Galloway speak for the first time. His debate with Christopher Hitchens was recently broadcast on CSPAN. I also heard him being interviewed on a radio talk show.

    He is not the total loon that I expected him to be. Although he is irritatingly evasive, his coherence is several orders of magnitude greater than that of, say, Cindy Sheehan.

    Were he a physical theory, I would describe him as being more or less internally consistent, but having dubious initial assumptions.

    If we caricature the political spectrum as equality-emphasizing on the left side and liberty-emphasizing on the right, Galloway is classic case of an extreme leftist. His over emphasis on the value of equality leads naturally to his demonization of America (because it acts as the superpower that it is, rather than as an ordinary member of the community of nations). He has expressed regret over the fall of the Soviet Union. To him the loss of a check on American power (a rise in the inequality between nations) is worse than the continued enslavement of millions within the Soviet empire would have been. Equality trumps liberty.

    This elevation of international equality over individual liberty strikes me as a faulty initial assumption. So, while Mr. Galloway is not the looniest of loons, I believe he is nonetheless a loon.

  • Clifford



    I did not hear him demonize America. In fact, he spent a lot of time saying that he was *not* going to do that. There was also no discussion of regret over the disappearance of the Soviet Union’s regime. What he spoke about was the war on Iraq, the lies about it, terrorism, the lies about that, and the neglect of your own country’s infrastructure in order to pursue those lies…… He made a lot of sense on all of those. I don’t care if he does not make sense on other stuff. We must not throw out the baby with the bathwater….that’s all I’m saying.


    On these issues, I’m happy to be one of the rabble, rather than not-rabble.


  • Matt McIrvin

    In fact, politically, I felt a bit of a fraud compared to most of those people – positively middle-ground in my politics and convictions in comparison!

    I fall into this pattern of thought sometimes, too, but I think it’s dangerous to consider yourself a fraud for not being hardcore enough. You can be “positively middle-ground” and still be passionate about it, and even make common cause with people to your left. If you think that authenticity and extremism are the same thing, you’re likely to become one of these David Horowitz or Christopher Hitchens types whose only response to disillusionment at an extreme position is to flip all the way over to the other side.

  • Clifford

    Matt McIrvin: Oh, I was not serious! I’m very comfortable with my politics and my position…. I have no need to feel otherwise…. I’m a great believer in carefully picking that battles you wish to fight, in order to win the war, and not yelling and shouting and fighting for the sake of it. But it is always interesting to meet people more “overtly” left-wing than oneself though…I don’t know why.



  • Belizean


    I can’t say that I was much impressed by what I remember Mr. Galloway saying about Iraq and Katrina. For example,

    1) It was wrong of the U.S. to invade a country that did not attack it and was not a certain military threat.
    Leaving aside the issue of whether Iraq was a threat, this means that the U.S. was wrong in invading France during WWII.

    2) You can’t impose democracy in a region that has no history of it.
    This means that the U.S. accomplished the impossible in setting up democratic Japan.

    3) The American project in Iraq is a disaster.
    Viewed from a historical perspective, what’s being accomplished is, frankly, amazing. The U.S. has deposed a brutal Arab dictator, held an unprecedented free election in an Arab country, is fostering the establishment of a constitutional democracy at five time the speed at which the American constitution was established, and has kill thousands of violent opponents to this democratization. All this at the cost of 2K American lives, on the order of 15K Iraqi deaths and concomitant injuries, and 1 percent of GDP. [More perspective is to be had by recalling that the annual death rate of U.S. soldiers in Iraq is less than the accidental military death rate in the peace time militaries of the eighties and nineties, and that the U.S. endures 40K deaths per year just for the privilege of driving (how many more would we endure not to be ruled by a dictator?).] Agree or disagree with the war, I don’t think that it can accurately be characterized as a disaster.

    4) The federal response to Katrina is shameful.
    Am I the only one who is amazed by the federal response? *Ten thousand* people were rescued by helicopter. *An entire city was evacuated in a couple of days.* The evacuees were given food, shelter, and cash. Yes, there was suffering due to the failure of the local first responders. Yes, the federal government was reluctant to invade Louisiana, when its governor was slow to invite them in. Yes, there was cronyism in FEMA. But I can think of no disaster of similar scale anywhere in the world to which there was a superior response. And the singling out the current administration for blame in the longstanding problem of New Orleans’ inadequate levee system seems totally unwarranted, especially given the fact that it was the levees whose reinforcement projects had been completed that failed. Moreover, any planned reinforcement projects would not have been completed by the time that Katrina struck.

  • Clifford

    Belizean said, among other remarkable things:

    about the Iraq war:

    “Agree or disagree with the war, I don’t think that it can accurately be characterized as a disaster.”

    and about the Katrina fiasco:

    “But I can think of no disaster of similar scale anywhere in the world to which there was a superior response.”

    I’m sort of shocked speechless at this point. With respect, and for no particular reason, :-) I’d like to point out that you called Mr. Galloway a loon in an earlier comment, and then wrote these things.

    I’ll point you to earlier posts by myself and others on these subjects, and numerous discussions in the associated threads. Look at the archive and filter to posts on “politics”. I’m not being rude, it’s just so depressing that I just can’t summon the energy right now to go over the well-documented and well-known factual contradictions to every point you made.



  • Adam

    With respect to point 1, the US declared war on Germany after Germany had in fact declared war on the US.

    I think that the problem with the claims that Iraq is a disastrous mission is that the dice are still rolling. Disastrous mismanagement of the postwar, largely due to execrable planning for it (poor old Jay Garner isn’t really at fault here, he was given too little time and too few resources), sure. The US is large and powerful enough and its population appear willing to borrow any amount of money for their children to repay that maybe the US can achieve what it aims to.

    I don’t think that the biggest problem with a democratic Iraq being set up is the lack of democratic history (although that is a big problem; even my father, who supports Bush but who lived in the Gulf for 10 years, thinks that was a big ask) but the promise made beforehand not to allow Iraq to split; this promise had to be made, so personally I think that promising a democracy, which appeared to be largely done to garner domestic US and UK support based on some touchy-feely rhetoric, was the biggest error. Certainly, a stable, democratic undivided Iraq is going to be very hard to achieve. Not to mention the uncertainties of what their democracy may bring; The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is a major power in the government and until relatively recently they were basically a terrorist organisation operating from Tehran. If the Shia progressively fall in with Iran, the American taxpayer will, at great financial cost have enlarged Iran’s sphere in a way that was impossible for Iran to achieve while Saddam was in power. That would be a spectacular own goal, and it’s certainly possible that it could happen.

  • Fyodor Uckoff

    cvj said: “But it is always interesting to meet people more “overtly” left-wing than oneself though…I don’t know why.”

    It’s kind of like visiting the primate section of the zoo. Fascinating yet disturbing. Note that there, too, the amount of noise generated is inversely related to the intelligence of the specimen.

  • boreds

    I doubt George will serve the constituents of Bethnal Green and Bow as well as Oona King would have done….

  • Adam

    Well, to be fair, the constituents of Bethnal Green and Bow, many of whom are anti-war and/or moslem, appeared to feel that Oona King’s slavish loyalty to Blair’s policy on Iraq and alliance with the Bush administration on it meant that she hadn’t, in fact, served them very well. Galloway picked a moslem area with a Blair loyalist MP as a place where he could win and also where toppling the sitting MP could be justified from their pro-war stance and fair enough. It was close, but he did win, and the voters who voted for Galloway had every right to make their point that the issues that Galloway was running on were in fact the most important issues to them.

    I think he’s a seedy and devious trickster to some extent, but I don’t think that he was elected so much for admiration of his ethics so much as his stance against Blair’s Iraq policy and that is a pretty justifiable use of one’s vote, I think.

  • Clifford


    Just to remind you: Blair is a seedy and devious trickster too.


  • boreds

    Certainly a valid use of votes, and a painful result for Blair—agreed. I just mean that it might also become (moderately) painful for the constituents, too. I guess we’ll have to see if George devotes a lot of time to his constituency work.

    Also, I don’t think Oona King was picked out as a particularly egregious supporter of the war, more that she represented an appropriate constituency, but maybe you know more than me. (Slavish seems a bit too strong, but I guess she did support the war from the backbenches). I think perhaps her losing her seat to Galloway is more unfortunate than unfair.

  • Adam


    I’m certainly no fan of Blair. I think that he’s the most harmful PM we’ve had for a long time. Mind you, I’m pretty much on the conservative side, so I dislike his time in office for basically every reason going.

    I am also under the impression that King was a pretty high profile Blair supporter on the backbenches, certainly (at least) the most so of the MPs of constituencies where Galloway might have a chance of winning.

    I don’t think that Gorgeous George is renowned for his hard work on behalf of his constituents, although I may be doing him a disservice. The tabloids love to go on about the amount of time that he spends in his Iberian villa, but they love to hate him in any case. However, I’m not convinced that the role of the constituency PM is generally as important as the role they can play in Westminster on the wider scale; the UK legislative system doesn’t allow for the extraordinary porking-up of bills that can happen in the US system (which does have the merit of connecting local issues to national ones, even if it’s an expensive way to do it).

  • subodh

    Aside from the many other pressing issues that the labour govt has dragged its feet on, when you have a clear majority of Britons who opposed a war that their country was more or less dragged into, and when the party of the day gets voted in convincingly again, in spite of the clear and documented misleading of the British public by No. 10, its easy to get bored and complacent with an effectively two party parliamentary system.

    George Galloway at the very least provided a silver lining to the results of election day, and proved that at the very least, British Democracy hasn’t completely become a forgone conclusion.

  • Pingback: Refusing To Follow The Narrative | Cosmic Variance()

  • Count Iblis

    Belizean wrote:

    ”2) You can’t impose democracy in a region that has no history of it.
    This means that the U.S. accomplished the impossible in setting up democratic Japan.”

    The reason why the US can’t impose a democracic system in Iraq is because not enough people are willing to cooperate with the new system. Having a democratic history would have helped helps, but it’s not a necessary condition.

    What makes a democracy function is not really the fact that the majority decides, rather that decisions taken by the majority are almost unanimously accepted. To derail a democracy it is more than enough if 1% of the population are willing to use violence to get their way. In Iraq there are tens of thousands of insurgents who are supported by many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. The US has chosen to fight them. This will do little to get closer to the unanimous support you need in a democracy.

    According to a recent poll, about 50% of the Iraqis think that attacks on US soldiers are lawful. Iraqis are thus not going to cooperate sufficiently with the US military or the Iraqi government to get rid of the insurgents. And as long as the insurgency is going on, you’ll have terrorists; if you want to make a bomb to blow up civilians, you should go to Al Anbar, because there you can make bombs without your neighbors asking questions.

    So, perhaps one can say that bringing democracy to a country using the military doesn’t work if the military needs to use a lot of force after installing the new government.

  • Barry

    Belizean on Sep 25th, 2005 at 12:42 pm”

    “If we caricature the political spectrum as equality-emphasizing on the left side and liberty-emphasizing on the right, Galloway is classic case of an extreme leftist. ”

    IMHO, this goes beyond caricature; the past few years have clearly demonstrated that the right-hand 50% of US voters, at the least, are very happy giving up freedoms. They don’t even ask for good performance, in return.


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