An Interview with George Galloway
By Karen Button
-- -- The British Member of Parliament, George Galloway
was in Egypt to testify about Britain’s involvement in Iraq’s
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
Americans—mostly businessmen. Ironically, as we talk about
American imperialism, Britain’s 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 Senate—where he flew last year to
personally confront Republicans charging his misconduct in the
Oil for Food Programme (his pointed questioning celebrated by
the Left who’d been longing for this kind of courage from the
Democrats)—or 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 doesn’t 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 he’d 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 I’m grateful
for the expression of sympathy from President Mubarak and so I
won’t be taking that matter any further. But, you heard me say
[last night] what happened to me…it 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
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 from testifying?
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
Yes. This is inexcusable. I don’t 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 country—it’s the most
populous Arab country, it’s the most historical Arab country.
Egypt has a role to play as a part of this Nation; it shouldn’t
turn its back on the Arab Nation. This isn’t 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 Blair’s
invasion and occupation of Iraq. What particular importance do
you think this trial had?
Well, you won’t really know that until later. The whole story
about the straw that broke the camel’s 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
don’t 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 I’m old enough to remember the Bertrand Russell
Tribunal against the Viet Nam war in the 1960s, it didn’t 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
Yes. It has made a big impact, I think. It’s been very widely
covered. It’s 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 Arabs?
Well, there are many things that can be done, for example, the
Cairo Conference, which I’m 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
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 don’t think
he really believes it. I think Bush didn’t find God, he just
found the Party of God, America’s Hezbollah, the Party of
Christian Fundamentalism, and he decided to ride it to power.
And it’s 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 we’re seeing in Venezuela…
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 Hezbollah…can we speak about Hariri. Do you
think Syria is responsible for the assassination of Hariri and
for the current chaos in Lebanon?
No, I don’t believe that Syria is responsible for the death of
Hariri because Syria is the main loser from this crime. States
don’t 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 don’t believe that Syria is responsible at all
for this crime. There may have been some Syrians involved, but I
don’t 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 don’t 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
It seems there is some type of European-American agreement
towards Iran and Syria. What is the interest?< br>
Let’s discuss what the goal is first. The goal is to break the
regime in Damascus, not because of anything bad that it’s 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 not—the is the most important thing—she 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 America’s puppet regimes in the Arabian Gulf, which
is something often missed by commentators. In fact, Iran’s track
record indicates that it would seek to use its political power
in its own region rather in Israel. It’s 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
Ajahon’s rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. So these are the
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 France’s refusal to
accept that it is no longer an imperial force. The reason France
is back in Cote de Vor is because it doesn’t accept that it’s no
longer an empire and it’s 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 of—you might say
small—renaissance 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
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 doesn’t have the
wealth, it doesn’t have the population, it doesn’t 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 he’s 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 and Britain?
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.
It’s 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. I’m
sorry I didn’t attend, but I’m 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. What’s the purpose?
Well, it’s quite right that these three war criminals should be
on trial together. They are part of the same axis of evil; it’s
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, it’s 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 I’m glad they were all
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 world’s 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
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 Iraqis—the best example—the
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 consequence’. 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 they’ve
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
That’s 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 they produce.
But, they don’t have the excuse that they weren’t 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 didn’t fight the British in the 1920s! The Iraqis are very
tough people…and 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, it’s both. Any dignified people—and nobody is more dignified
than the Iraqis—will 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 have—day and night—planned in which way they could attack this
foreign occupation. They would have cut the throats of any of the
occupier they could find!…because 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 don’t 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 nation…they don’t 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, it’s to stay at one
people! Don’t allow the enemy to break Iraq!
Other articles by Karen Button
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with the
originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)