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MP George Galloway: "London Has Reaped Blair's Involvement in Iraq"
We go to London to get reaction from British antiwar MP George Galloway, author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot and journalist Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times of London. [includes rush transcript - partial]

Broadcast - 07/08/05




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  • Stephen Grey, journalist with the Sunday Times of London.
  • George Galloway, Respect Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow in East London, England. He was previously Labour Party member but he was expelled in October 2003 because of statements he made opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In January 2004 he formed a new political party, RESPECT The Unity Coalition, and was returned to Parliament as its candidate in the 2005 general election.
  • George Monbiot, an author and columnist for the London Guardian. He is author of the book "Manifesto for a New World Order."


JUAN GONZALEZ: We're talking with several guests in London over the situation of the bombings that occurred yesterday. We're talking with George Galloway, an anti-war M.P. from England; also a journalist with the Sunday Times of London, Stephen Grey; and we're going to be talking soon with George Monbiot, the author and columnist for the London Guardian. I'd like to get back to Mr. Galloway; your criticism of Britain's participation in the war -- apparently, there was rebuttal from Home Secretary Charles Clark, who said that this has nothing to do with Iraq or any other particular foreign policy, it's about a fundamentalist attack on the way we live our lives. And he apparently was reacting to your criticism yesterday.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, only a fool would say that, and only a fool would believe that. In fact, the terrorists themselves have said in the website to which your previous caller referred, that that's exactly why they carried out the act. So, only a fool believes that this came out of nowhere. It came out of a deep swamp of hatred and bitterness that we have soaked in blood these last few years. This is obvious to any sentient being. And the only way that we can truly resolve this matter -- and of course, in the interim, in the short term, I'm thoroughly in favor of the most rigorous policing and intelligence response to try and stop these dastardly acts from happening, but the only way we can really be clear of them, the only way we can be safe from them, is if we reduce the number of people out there who are ready to support those who are ready to hurt us. The fish has to swim in water, and bin Laden is swimming in this water, in this swamp that we have created.

JUAN GONZALEZ: George Monbiot, columnist with the London Guardian. Your views on what happened yesterday and the impact on England in the future?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, first I'd like to say that at the moment, we don't know who planted these bombs. It's a fairly good guess that it was someone affiliated with Al Qaeda or a similar organization, but we must be cautious about this, because if you remember what happened in Oklahoma or remember what happened in Madrid, in both cases, the wrong people were initially blamed. And the wrong intelligence leads were followed. And so, I think while I understand what George Galloway is saying, it's actually too early to say that this is because of such and such a policy, because we don't yet know who the perpetrators were.

However, I would broadly endorse what he said about not creating conditions which are likely to stir up more terrorist acts. And there's no doubt that by invading Iraq, we have caused a great deal of resentment and anger within the Muslim world. And if that hasn't come back to haunt us yet, then it may well come back to haunt us in the future. But as I say, we don't yet know (a) who did this, and (b) what their motivation is. So, it really is too early to start saying this is because of a particular policy that we followed.

As far as its impact on Britain is concerned, I am worried that we are going to see the loss of certain civil liberties as a result of this. We have seen with, for example, the PATRIOT Act in the United States, that there has been quite a curtailment of some fairly basic human rights, including the right to free assembly and the right to free expression and, of course, there has been a great deal of very intrusive surveillance and policing of the Muslim community and indeed parts of the non-white community in general in the U.S., some of which appears to have very little to do with anything which could reasonably be regarded as dealing with terrorism. And I'm concerned that that's going to come over here. I'm concerned that the draconian restrictions on protest that we already have in this country could be extended. Already we have seen several people saying that this provides justification for the introduction of a new identity card in Britain. We don't yet have an identity card, but they're talking about an identity card which includes biometric identification, and plenty more besides, which could turn into quite an oppressive state tool if we're not careful.

And it's also, of course, a further effect is that just as we were all beginning to talk about some of the other issues that affect our lives, such as climate change, such as global poverty, such as what's happening in Africa, these are all issues which we desperately need to be discussing, those have been knocked off the front page and knocked out of the front of people's minds. And so, while this awful event, this dreadful attack, has been a terrible, terrible tragedy for the people caught up in it, it could have further ramifications which could themselves have tragic implications for many people in Britain and around the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times, your sense of the impact of these attacks on the G8 Summit itself and its ability to even get much work done?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, I think a lot of the work is done by officials, and so the work will continue. I suppose that it's more of a political effect in that it's changed the focus away from what was some pretty important work there, and obviously, vital for Africa, and clearly the degree in which people are able to put pressure on those leaders has been diminished, really, because the focus has gone away.

Can I just come back on what George Galloway and George Monbiot were saying? I don't, as a reporter, don’t want to comment on the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war, but I would just obviously just put that in context. I think a lot of people in London will obviously see a lot in what George Galloway is saying, his remarks will have a lot of resonance with people who have expressed views on the Iraq war, but obviously, there will be others who will take the view that we should, in fact, strengthen our resolve in operating in Iraq for the sake of not giving in to terrorists.

But I would say one important thing, where I think what George Galloway says resonates with what I have seen. I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East recently and in Iraq, in fact, last year. I think one important thing to understand about the nature of Islamic terrorism is that it's not just about a threat to the way of life of the West. If you talk to people who actually are close to these movements, I mean, they hate, above all, the policies of the West, and what -- you know, I won't comment on those policies, but they extend much -- they're not just invasion of Iraq, they also extend to our policies to the Middle East peace process, our involvement in Afghanistan.

Many of the people who are drawn to these movements are not people who are looking for some sort of Taliban lifestyle, they're people who are actually motivated because they support some kind of insurgency about the way the West is dealing with the Middle East, and they feel the Middle East is utterly humiliated. The Middle East people are utterly humiliated by the West and the Western policies. And this is the response they seek. It's an appalling response, but I think to understand it, you’ve got to understand it goes a lot further than simply a kind of revulsion against the Western way of life.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I'd like to get back to the whole issue of the possible targeting of Muslims in England. George Galloway, you represent a district that has a large Muslim population. The Islamic Human Rights Commission yesterday warned London Muslims to stay home, fearing a backlash, and the Guardian has learned that within hours of the attacks, 30,000 abusive and threatening emails were sent to the Muslim Council of Britain's website. Your reaction to the possible targeting of Muslims in England?

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, I'm just looking at my own computer screen now. I'll just give you the title of one of them: "Pig Islamists." And that sort of person is out there. But I must say to you that I think the British people are bigger than that, and I disagree with the advice, if that was what it was, that Muslims should stay indoors. In fact, they should unite with the rest of us in absolute rejection of terrorism and of war. We must be tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism. It's really basic common sense. It's not left wing, it's not rocket science.

It's just basic common sense that if you don't drain the swamp that I have talked about, if you don't intervene to stop the ongoing calvary of the Palestinian people, who for 50 years have been dispossessed, sent to the four corners of the world as refugees, regularly massacred, occupied, if you don't do something about the hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers occupying Iraq, if you don't stop propping up the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other, then you lay bare your double standards, your hypocrisy, when you talk about liberty.

What our leaders want is liberty for us, but only up to a point, and they're ready to take that away if it suits them, but no liberty for anybody else. And the people in the Muslim world can see it very clearly. They know that nobody gave a toss about the thousands who were killed in Fallujah. Nobody in the British Parliament raised any qualm about the American armed forces reducing Fallujah to ash and killing thousands of people. Yet, they go into the kind of emoting that we saw yesterday about the deaths in London.

I'm different from that, and most British people are different from that, when you reach them. The blood of everyone is worth the same. God didn't differentiate between a dead person in London killed by sheets of flying glass and red-hot razor sharp steel and someone who died the same death in Baghdad. These deaths are the same. And war of the kind that we have seen -- unjustified, illegal, based on lies, in Iraq, is terrorism of a different kind. Just because the President, who ordered it is wearing a smart suit rather than the garb of an Islamist in the Tora Bora doesn't make their orders more legitimate than orders if they were given from bin Laden.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, George Galloway, I'd like to bring back George Monbiot into the discussion. You just came back from covering the G8 Summit. And, of course, the press attention before yesterday was focused not just on the summit but on the massive protests of the British anti-war movement that was outside the summit, as well, and the anti-globalization forces that had massed to protest the summit. Your sense, George Monbiot, of the impact on that movement of these attacks?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, we have completely fallen off the news agenda. I completely understand that. I'm not complaining about it. It's just what happens, but unfortunately for what we were trying to do, we were really making some gains. We were beginning to mobilize a lot of attention not just to the issues that we were initially complaining about -- that is, the tremendous power of the G8 nations over the rest of the world, power exercised through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.N. Security Council -- but we were also very successfully articulating our dissent from the line taken by Bob Geldof and Bono and the other leaders of the G8 and of the Make Poverty History campaign, which has been quite extraordinary and exceptional in many ways. They have managed to mobilize billions of people around the world, and push the issues of Africa and poverty to the very top of the political agenda.

But those of us, the many thousands of us who met in Edinburgh and then at Gleneagles in order to protest against the G8 Summit drew a very sharp distinction between what we were doing and what we felt that Bono and Geldof were doing, which was protesting to ask the G8 Summit for favors, to beg, as we saw it, for a few more crumbs from the rich man's table. And in doing so, we felt that they were fetishizing the power of the G8 leaders. They were saying, you have the world in your hands, and you must now use this power to save that world from itself. Of course, what they weren't talking about was saving the world from themselves, from the G8 leaders and the disastrous policies they're pursuing in Africa and elsewhere.

And we were -- we felt and had expressed very strongly that the Live 8 and Make Poverty History campaigns in many ways were taking us back to an Edwardian era of tea and sympathy, that they were replacing our political campaigns with philanthropic campaigns. And they were handling the G8 leaders as if they were the potential saviors of the world, while completely ignoring and sidelining the harm that they were doing. And it's one of the -- one of the effects of these dreadful bombings is that just as we were really making progress with that, it's now completely off the agenda. That's fair enough, but it's just an unfortunate side effect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times, your sense of, again, the impact, long term, of these attacks on British society, and on this rather large and developing both anti-war movement and a movement questioning the growing gap -- the economic gap in the world.

STEPHEN GREY: That's a big question. I think that -- I think the British people are quite calm about dealing with these matters. I think, you know, there will be some reaction. Inevitably, there will be some hate generated. There will be, you know, attacks on the Muslim community, but I think that these are, just as the terrorist attacks, perpetrated by very small minorities. We have a very multicultural society here in London, and I think that most people very well understand the very small numbers of people involved. They realize that the terrorists probably disguised themselves very effectively as normal citizens here, so then they will see that there is no need to target anyone who, you know, looks overtly Muslim. I think that we'll look at it in quite a broad sense, I think – sorry, quite a calm sense.

And broadly speaking, I think that as time progresses, they will obviously think about the causes of all of this, but there will be a reaction. I mean, the investigation itself is going to be very difficult, obviously. We have seen no large scale roundup of suspects this morning. The police are trying to investigate this with great sensitivity, but obviously, in order to get to these people, they are going to have to make all kinds of inquiries. If it does turn out that an extreme Muslim group is involved, then they will have to engage with the Muslim community, have to to get information, and no doubt, they'll have to -- they will be arresting people, and that will cause some reaction and disturbance.

It's very difficult thing to investigate, and clearly there will be some backlash. And I think everyone will have to stay quite resolute, which I think they will, but it will not be an easy time, and clearly, there may also be further demands for much tougher police action, security powers, etc., although ultimately, I'm not convinced that through tougher security and essentially a kind of semi-military response to terrorism that you deal with the underlying causes, which -- and stop the recruitment of these people, which is ultimately what we need to do, because as we have seen, al Qaeda as an organization is becoming more of an idea that is inspiring people around the world. And it's no good simply arresting people you regard as a leader of this organization. You have to address why it is that people are popping up all over subscribing to the ideology and perhaps having no link whatsoever to the leadership in, now probably in Afghanistan or if not arrested somewhere, and therefore it's the ideas that are going to become paramount. And it's actually showing that the ideology of al Qaeda is bankrupt and that the West has an alternative which can also appeal to the Muslims who feel dispossessed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I may -- if I may interrupt just to get a final comment, a quick final comment from George Galloway in terms of how you see the impact of this on Tony Blair. You were expelled from the Labour Party for your opposition to – your strident opposition to the war in Iraq. Your sense of how this will impact on Tony Blair?

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, it could go either way. It could give him a new lease of political life. He may decide that his declaration of impending retirement sometime in this Parliament needs to be set aside, or if there's a Spanish-like phenomenon now sweeps the country, it could mean the political end of him very soon. I hope it's the latter, because I think we need a change of policy. And we're not going to get a change of policy without a change of leader, because the leader, both here and in your country, is so utterly identified with the policy that we have been following now. You have mid-term elections coming up rather sooner than we have a general election. My reading of the U.S. situation is that Bush will pay a very high political price at those elections. And we'll see on the streets and in the public opinion polls and on the airwaves and in the letters, columns of newspapers and so on here in Britain, which of the two alternative ways that this could go will actually happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I'd like to thank George Galloway, member of Parliament and a noted anti-war leader in Britain; George Monbiot, the columnist for the London Guardian; and Stephen Grey, a journalist with the Sunday Times. Thanks to all of you for being with us.

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