Saturday, 10 November 2012

Me, Galloway and the appreciation of irony

Imagine my surprise when, after my debut piece at the Independent on Thursday, a critique of the Respect Party, yesterday appeared a rebuttal-cum-personal-attack on me from none other than the Honourable (that’s his official title) George Galloway MP. I suppose I should find it flattering, that a British Member of Parliament should take time out of their busy schedule appearing on obscure Middle Eastern TV stations to do a hatchet job on li’l ol’ me.

So, I suppose it is now incumbent on me, for my sins, to at least set the record straight. Now, let’s be fair: he did make one – just one – valid criticism in the whole piece. There was a mistake in the original piece, up for all of two hours on Thursday night before it was noticed and rectified, where I said he was being paid by a Syrian TV station. Al-Mayadeen is in fact Lebanese, although, with the recent history of Lebanon as a virtual client state of Syria, it is fair to say that the difference is 
probably, in the eyes of most people, fairly academic. But it was fair to point out the error, and we fixed it.

We removed the whole paragraph, just to be on the safe side, in the process removing the important point that Galloway’s recent visit to Lebanon, to meet a key ally of Assad, ex-President Emile Lahoud, was reported in the Syrian press as him expressing support for Assad. I should stress that this is, by the way, something which Galloway denies: rather than being pro-Assad, he claims to be “against the enemies of Syria”. Whatever that means. And then the Independent generously allowed him the right to reply.

That said, the piece was the usual victimism, bluster and bombast: the obsessive hatred of Blair; the wild accusations of Labour changing its policy because of unnamed big donors; the inevitable raising of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, like they were big everyday concerns for most citizens struggling to pay the bills; and the phrase “pack of lies”, when there was not a single criticism of the original piece – for example, the video of Tower Hamlets Respect chair Carole Swords shouting “go back to Russia” at a Jewish man – which he had an answer for.

Oh, and the words “foully Zionist”. The worst insult in the Galloway lexicon: someone who dares to think that Israel might have a right to exist. It is perhaps interesting to note that, according to a widely-accepted definition of anti-Semitism, denying that Israel has a right to exist is considered plainly anti-Semitic. But hey.

Then, in the process of a somewhat laboured ad hominem, he makes various accusations about that excellent website for freedom and democracy, Harry’s Place (their own rebuttal is here): one of which was that they have criticised “John Pilger, the two Kens, Livingstone and Loach, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War…”. Well, apart from Amnesty and HRW, who occasionally merit criticism and often do not, that entire list is pretty much united in obsessive anti-Americanism and support for some pretty awful and repressive regimes. Why would any reasonable person not want to criticise them?

“Now Marchant isn't going to let facts get in the way of a bilious rant” – hmm. I’m not quite sure where the “rant” became “bilious”, or where he thinks there is an absence of facts; every point I made was meticulously linked to evidence – something noticeably absent in his response. In fact, the only link in his entire piece was to my own article. A remarkable lack of evidence for a man so sure of himself.

Then, there was the pitiful defence of the indefensible: his comments on rape, which have all but done for the Respect Party as it was, and was swiftly followed by the resignation of party leader Salma Yaqoob. And in doing so, he chose to question the motives of the two Swedish claimants against Assange (“Assange was set up”), rather than accepting what to most of us is obvious: that, well-founded or not their claims might be, they had a right to a hearing before a judge.
“So I can live with his cheap jibes. What I can't live with is his deliberate misrepresentation of my election victory and Respect's programme and ideology.” 
Honestly, what ideology, George? Apart from, arguably, a rabid hatred of America and the West, and a propensity to stir up ethnic and religious tensions? 

Then we are blown off at a tangent into Galloway and Bradford. Except he doesn't seem to have done anything noticeable for Bradford: he is seemingly limited to attacking the Labour council. Now, its members may or may not be at fault in their management of Bradford – I don’t really know, to be honest – but whatever they do, they do not spend their time appearing on dubious foreign propaganda TV stations, reality TV, or making trips to the Middle East which have precisely zero to do with the lives of their constituents. They are, at least, actually in Bradford most of the time.

Oh, and as for my “despicable” attack on Lee Jasper: well, the comment is bizarre. I’m also not sure how stating someone was “cleared” qualifies as an “attack”: in fact, I was being generous to Jasper, and specifically acknowledging that this scandal was not the biggest thing in the world – although it did not leave Jasper without criticism – but that his later public statements are more disturbing. I am not quite sure where the thirty-seven inquiries came from that were supposed to have found in his favour, but I’ll take Galloway’s word for it.

I didn’t have space in the original article to mention that, although Jasper was cleared of wrongdoing by an inquiry, it’s a bit more subtle than that. Ken Livingstone first insisted on a police investigation. The police then said, rightly, that they were not responsible for investigating misconduct, only criminal activity, so it was dropped. The District Auditor found that Jasper did “fail to declare interests”, and there were serious failures of governance in general, especially with regard to showing value for money from projects commissioned, but no evidence of fraud. It’s all in this report.

Finally, there was one point at which, I confess, I laughed out loud: where he accuses, we assume, the British government:

“We've put in place and supported corrupt kings and sheikhs all over the Middle East and we continue to do.”
Of course. You see, the man who saluted the “indefatigability” of Saddam Hussein, who works for the Iranian government’s TV channel, and who praised Assad as “the last Arab ruler” has never really quite understood irony. It requires a certain level of self-awareness which he appears simply not to possess.


  1. Great, people like you make me hopeful as to the future of the Middle East. Apparently not everyone is backward-logic and hateful. You should have someone translate this into Hebrew and Arabic(Y-net have an opinion page for foreign bloggers), might help oust Bibi-Lieberman from government (yea, a bit farfetched I know but I have hope).

  2. Why thanks. One has to cut through both the silly and the nasty on both sides to get to some sensible views. I, like most sensible people, want a two-state solution which doesn't pander to either hardline Israelis (like the awful Lieberman) or Palestinian terrorists. This, apparently, is hard for some people to understand.

  3. I only just now learned of your blog from your note about Norman Geras at Harry's Place.

    Geras's death drives home the point that the relatively few journalists/bloggers on the left who are free of dogmatism and knee-jerk thinking are especially precious to us all.

    Personally, I'm just relieved to see that at least some people on the left are willing to defend Israel from a sensible point of view. It's demoralizing to be stuck between left-wing demonizing and right-wing nuttiness.

    So, I'll become a reader of your blog. You seem to occupy the same political space that I do. It's nice to have company. :-)


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