An Evening With Mr. Galloway

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The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own.

~ Aldous Huxley

My wife and I attended a talk by British parliamentarian George Galloway, given at a Presbyterian church within walking distance from my law school in Los Angeles. Arriving early, we had good seats for what proved to be a well-attended program. Galloway’s appearance was organized by various socialist organizations, and so it was neither surprising nor upsetting that leftist banners, t-shirts, buttons, and the one-paged printed handouts were in abundance.

A number of speakers preceded Mr. Galloway’s talk, with two of them — an Afghan woman who reminded the audience of the horrors still being perpetrated in her homeland, and a former soldier representing Iraqi Veterans Against the War — receiving well-deserved responses. To their credit, the organizers and speakers managed to keep the program focused on opposition to the war in Iraq, with only an occasional reference to the u201Cevilsu201D of capitalism, or the need for u201Cjustice.u201D As one who regards u201Cjusticeu201D as u201Cthe redistribution of violence,u201D I thought it ironic that so many opponents of the Iraq war would fail to see the contradictions. But as this inconsistency is endemic to socialists, I was not surprised by its appearance here.

George Galloway presented an impassioned, factually-focused critique of the war and the confluence of American, British, and Israeli political interests that underlay it. His words stormed through the church not as irrational rage, but as principled, sincere anger. What a contrast — both as to style and substance — this man’s presentations are to the wimpy babble of American politicians who function as if on Valium overdoses. It is pathetic that the fiery rhetoric that used to attend political debates in America must now be imported from abroad! Galloway’s initial remarks informed us that he was not moving to America to run for public office, a statement that confirmed his awareness of just how distant he is from the anesthetized, emotionally languid mindset of most Americans and their politicians.

To those who cannot distinguish deranged screaming from a genuine passion for life, the Galloway phenomenon must be confusing. Though a socialist, his plea for an end to the systematic plunder and slaughter that represents the war system was nonpartisan. His closing comments, in fact, were to remind people not to allow the antiwar movement to become a front for polarizing political or social agendas. Political and religious groups — whatever their persuasion — needed to understand and oppose the destructiveness of war.

The theme that ran through his presentation was the presence of the u201Cdouble standardu201D by which Western and Middle Eastern interests are measured. The attacks of 9/11 emerged u201Cnot out of a clear blue sky,u201D but from a u201Cdeep swamp of anger and hatredu201D generated by decades of American, British, and Israeli atrocities committed against Arab and Muslim people. He emphasized that the core of the u201Cterroristu201D problem can be traced not to religious differences, but to over fifty years of u201Cinjustices imposed upon the Palestinian peopleu201D by American and Israeli politics. The 1982 slaughter — with the sanction of Ariel Sharon — of helpless men, women, and children in Beirut refugee camps, also came in for discussion.

Perhaps the most poignant example of the double standard that presumes u201Cthe blood of Americans, or Israelis, or Europeans, to be of greater value than the blood of Iraqis or Afghans,u201D was found in the earlier American-enforced trade sanctions that led to the deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children. Madeleine Albright — Clinton’s Secretary of State who oversaw the slow death of Iraqi children u201Ceven before they were old enough to know they were Iraqisu201D — wrote off this atrocity as a price she was willing to pay. Americans may remain oblivious to the consequences of this double standard, u201Cbut it doesn’t escape the attention of any Muslim in the world.u201D

Galloway went on to remind people that the families of those who died on 9/11 did not suffer any greater pain than did the relatives of Iraqis and Afghans who died from American and British bombings. Each suffered unjustifiable deaths delivered from the sky. He then reiterated what every factually informed person (i.e., non-Fox News viewers) knows to be true: that there were no u201Cweapons of mass destructionu201D in Iraq; that Hussein had no connection to 9/11; and that Al-Qaeda did not have any bases of operation in Iraq. Because of Bush’s war, however, Al-Qaeda is now quite active in Iraq, meaning that Bush has provided recruiting incentives for terrorists.

Mr. Galloway then criticized those who try to associate the anti-war people with Bin Laden, noting that u201CBin Laden was invented by the United States and Britain,u201D who put Bin Laden into Afghanistan. The Americans and British later went into Afghanistan and began killing people as part of an effort to capture the man these Western forces had put there in the first place!

While Bush and Blair are able to bamboozle their own citizenry with claims that their current purpose in being in Iraq is to promote u201Cdemocracyu201D and u201Cfreedom,u201D the Muslim world can see what these abstractions mean in practice, and wants no part of it. The Muslim world is ruled, Galloway went on, by u201Cpuppet kings, presidents, and other dictatorsu201D propped up by Western governments. If true u201Cdemocracyu201D was ever to emerge in any of these countries, he added, the first thing the ensuing Muslim governments would do would be to evict the United States from their lands.

Galloway later offered the sharp contrast between Cindy Sheehan — whose name evoked great applause — and the reincarnated Marie Antoinette, in the form of Barbara Bush. Mrs. Bush commented that the refugees from New Orleans who were huddled in Houston’s Astrodome u201Cnever had it so good.u201D Such an attitude, he noted, is representative of a government that u201Ccannot remove dead bodies from the streets of one of its major cities seven days after a natural disaster, but is prepared, at a moment’s notice, to impose more destruction on other nations.u201D

The threat of future u201Cterroristu201D attacks cannot be dealt with by continuing the policies and practices that create them. u201CIf you live next to a swamp,u201D Galloway intoned, u201Ca fly-swatter will let you take care of a few mosquitoes, but others will get through to attack you. The only way to stop the attacks is to drain the swamp of the anger and hatred in which the mosquitoes breed.u201D This draining can be accomplished, he went on, only by ending the colonialism that prevails in the Middle East, and to have the governance of Iraq determined by the Iraqi people alone. To those who conjure up the specter of bloodshed and destruction should Americans pull out of Iraq, he observed that bloodshed and destruction are increasing in that country because of the American presence.

George Galloway, like Cindy Sheehan, represents what, in the study of chaos, is known as the u201Cbutterfly effect,u201D (i.e., the capacity for individuals to affect change through the reiteration of their influences upon a system). Such people serve as u201Cattractorsu201D to others who share their sentiments. Through such spontaneous and open-ended means as the Internet, men and women are able to create networks of shared opinions. They become catalysts for change, a process upon which all creative and productive systems depend.

There is a rapidly emerging network of opposition to the Afghan/Iraqi wars which, contrary to the screeching war-lovers at Fox News, is not confined to u201Cleft-wingu201D groups. Liberals, conservatives, socialists, Republicans, libertarians, anarchists, Democrats, and Marxists, are discovering that the integrity of their souls can no longer withstand the burden of their support for wars against the innocent. In the spirit of George Galloway’s passionate plea for the lives of both the Iraqi people and the soldiers sent to kill them, we must pull the rug out from beneath the feet of those who shed crocodile tears for the continuing deaths of American troops while calculating the slaughter of foreigners.

For those of you who e-mail me asking u201Cwhat can we do?,u201D what about demanding the impeachment and criminal prosecution of President Bush and his co-conspirators? If you were among those who insisted upon the impeachment of Bill Clinton for telling lies about his sexual peccadilloes, what about a president whose lies are far more destructive of the lives and liberties of people, not to mention the civilization that has been mortally wounded? For those who, in the Clinton years, expressed concern about u201Cmoral values,u201D the ball is now in your court. There is nothing more at stake than the wholeness of your character and the nature of the world you are to leave to your children.

Butler Shaffer [send him e-mail] teaches at the Southwestern University School of Law.

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