“I have regrets. Only a fool has no regrets. But on the big political issues I’ve been consistently right. And those who rule us have been consistently wrong.”
When you binge watch three documentaries about Saddam Hussein and his sons, you learn a lot. And afterwards you’re keen to learn even more. So naturally, I had to set up a conversation with George Galloway: a man who had met Saddam and his son Uday, in person, in Iraq.
I don’t remember exactly when George Galloway appeared on my radar. But it was probably through YouTube, where you can find numerous videos of him debating on TV shows or in lecture halls. Here’s one video’s title: George Galloway debates 100 Zionists at the same time (and wins!). The man clearly had a way with words and I eventually learned about his reputation for his scathing attacks towards his ideological enemies.
For decades, he’s been very vocal and persistent about many hot button issues, especially in the Middle East. He decried the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and continues to play devil’s advocate for the Saddam Hussein regime; he is staunchly anti-Zionism; eternally pro-Palestine; and consistently pro-Hezbollah. He is known for being steadfast with his opinions and has barely changed his tune over the years.
Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1954, Galloway was raised in a left leaning home. After stints working in a tire factory – as any true leftist must – he turned to politics, with a fully formed liberal philosophy in place. At age 26 he was an organizer and chairman in Scotland for the Labor Party. He then went on to secure a position as a Member of Parliament. He was known for his passionate speeches, his ability to resonate with audiences and his activist-like approach to politics.
His anti-war stance created an affinity and sympathy for many of the targets of British and American imperialism. Particularly, he became entrenched in debates regarding the Middle East. His views were often unpopular, and counter-cultural in the UK, but they gained him much praise across the Arab world and with Muslims in the UK.
Because of these sentiments, Mr. Galloway has been granted rare access to many infamous dictators. He says it’s diplomacy. But for his critics, it’s tantamount to being an apologist for tyrants. He has, no doubt, met with some of the most controversial world leaders of the 21st century: Saddam, Assad, Iran’s Amhadinejad, Fidel Castro. The list goes on.
All of these opinions, and the company he chooses to keep, have made George Galloway a lightning rod for controversy. It also made the Labor Party turn against him. In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq by the “coalition of the willing” – backed by then Labor Party leader Tony Blair – Galloway was kicked out of the party for his very vocal anti-war stance. Not to be outdone, Galloway joined the newly formed, and anti-war, Respect Party. Since then he’s been voted into Parliament in several British constituencies, Bethnal Green and Bow and Bradford West.
Galloway’s ability to get re-elected, despite all of the scandal that surrounds him, is nothing short of miraculous. Several campaigns were written off as impossible, but he always found a way to win. A BBC profile of Galloway once summed up a 2005 election win like this: “Whether you admire him, loathe him or lampoon him – never, ever underestimate the man who first rattled Labour by recording one of the biggest shocks in recent political history.”
After losing his seat Bradford West seat in 2015, he’s now plotting his return to politics in 2016. This time as the Mayor of London. Critics be damned, Galloway keeps going.
Politics aside, Galloway keeps very busy working as a presenter on three television channels. Iran’s Press TV, Russia Today and Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen. The shows provide him a platform to talk about any of the issues he wants and engage directly with his fans and critics. His work with these stations has only increased his sphere of controversy. He’s viewed by some as a “mouthpiece” for all those government sponsored networks.
I caught up with George Galloway over the phone from his home in London, England to ask him about his colorful career. There is much I WANNA KNOW about this controversial and dedicated polemicist.
From Hezbollah, to meeting Saddam Hussein, to his changing thoughts on Syria, to the art of debating, to meeting Che Guevera’s son, we cover it all.
LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW or CONTINUE READING BELOW:
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I thought a good way to start the interview was to read this quote from you from 2012, because I think it might help set up the conversation. You said in an interview that you’re not a pacifist, that you’re a revolutionary. You said, “I’m a socialist who doesn’t like capitalism and likes imperialism less. I’m a revolutionary and I support the armed struggle where there is no alternative.” Would you say that’s still an accurate description of your views?
Absolutely, yes. And always has been.
OK. So I wanted to start with Hezbollah because reading that sentence, Hezbollah really jumps to the front of my mind. It’s an organization you’ve been highly supportive of in the past, which is in many people’s view controversial. Do you still think Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah is a great Arab leader?
Hassan Nasrallah is undoubtedly one of very few outstanding Arab leaders in this era. He is, of course, handicapped in becoming the leader of the Arabs, because of sectarian differences. But, undoubtedly, he is by far and away, in this current period, the outstanding Arab leader.
I was talking to a good friend of mine, an Iraqi friend, he told me that back in the day you’d go into bars and homes in Sunni strongholds across the Arab world and his picture would be all over the wall. He was the one guy that united all Arabs and was the hero. And after going into Syria, having to back Assad, a lot of his popularity fell. Do you agree?
Yes. In 2006 you could say that amongst the vast majority of Christians, Sunni and Shiites in Lebanon and way beyond, Hassan Nasrallah was the hero of the hour. A leader who meant what he said and said what he meant and who never made idle promises, rash promises. Never pretended that black was white and white was black. Quiet a different kind of Arab leader. The normal Arab leader is constantly claiming victories that are in fact defeats, whereas the manner of Sayed Hassan Nasrallah is very different to that.
Obviously it’s having been drawn into the war in Syria has undoubtedly damaged it somewhat. And, actually, the wobble they had over the invasion of Iraq in 2003 also damaged them a bit. They won a lot of respect around the world in the Lebanon war in 2006. And that perhaps made up in most people’s eyes for the slight ambiguity for a period over the invasion of Iraq. But the being drawn into the Syrian imbroglio has lost them a lot of ground.
Do you think there was any way Hezbollah could have avoided that to save face? Or was this what they had to do?
They had to do because as Hassan Nasrallah put it himself you can’t stand with your arms folded when someone is trying to break your spine. The reality is that the Takfiri victory, and the ISIS victory in Syria would be more or less the end for the Lebanese resistance. Logistically and politically their position would become extremely, gravely, difficult for the Lebanese resistance. They had no alternative but to become involved. But they have paid a price both in blood and also, as you say, in popularity.
He seems like a person you’d be intrigued to meet and sit and talk with. But that’s nothing that’s ever been on the cards for you? Or ever been possible that you’ve tried to set up?
You’re a presenter and interviewer yourself. If you did have a chance to sit down with him, what’s one question you know you’d have to ask him?
Well, let me be absolutely clear I have never asked to meet him. I have never asked to interview him, and I never will ask to meet him or interview him. But undoubtedly that would be the question, the one we’ve just been discussing. How can the sectarian division amongst the Muslims in the world — and it’s a much wider problem than the Arab middle east — but the sectarian differences within the Muslim world, how can they be bridged somehow? That would keep us going for a day or two I’m sure.
Do you feel like you’ve taken a hit in terms of stature in the Arab world because of your opinions on Assad?
Sure. I’m sure we’ll discuss what my opinions actually are. But my opposition to the so-called revolution in Syria has undoubtedly polarized opinions. And once upon a time, and for quite a long time, every Arab more or less outside the confider of the various dictatorships, would probably have expressed regard for me. And maybe more, maybe love in many cases. But undoubtedly, just like everyone else, when one is forced to make a choice, especially an unpalatable one, between bad and worse those that prefer worse will be angry with you for choosing bad.
Is this an example of a time when you wish you would have waited for more information or thought about it more? Because new information has come out as the conflict has gone on that I think has softened your support of Assad. Would that be fair to say?
Yes. I think 12 months ago, I was supposed to go to Damascus to pick up a British surgeon, a doctor Khan, who had been incarcerated in Syria for some time, haven been captured on the battlefield in and round Aleppo I think. A day or two days before I was supposed to fly to Beirut and then to Damascus and to bring this man home to his wife and small children I was informed that he had hanged himself, two days before he was to be released into my custody, my care. And I told the Syrian official who informed me of this that no one in Britain would believe this story. That I didn’t believe it. And that I could not possibly pretend that I believed it. So since that day, in fact it’s two years now, I have not exchanged a single word with any Syrian official. And I have no real plans to do so. I was sickened and disgusted by this act of murder, which it almost certainly was. I say almost certainly because, of course, none of us were there in that cell. But knowing his family well, knowing his mother who had seen him just a few days before, the idea that he hanged himself just before I was going to get him and he was to be united with his children, is frankly absurd.
Are you suggesting in some way it was to send a message to you or it just showed you how brutal Assad had become?
I’m certain it had nothing to do with Assad. In a way that makes it even worse. It means that Assad and the regime are not the same thing. And that the regime is more powerful than Assad, that the regime is capable of murdering someone that Assad has called one of Syria’s defenders in the world to come and get. But the regime killed him anyway. It’s long been my view that one of the great paradoxes of Western policy was that they seem to want rid of Assad but keep the regime. Whereas in fact Assad is not as bad as the regime. The policy ought to have been the other way around.
When we talk about the revolution, there’s the idea that when the popular uprising began, if there had been a way to transition power, or to step down at that moment, do you really think there could have been a chance for a successful revolution? Before all the militia groups came into that vacuum.
I conveyed to President Assad the day after the flight of Ben Ali from Tunisia and asked him to hold a free and fair presidential election. Thus making himself, because I’m certain he would have won it, making himself the only democratically elected leader in the Arab world. He should have taken that advice. I like to think he knows that. But just as I’ve been saying in the case of Doctor Khan, the regime and Assad are not exactly identically the same thing and the regime is worse than Assad.
There’s a Syrian guy I know who been quite critical of your take on Syria and Assad. I asked him if he had any questions for you and he said, ask him if he’s aware of, or acknowledges the fact that Syria and Assad’s regime were extremely oppressive to Palestinians within Syria and Lebanon. How do you respond to that?
Well every Arab government without exception could be accused of that. So in so far as that is true it certainly is not uniquely a crime of the regime in Damascus. I could go through but it would take our whole time period. From the Atlantic to the Gulf the betrayals the letdowns the repression, oppression, of the Palestinian national movement and individual Palestinians, I could go through them one by one, and everyone of them would be guilty. I really don’t think that is a particularly telling question. Your friend could have actually come up with a better one. But the one thing I can say, in so far as that’s true, which is it, is we then move on to a comparison. Compared to the other Arab regimes, the Syrian regime has remained more faithful, or less unfaithful, it has been more supportive of the Palestinian resistance particularly the Islamic resistance, Hamas. It had a long standing feud with the late President Arafat, who I was closely associated and still am closely associated with his politics. The relationship to the Palestinian resistance was more, greater, than any other regime and at a time when it was almost impossible for the resistance to operate anywhere else. So I think Hamas owe the Syrian regime quite a significant debt. So given the importance of Hamas to the Palestinian resistance, the fact that the Syrian regime harbored them, protected them and gave them the means of life and struggle means your friend’s case, charge, indictment, doesn’t hold much water. Of course in every case we’re talking relatively. There is no doubt that the Syrian regime oppressed Palestinians, repressed them, let them down and so on. But much less so than the other Arab regimes.
Speaking of other Arab regimes, one of my best friends here in DC is Iraqi and his family fled during the Saddam era. But through him I’ve learned a lot about it and I’ve become fascinated with the man and his family. On a personal level, I’m curious to know if you could go into detail about what it was like to meet Saddam and be in his presence. You wrote that he “radiated power.” Could you expand on that for me?
Well, there are some leaders who do and some who don’t. I was just looking at my Tony Blair film, looking at some footage one of the Arab tyrants, the Mayor of Kuwait. And I have met many of the other leaders, including the late King of Saudi Arabia. And few of them radiate power. Few of them are significant or likely to be remembered in any way at all. Of course that’s not true of Saddam Hussein. Undoubtedly, he was a big and powerful figure. We have a saying in English, they do in Arabic also, that in the land of the blind the one eyed man is King. And in the land of the blind Arab leaders Saddam Hussien had one eye and that made him the king. He had some significant achievements but he made such gargantuan blunders that any proper evaluation of his era would decree overwhelming and final failure. But that doesn’t mean that everything he did was wrong. It would be wrong to suggest, I only met him twice, but the second time for about an hour and a half. It would be wrong to suggest that he came across as a madman or some kind of crazy. Because he didn’t. He was perfectly calm. Perfectly rational. He responded rationally to the appeals that I, and others, had been making to allow the arms inspectors back in. He allowed me to announce that they could come back in. And fat lot of good it did, because it’s clear that Bush and Blair had already resolved to attack, invade and occupy, Iraq in any case.
You said not everything he did was bad. I’ve heard this argument before with Hitler, they say look what he did to the economy. But don’t you think Saddam Hussein in the long run of history, when we look at repressive dictators, is guilty of crimes as atrocious as a Hitler?
No one is responsible for crimes on the scale of Adolf Hitler. No one hopefully ever will be. This is overblown Fox News type comparisons. Hitler was a European dictator at the head of a very powerful industrialized state with an army of millions capable of subjugating and occupying all of his neighbors and systematically annihilating upwards of 10 or 11 million people in the holocaust and causing a World War that caused the deaths of 100 million people. So, on a scale, Saddam Hussein doesn’t come close. He was a brutal dictator as all the Arab rulers are to one extent or another. When I say not everything he did was wrong I’m very clear about that and I”ve written extensively about it. The period before the Iran-Iraq war which was arguably his greatest blunder was a period in which Iraq built a science base, built an industrial base, sent more students around the world to do Ph.Ds and advanced educational courses, more than any Arab country by far and away. In every country of the world there were Iraqis studying for Ph.ds. The nationalization of the oil industry, the use to which the profits were put, these were all quite significant achievements of the Ba’ath party in Iraq. But the blunders and crimes were so gigantic, that as I say, any proper evaluation would find them bankrupt in the end.
Is there a story you could tell me that most exemplifies how disturbing and messed up Saddam was?
No. I know of course of thousands of stories. Most of which are probably black propaganda. And some of which may contain a germ of truth. There is no doubt that like Stalin, whom he had many similarities with, a kind of smaller Stalin, his own comrades in his own party paid a price proportionally even greater than the population as a whole. So I’m sure the stories of Saddam Hussein killing or causing the deaths of his own comrades in the party both in Iraq and across the Arab world I’m sure they contain significant amounts of truth. I have no special knowledge about him.
Another person that has become quite fascinating to me is his younger son, Uday. Do you think he was equally as brutal and voices as Saddam? Because a lot of people think that.
Well, I only met him once and I only know what the propaganda says about him. By the time I met him he was physically damaged in quite a serious way.
He was shot, right?
He was shot. He could barely stand and and he could barely sit. What I do think is that he was fantastically corrupt and that corruption caused a very great amount of damage to the regime. And the credibility and standing of the regime, which once was high. It would be wrong for you to imagine that the Ba’ath party in Iraq was without support. That’s simply not true. There were millions of supporters of the Ba’ath party. And even today there are.
I do recall a conversation I had with some of the Iraqi leadership, not Saddam, in which I described to them how Fidel Castro’s son worked on a shop floor in a power plant and wore overalls to work. Yet carried the name of his father, Fidelito Fidel Castro Jr. He was an industrial worker. I went on to tell them that I shared an apartment block with the son of Che Guevara, who was a 30 dollar a month functionary in the foreign affairs ministry in Havana. I could tell that the Iraqi leaders were listening to this with a mixture of disbelief and horror. Because of course it’s very different in the Arab world. The son of the ruler in the Arab world is not only somebody big but he’s almost certainly a thief on a grand scale. I think Uday was a thief on a grand scale.
There’s some disturbing videos of him on YouTube. Have you seen these videos of him shooting his machine guns at weddings and going to parties and forcing old men to drink alcohol?
No. I haven’t.
They’re crazy. The crimes he used to commit just blow my mind. You haven’t followed any of those stories?
No. I’m afraid there’s more contemporary horrors in Iraq that occupy my mind. Both Saddam Hussein and Uday Hussein are long dead.
When I think about Uday and Saddam, maybe the way you need to look at a guy like Uday is that he was extremely mentally ill. Because the way he was raised, to be raised with Saddam, to be raised to be a killer, with the things he saw. In a way you can’t really blame him for the way he acted, but there was no way you were going to ever reason with a guy like Uday because he was mentally ill. Do you think that’s a reasonable way to look at it? Or it’s too simplistic?
No. I haven’t the remotest idea. I only was in one room with him once, for quite a short period of time. I could certainly tell you he was physically ill, but I couldn’t tell you his mental state. The line between mad and bad is in any case quite a difficult one to discern.
There was this great debate you had with Christopher Hitchens back in 2005. You said to him in the debate, “Mr. Hitchen’s policy has succeeded in making ten thousands new Bin Ladens”. Obviously much of what that related to was what would become the rise of ISIL. Do you feel vindicated in your ability to see that coming and to be able to put that to someone like Hitchens who was so supportive in overthrowing Saddam?
Well, I underestimated the number of Bin Ladens by quite an order of magnitude. There are far, far more thousands of Bin Ladens in the world. There are probably millions of Bin Ladens in the world. And so I underestimated it all. But I was certainly much closer to the truth than Mr. Hitchens and many others of our rulers who led us into this disaster. Yes, on the big issues I’ve made mistakes of course. I have regrets. Only a fool has no regrets. But on the big political issues I’ve been consistently right. And those who rule us have been consistently wrong.
When it comes to ISIL and their links with Saudi Arabia. Break it down for me what role you think Saudi Arabia is playing. And answer this as well, do you think there’s any country as messed up and brutal as Saudi Arabia today?
No, I think Saudi Arabia is pretty near the top of the charts for messed up and brutal. And I would say that the closest comparator to ISIS is the forces of Abd-al-Wahhab, the founder of the trend called Wahhabism which is the official religion, or take on the religion, in Saudi Arabia. The head chopping, heart eating, massacring, slave taking, all of the horrors of ISIS were prefigured by the ideological or theological forerunners of the Saudi regime. And as you know, the historical alliance of Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, and the Wahhabis was very clear and well covered, well chartered. So there is if you like an historical, ideological connection between Saudi Arabia and ISIS that can’t be denied. There’s also quite evidently a significant amount of start up funds for Al Qaeda emanated from Saudi Arabia. And Al Qaeda partly mutated into ISIS. I don’t regard them as different things. And I don’t know the extent to which the Saudi regime has been supporting Al Qaeda and ISIS directly but I know they have facilitated, turned a blind eye, to private financial support for this phenomenon in the world today. I also know that they have supplied huge amounts of weapons and money and material to other Syrian rebel groups knowing that no sooner had that material arrived that Al Qaeda and ISIS would simply take it and that’s what they’ve done.
When you think about the irony of America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. Saudi’s funding of ISIL. And America using ISIL as the greatest external and internal threat to America. How do you explain that to someone?
I don’t know why it’s able to exist but I do know how it’s able. It has a long record. We could go back quite a long way. Let’s just go back to Afghanistan in the 1980s. The decision was made by the United States and Britain as a junior partner, as always, to take the view that my enemies enemy is my friend. This is a fatal error. And that’s why I asked David Cameron with my first question when I was elected back in 2012. I asked him if he’d read Frankenstein right to the end, because of course once the monster is created it breaks free of its creator and does whatever it wants. That’s why it’s called a monster. That’s what happened in Afghanistan. All the support, all the money and weapons, the diplomatic support that was given to the anti-Soviet rebellion at that time, built up what became the Al Qaeda and the Taliban which helped Bin Laden to operate out of Afghanistan. Given the very high price the people of the United States paid on 9/11, and on other occasions, at the hands of Al Qaeda it is simply mind boggling that the Untied States government can now again, just a little more than decade later, be back in bed with these very same people.
Is the best way to look at it that the American government is stupid? Or that it’s strategic? Some people look at the military-industrial-complex, perpetual wars, and say that’s how America stays the world power.
Well I’m usually, and in this case certainly, an advocate of the cock-up school rather than the conspiracy school. That doesn’t mean there are no conspiracies. But not everything is a conspiracy. I always put it this way, don’t imagine our rulers are James Bonds, they’re more Austin Powers. And I think in George Bush we had a pretty close approximation of Austin Powers. There are, of course, devilishly clever people in the background, I’m thinking of Dick Cheney, who can drive things, manipulate things. Generally I think our rulers make decisions which are catastrophically wrong. Now whether they are fools or naves and which would be worse is a mute point but I was once trapped in a lift with William Hague when he was the Foreign Secretary of Britain. It was his misfortunate to be trapped in a lift with me. It gave me the chance to say to him, “William, you’ve been wrong before. In fact you’ve been wrong most of your life. But you’ve never been insane before. But your policy of effectively, objectively, encouraging these fanatics to go to Syria to fight. Your policy of bombing Libya to pieces allowing the almost unbelievable thought of even worse than Gaddafi coming to power in Libya. These policies are insane. They’re not just wrong. They will one day cost us very, very dearly.” And indeed they are.
And what did he say to you? Or did he just get off the elevator?
Well he was really lucky that the lift doors finally opened and he bolted the course without giving me a proper answer.
You’re known for being a great debater. You’ve won accolades for that. In your time, who was the person who gave you the best run for your money?
Good question. Michael Heseltine maybe. The former deputy Prime Minister to John Major. Maybe him. He was pretty good. Enoch Powell the veteran right wing English politician, some time racist. He was pretty good. Not because their ideas were right, but because they were quiet good at bamboozling people.
Generally speaking, what do you think makes someone a good debater? What is the skill? Is it confidence? What is it?
In the case of Heseltine, it would be education and the Oxbridge training school. The Oxford Union turns out people who can argue persuasively whatever side of the debate they’re given to argue, which I never could do. I never had such an education anyway. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. They are able to argue in courts when they become Queen’s councils and barristers just as persuasively that the person is innocent as they are guilty. In other words, they have no principles. They are just good at making the best argument they can for the line they’ve decided o pursue. That carries on to the political scene.
In the case of Powell, however, in that sense he would be closer to me. In this sense: that although entirely opposite to mine, Powell had real principles, real beliefs. And if you have such a set of beliefs, assuming you’re not simply incapable of speaking. Some people are obviously better at speaking than others. Having this reservoir, this bank of belief, then gives you a special ability. But to take this point further in a self critical way — although on the subjects I am deeply involved in I’m a pretty hard guy to defeat in an argument — there are many subjects where I could not begin to muster an argument. I don’t want you to imagine that if you asked me now to give a speech and make an argument on something technical, pensions for example, or other slightly esoteric subjects, that I could make a good argument. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to muster the beginning of an argument.
I think you have to understand each individual person from where they are coming from. You were raised within the leanings of the left. You grew out of how you were raised. When you think of someone who was born in Israel, that’s the reality, that the rest of the world is against them and they need this place. You’re never going to convince an Israeli just by your argument. Does it ever frustrate you that you would literally have to sit down and talk with someone and maybe, maybe, convince them otherwise though chat? Is that how you approach debates because you can’t just yell or no one is going to listen to you, right?
But, many of my friends are Israelis. And they agree in virtually every particular with me. My best Israeli friend would be Professor Ilan Pape. One of the greatest Israeli intellectuals. He’s an Israeli who entirely rejects the apartheid ideology of Zionism. So it has nothing whatever to do with the passport someone cares. Still less as should be obvious, which religion they profess. It’s about what their political take on what this great ideological question is. And as I put it in my Oxford Union speech, I gave two long addresses which are worth looking at, I made the point very clearly. I would not have debated in a university after a supporter of South African apartheid. How could I? I was in a mortal struggle with South African apartheid. It’s not a matter for a student, or school boy dates. So if i could not have done so with a supporter of South African apartheid, I’m certainly not going to do so with supporters of Israeli Apartheid. It has nothing to do with their nationality. I don’t debate with Israeli supporters of zionism. That’s my position. No recognition. No normalization.
You support BDS, right?
Well, in so far as BDS has become an organization. The answer to that would be up to a point. I support the boycotting, and the divestment and sanctions on Israel. And I believe that the duty of people who are not direct actors in this political conflict is to side with the victim. And that means not normalizing with the perpetrators.
There’s a lot of controversy around the intellectual boycott. I think about Islamophobia. I think about people who are fearful of Muslims and they only know what they see on Fox News. It was only when I had close Muslim friends that I realized that everything I knew was bullshit essentially. Don’t you think that only through intellectual debates with certain people you can see progress? If you totally alienate them it’s only going to create more hatred. What do you think?
Well, Islam is a religion. Zionism is not. It would be unconscionable, despicable, unpardonable, to refuse discourse with someone because of their religion. I never have and never would. That doesn’t mean I should debate with Nazis for example. I have nothing to debate with a Nazi. The Nazi has to be dealt with in a completely different way. I’m one of those who supports the criminalization of holocaust denial. I don’t take the American civil liberties union approach to whether or not people can dress up in Nazi uniforms and march through predominately Jewish areas. I say no. I say no comprise at all with an ideology like Nazism. These are ideological, political questions, not religious. So your comparison, your metaphor, doesn’t really work.
A lot of people call you an anti-semite. Do you think it’s absolutely unfair to call you an anti-semite? And why do you think people don’t understand the other side of your views on this?
Well they do understand it very well. This is a tried and tested tactic of the supporters of Israel. To brand opponents of Zionism, Israel, as being anti-semitic. In my case no one evens knows anything about me, about my politics. I couldn’t entertain the idea for one second that I could hate a whole group of people because of their religion. Simply absurd. It’s not just unfair, it’s absurd.
Would you say it’s fair that people don’t see that side? And they do think you’re anti-Semitic?
Anti-semitism exists of course. And has the blood of many millions of people on its hands. There are anti-Semites around. Some of them are in the Muslim community. Many of them are white Ku Klux Klan types. How can someone like me, a leftist, anti-racist all of my life since childhood, be credibility accused of racism, which is what anti-Semitism is?
People have accused you or rallying support for votes against Israel. Do you think there’s any times you’ve gone to far? Or could have toned down anything?
Look. Israel, Zionism and Judaism and Jews are entirely separate things. Most Zionists are not Jews. Many Jews are not Zionists. The attempt to conflate these things is not only intellectually dishonest but very dangerous.
Is there anything you want to go on record saying that you like about the state of Israel?
Of course there are people in Israel who are immensely talented, immensely productive. Because most of them are Jews. Jewish people are in huge disproportionate numbers immensely talented. Immensely productive. It doesn’t surprise me that out of the state of Israel comes many technical, scientific, and other innovations. How could it be otherwise? If you gather several million Jewish people in a state you’re going to get that kind of creativity, that kind of development. That’s one of the reasons why Palestine was able to be wiped off the map. Because of the superior development of skills and experience of the Jews who went there. Do I see anything positive in the Israeli state? Not at all.
You’ve worked with Press TV, Russia Today, Al-Mayadeen. Could you ever acknowledge that, at any point, you’ve spouted out propaganda for any of those regimes? And looking back now you wish you hadn’t of?
I absolutely have not. I have never been asked to say anything. Or asked not to say something by any of my employers. So neither on British radio, nor on Russia Today, or any of the other channels have I worked for, has anyone asked me to say something that I didn’t believe. Or not say something that I did believe. And if they ever had I would no longer be working for them.
We started with that statement that you hated imperialism most. When you look at how you analyze countries, you have a very strong distaste for America and its foreign policy, do you think sometimes there is this “lesser of two evils” approach? Do you think the way you analyze countries and their relationships to the US is really embedded in the fact that America is the most imperial country?
Well first of all, I don’t believe in countries. I hate nationalism. I hate flags. They do nothing for me. So I don’t support or oppose anything, or anybody, because of the country or the flag that they fly. I take a position on the issues, on the subject, not on who’s involved in it. For example, when Boris Yeltsin was looting Russia and permitting it to be looted by his oligarch friends, most of which then ended up in London, you could have described me as anti-Russian. If you’re going to accuse me of being pro-Russian now. I support the limited extent to which Putin has redressed the failures of the Yeltsin years and oppose Putin where he needs to be opposed. It’s nothing to do with the name of the country or the flag they fly.
As to the United States you’re talking here to the man who is the great grandson of the only woman in the whole of the 19th century who emigrated from New York to Dundee, in Scotland. And if you’ve seen New York and if you’ve seen Dundee, you’ll know just how weird and strange that decision was. So I have American blood in me and far from hating America, I love it. I love the physical contours of America. I love the literature. The sporting achievements. The can do spirit, and so on, of the United States. What I hate is American imperialism. It’s really not rocket science.
I have. And I campaigned and helped to bring about his defeat in Minnesota. I happened to be in Minneapolis on the day the final court decision was made and he became ex-Senator Norm Coleman, which was a very happy day for me. I do know that after a long period of being Israel’s foremost friend, he’s now a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.
I read that in an article. And there’s a guy quoted in there saying, “he’s clearly guided by political motivations and not moral convictions.” And here he was grilling you on your moral and political convictions. You are a politician and you want to be the mayor of London. But is it really possible to keep your hands clean in potlucks? Is it really possible to maintain your moral convictions at that high of a level? Norm is clearly a hypocrite, but isn’t that reflective of anyone who wants to get into the highest seats of power?
Well it’s difficult of most of the politicians that have hitherto ruled us. I think the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labor party may be a very imprint harbinger of change. Because nobody could be more pure as the driven snow than Jeremy Corbyn. So, it doesn’t have to be that way. In so far as it has been that way, that’s a significant reason for the problems that we have in the world. The corruption of the political process, which is most advanced in the US, is advancing here in ours. And no doubt in others also.
The idea of power itself and power being able to corrupt. You’ve met some of the most powerful men who had extreme power. You yourself have had power. Have there been any times when you started to realize if you went any further you would compromise some of your morals? Is it fair to say it can be this intoxicating and corrupting thing that you have to monitor on a day-to-day basis?
Well actually I have never had any power. I have been a back bench rebel all of the nearly 30 years that I sat in parliament. If I am elected as Mayor of London in May, then you can say I have some power. Even if it’s only power over the cycling lanes and the underground trains and so on. It’s not power on the global sense. So no, I have never felt that challenge. Though I recognize the point you make. That power can be corrupting. But I gave you an example of Cuba earlier. Power never corrupted the Cuban leadership. The son of Che Guevera lives on 30 dollars a month, and lives in a very basic apartment. And goes to work every day. Even though his father is a global icon. And if he left Cuba and became an international playboy he’d no doubt be dancing on the yachts of oligarchs off the coast of Corfu right now. Such corruption, despite any other shortcoming of the Cuban regime, has never existed there.
You lived near Guevera’s son? How did that come about?
I know his son. I lived in the same apartment block when I was researching a biography of Fidel Castro I published some ten years ago. I met him in the lift, the son of Guevera. Of course I never knew Guevera. He died when I was 13. I consider myself a solider in Che Guevera’s army.
We talked about a lot of devastating things, so much struggle, so much war, and all the things you’re involved with. What motivates you and gives you hope on a personal level? I’m always curious about that with people who strive for things, for so long, that seem impossible.
Well I strongly believe in the things I believe in. I’m in tip-top condition. Not only can I now say for the first time I’m a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-gambling, no vice, political figure. I’ve always as a life long no drinker been able to bounce out of bed earlier every morning with a never decreasing hunger for the work that I do. I believe in it. I believe that it has been worthwhile. And that it has made a mark. If I’m right, and that there is a God, and there is a judgement day, I hope it will help me get through the pearly gates.
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