An opponent of US imperialism and a supporter of Fidel Castro, he has been actively involved in anti-war movements around the globe since the Vietnam War. Gabrielle Tierney interviews George Galloway, Respect MP and leader of the anti-war movement.
The anti-war movement gathered great momentum but the climatic two million strong march in Hyde Park on the 15th February 2003 failed to materialise into any effective course of action. Why?
Well I think that would be a little harsh as a means of putting the point. We came closer than we thought at the time to actually pulling the Blair government out of the war. We probably also, not just ourselves, but the movement throughout the world, influenced the course of the war in the sense that it is undoubtedly true that the "Shock and Awe" that they had in mind for the first few days of the war, although as shocking and awful as it was, was not as shocking and awful as it might have been in terms of civilian deaths if it had not been for the strength of the anti-war movement. But most importantly, we have, both here and in the United States, and in Italy, and in Spain and around the world (with the exception of Ireland), managed to exact a steady attrition of the political position of the leaders who misled us into the war, which would not have happened if the anti-war movement had not been so strong and consistent and persistent. Berlusconi has gone, Aznar has gone, Bush has almost gone, Blair has almost gone: all within 4 years of the decision these people took. Leaders have suffered grievously as a result of what they have done, and I think the anti-war movement can take a lot credit for that.
If America and Britain can go to war without a UN resolution, and not be reprimanded for doing such, is the very existence of the UN redundant?
The UN is a joke. Lenin called the League of Nations (the predecessor to the UN) a thieve's kitchen. I call the United Nations today a thieve's and beggar's kitchen where the thieves make the decision and the beggars vote for them. And if, by chance, the beggars choose not to vote for them, the thieves just do it anyway. You can't call an organization run by John Bolton, the US ambassador, you can't call that a genuine United Nations. Of course, I wish we had a genuine UN. I wish that Britain played a sincere role in a genuine UN, but that's not what we have. It's a bitter joke.
Many would suggest that your visit to the US Senate to answer allegations of being in the pay of the Saddam regime was your finest hour; would you agree?
Yes- I would say so. That and the great anti-war demo on February 15, 2003. Although it didn't stop the war, it was the biggest demonstration in the history of this country. It was five times bigger than the next biggest demonstration. It was 20 times bigger than the most famous demonstration in Grosvenor square (the riot against the American embassy there during the Vietnam war). I was one of the leaders of that and that was a pretty good moment.
We recently had the results of the US midterm elections; what do you now see for the future of Iraq, especially now given that the Democrats have taken over both houses?
Well you know the Republicans and the Democrats are two cheeks of the same arse, so we can't necessarily expect anything better now that they are in command of the two houses; although the popular pressure on them to make it better will be considerable because they very clearly gave the impression to the American public that they had something else in mind. Well now they'll have to produce something.
When the Western media reported on the conflict in Lebanon, there was a clear bias towards the Israeli side. When reporting casualties of the war, they would cite the deaths on the Israeli side, followed by the numbers of those injured. When reporting on Lebanon they mentioned only the deaths, thus creating the impression of a more comparable casualty ratio. To what do you attribute this bias?
Well because Israelis are "people like us." It's the same racism that informed General Powell when he said, "we are not in the business of counting dead Iraqis." It's the same racism that clearly views the blood of some people as more valuable than the blood of others. As I said here at the time when Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Blair asked us never to forget the heartbreaking messages of love and farewell which these American women on the airplanes of 9/11 left from their mobile phones on the answering machines of their loved ones. I said just because Afghan woman don't have mobile phones and the Iraqi women don't have answering machines, it doesn't make their deaths delivered from the sky any less obscene than the deaths of these American women. I did a Sky news interview which has become quite famous. Although it wasn't seen by hardly anyone on the day, thanks to the wonders of the internet, it has been seen by over two million people on YouTube alone. And it's famous, I think, for this exchange; I said to the woman, "you know the name of every Israeli soldier who's been, as you put it, kidnapped in Gaza or Lebanon, but you could not tell me a single name of a Palestinian victim of the mass murder that's been going on in Gaza over the last period." And there was another act of mass murder last night: 18 people were killed, 15 of them members of the same family ranging in age from one to seventy years old. Eight of them women, seven of them children. The media will never tell you the names of that family, at least not more than once. No Sky interviewer will cite their grisly demise in a television interview. But Israelis are endlessly mourned because they are Western people like us. They are settlers. They were sent there by Imperialism, just as settlers were sent to the North of Ireland and for the same purpose; to keep everyone divided so that the empire could rule them.
You were accused of exploiting racial tensions in order to gain your seat in the last election as you were quoted as denouncing Oona King as a "woman who had on her conscience the deaths of 100,000 people, some with blacker faces than hers." Can you deny that there was no element of race in your election?
I have spent my entire life as an anti-racist and don't have a racist bone in my body. She does have the blood, not of 100,000 people, but as we now know 655,000 people. She voted for the war, spoke for the war, campaigned for the war, and continues to defend the war. So the people who had twice elected her, threw her out. That's what democratic politics is about. If you put to me that she should be kept in parliament because she is a black woman, my answer is she has the deaths of many women, some of them with blacker faces than hers, on her conscience and the blood is on her hands. That's why she was thrown out of parliament, not by me, but by the voters in Bethnal Green.
Looking at the changing shift in politics in Latin America, most recently with the win of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, do you see this as a potential flashpoint for future conflict?
Probably not because the Ortega that won yesterday is not the Ortega of before. But it does illustrate the point that the only way to win an election in Latin America now (unless you want to cheat as they did in Peru and Mexico) is to say you're a friend of Fidel Castro and an enemy of George Bush. So I'm very happy as someone who was a frequent visitor to the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua and who cried many a tear at the dispute of the revolution. I'm very happy to see Daniel back and it's part of this "wind of change" in Latin America which is profoundly disturbing the power of the United States. I don't think the United States is strong enough to engage in conflict. People ask me, "what was the purpose of the invasion of Iraq? Was it oil? Was it Israel?" Yes it was oil, yes it was Israel, but its main purpose was to terrify the world with American power. But because it's been such a catastrophic failure, instead of terrifying the world with American power, it has demonstrated to the world the limitations of American power. And that lesson has been learned in Latin America very, very clearly.
Some have touted President Hugo Chavez as the next Castro; how accurate do you think this statement is?
Well I did ask Fidel how he felt about these "new kids on the block," quite recently because it was just two weeks before he fell dreadfully ill. He said, "do you know if I had died 10 years ago, I would have died sad. But now, I can die happy." Because people all over Latin America, in part at least, have been inspired by the Cuban revolution and its leader, and are coming to power. Chavez is not Fidel, Venezuela is not a socialist country, but it's a revolutionary country; it's challenging imperialism. It's using its wealth for the benefit of the poor in Venezuela and indeed to build relations with the poor everywhere. And I think that Chavez is a monumental hero. He's not as politically sophisticated as Fidel Castro; how could he be? He's not been around as long, he comes from a different background, and so on. But he's a truly inspiring mass leader, who, when Fidel passes, will be as iconic in the world as Fidel is.
Talking of Fidel passing, what do you think the future holds for Cuba after Fidel?
I believe that a collective leadership in Cuba will emerge which will involve Raul Castro, Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque, who is the youngest Foreign Minister in the world. My money would be on Felipe to emerge as the maximum leader in due course. I advise Bush not to imagine he'd be visiting Havana anytime soon. The Cuban system will survive the passing of Fidel Castro. There will be compromises of course; there have already been many compromises, but the essential gains of the Cuban revolution will be preserved. There is no Cuban child who goes without milk or bread or a free school and a free doctor and access to sport and culture and so on. Which nobody born in any other poor country has. The Cubans are aware of that.
1st December 2006