'Galloway is a hot, blustering bully - but I'm staying on his case until the very end'
By Christopher Hitchens
The experience of spending some hours on a public platform with George Galloway is disappointingly similar to the experience of watching him on al Jazeera, or on Syrian state television. One learns exactly nothing that one did not already know.
When addressing audiences in the Middle East, his metaphors of martyrdom and rape, and his celebration of the "resistance" forces are a little more florid, perhaps, but I shall have to concede that even in New York he has the nerve to tell an audience that the atrocities of September 2001 were essentially the fault of the United States itself. That was not his finest moment - and nor was it by any means his lowest one - but I began to see again his essential appeal, which is an utter indifference to embarrassment.
It had taken me some time to bring him onto a fair field with no favour. After his loud and rude refusal to answer direct questions from a Senate sub-committee, and after his personal insults to me when I had asked him some questions of my own, and after the almost uniformly good press that he achieved for these tactics, I challenged him to a public debate.
A challenge was also issued to me and Galloway by the Labour Friends of Iraq, a group which brings together people who are divided on the intervention itself but which offers help to the embattled secular and democratic forces in that stricken country. Despite repeated applications, Galloway declined any formal reply and tersely said "not under your aegis" when approached in the Commons by Gary Kent, the director of the group.
As Galloway's book tour was in preparation in the United States, however, he was subjected to the same challenge by a number of interested parties, and began to see that it might be hard to avoid. His agents and representatives did their best to discourage any deal, most notably by demanding that he get twice the fee (to cover travel costs) that I would receive for the same event, but after I had said that I would in principle do it for nothing - which is what we would both have been paid if it was a Labour-type event - they acceded. (If there's any dough left after the other night, the organisers have rather decently offered me a third of it.)
So there we were. Obviously I am suspect as a juror in my own cause, but put yourself the following hypothetical case. Mr A challenges Mr B, saying that he appears on the available evidence to be a handmaiden to dictators and a recipient of their hospitality. Mr B replies that Mr A is a piece of ordure, or some other unmentionable substance. The riposte is hailed as a tremendous piece of repartee, as well as a full and complete answer to the challenge. Perhaps my own professional journalistic colleagues do not wish to seem to favour one of their own, but I have always had difficulty in seeing the pith or brilliance of this.
In point of fact, having quoted Mr Galloway's recent speech in Damascus ("The Syrian people are fortunate in having Bashar al-Assad as their leader") and having further pointed out that Mr Assad decided not to show his face in New York last week, as the UN investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri rolled up more and more Syrian agents, I was given a full answer by being told that I had metamorphosed back from a butterfly into a slug, with a consequent trail of slime in my wake. I did not have the lepidopteral presence of mind to point out, at that moment, that butterflies pupate from sturdy and furry caterpillars.
I reiterated my point that the Syrian people have no say in their own good fortune, since they inherit a Dauphin from an absolute monarch. That did me no good at all in some circles. What I should have done, I now realise, is to say that George Galloway knows all about slime because he's so far inside the posterior passage of a murderous dictator that one can barely glimpse his Gucci buckles. That would have won me golden opinions. I suppose it would also have re-defined the old term "slug-fest".
I have often wondered how a certain type of public figure manages to keep his fluttering stomach under control. To all appearances they somehow remain as cool - as Aunt Dahlia's chef, Anatole, once phrased it - "as some cucumbers".
Mr Galloway is hot and blustering rather than cool, and he may not have appreciated that I am staying with him until the very end of this argument, but he does manage to survive by making extraordinary claims and then moving on to the next appointment. When I asked him in public if he would deny having discussed oil-for-food allocations with Tariq Aziz in person, he said that he would sign such an affidavit right away if I had it on me. That boast is one that I shall give him the chance to make good upon, if he has a pen handy.
So on one hand we have a bipartisan Senate committee, and on the other we have a man with a big and dirty mouth. And the coverage splits the difference - quite often in the bigmouth's favour. I don't think this is completely explained by the way that the British press cowers before our restrictive and archaic libel laws - which do not apply in the United States. I believe that there is a sick and surreptitious fascination with people of a certain thuggish unscrupulousness, from Mike Tyson to Henry Kissinger, and that many press hacks have a secret vicarious love for such people.
I wish them joy of this. They enable Mr Galloway to lecture a captive audience in Syria, fawning upon a despot and saying that with "145 military operations a day" that the people he describes as "these poor Iraqis… are writing the names of their cities and towns in the stars" and then to fly to America to commiserate with the mother of one of the dead soldiers. (Galloway was, remember, expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 after it interpreted some of his comments as an incitement to attack Coalition troops.)
On Wednesday night in Manhattan, however, he made the mistake that all demagogues and bullies make, and forgot that he was on television and on the record, and sought only to please his own section of the crowd. He answered questions with crude abuse. I have plenty of time and patience to spare on this, and was addressing myself to a larger audience, and I never ask a question to which I don't know the answer. So we shall see, shan't we?
• Edited highlights of the debate, broadcast last night on Radio 4, can be accessed at www.bbc.co.uk/radio4
• Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Daily Mirror. His briefing on Galloway can be read at www.hitchensweb.com
Listen to the debate
'Galloway is a hot, blustering bully - but I'm staying on his case until the very end'
The Brawl at Baruch
Galloway vs. Hitchens
By LOUIS PROYECT
Although I left 90 minutes into the Galloway-Hitchens debate, I feel pretty confident that I had taken in the high points, such as they were. The event succeeded more as theater than as education, with both characters playing to the gallery and practically imitating themselves.
The basic problem is that a debate over the war in Iraq is a little bit like debating whether the earth is round or flat, or as Galloway put it, "Is there any sentient being on this planet who still believes that this war was just and necessary?" Apart from the inner circles of the Bush administration, Hitchens and the odd band of his admirers drawn to the debate, that is.
In his opening 20 minute presentation, Hitchens made the case for how much the better the world is since March 2003, when the USA invaded Iraq. This was basically a rehash of an article he wrote for the hardcore neoconservative "Weekly Standard" that can be read here:
Hitchens was answered by both Alexander Cockburn and by Juan Cole.
Galloway responded with withering scorn, dwelling at length on Hitchens's stance during the first Gulf War. All of the arguments he made for going into Iraq today could have been made in 1991, and even more strongly since most of Saddam Hussein's depredations occurred during the 1980s, including the gassing of the Kurds. But this did not stop Hitchens from opposing the war. In a follow-up in the next round, Hitchens claimed that he was "mistaken" at the time and left it at that. But the most satisfying part of Galloway's remarks, and what most people came to hear, was his characterization of Hitchens as an exception to the laws of evolutionary biology. He once was a butterfly, making beautiful speeches against the Gulf War in 1991, but has turned into a slug, leaving a trail of slime behind him.
When I was outside on the sidewalk before the event started, I noticed a shabby looking character passing out leaflets to people waiting on line to buy a ticket. After a few seconds, I realized it was none other than Hitchens himself and not some crazed Trotskyist sectarian calling for a New International. The leaflet was a screed against Galloway, accusing him of corrupt profiteering over the dead bodies of Iraqi children through the oil for food program. The charges found in the leaflet can be read at http://www.hitchensweb.com/ along with others just as baseless. The main impression I got from Hitchens is that he is rather crazed at this point. I tried to imagine Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman or some other fan of the war in Iraq resorting to mass leafleting in this fashion. I was unsuccessful.
Hitchens's supporters in the audience were just as crazed as their hero. While Galloway's supporters, including me, were content to absorb his rapier-like arguments, the opposite side seemed more like the sort of people who show up at athletic events, including one woman who kept screaming at the top of her lungs. Another Hitchens supporter, a young man in his mid-20's I would guess, sat in the row in front of me and seemed determined to argue with everybody around him in what he must have considered a superior Socratic method: "So you would have not intervened against Hitler then?" But mostly he couldn't sit still, jumping around in his seat like a monkey overdosed on Methamphetamines.
Amidst all the brawling, there were some educational points. When Hitchens mentioned the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon as a positive consequence of Bush's war, Galloway replied that if there were elections in Lebanon tomorrow, the head of Hizbollah would likely be elected. However, since he is a Moslem that would be impossible since the constitution bars anybody but Christians from taking office. Where did that constitution come from, Galloway asked? It was imposed as the result of the invasion of the US marines in 1958. That was a valuable point and one worth following up on.
CSPAN2's "BookTV" will be showing the debate this Saturday. Check it out for some lively entertainment and some useful arguments against the war in Iraq, as if any more were needed at this point.
Louis Proyect writes for SWANS. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The big showdown
New Yorkers queued around the block to see two British political heavyweights - writer Christopher Hitchens and MP George Galloway - square up over the war in Iraq. Andrew Anthony flew to america to take them both on...
Sunday September 18, 2005
Outside the Mason Hall in Gramercy Park, Manhattan, a long line of people stretched around the block as they queued for the sold-out showdown between Christopher Hitchens, the English journalist and essayist domiciled in America, and George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. Billed as the Grapple in the Big Apple, this two-Brit debate on the Iraq war had galvanised and divided New York's political classes in a manner that perhaps no native orators could achieve. For fans of a certain kind of muscular polemic, Hitchens v Galloway was the equivalent of an historic heavyweight prize fight. Indeed, so oversubscribed was the event that some were suggesting, not entirely in jest, that it should have been moved to Madison Square Garden, scene of countless boxing epics. As it was, in the more claustrophobic setting of a community college, tempers were running high.
This country is the most evil empire the world has ever known,' announced Bill Mann, a short stocky man with a flat nose and a Brooklyn accent that made Tony Curtis sound like Gregory Peck. Mann informed me with unshakeable confidence that there would not be a single Hitchens supporter in the audience. 'I support Hitchens,' said David Katz, a rather lugubrious-looking character standing directly behind Mann. Suddenly a street-corner argument was served up like an undercard bout before the main event. Mann presented his thesis that America had killed more people than any other nation and that the Soviet Union liberated Europe. 'Yeah, tell that to the Poles, and the Czechs and the Romanians,' said Katz, as he defended America's global record on fighting for freedom. Katz's speech did not go down well with the crowd and one woman, who told me that she was a 'progressive egalitarian humanist', became so exasperated that she stormed off. 'It's OK,' explained Katz, 'that's my wife.'
Further along, dressed in black and hobbling on crutches, was a man named Roy Rollin who said that he was a 'far-left Trotskyite' backing Galloway. He looked like Richard III and spoke like Rick from The Young Ones. 'Hitchens has sold his soul to the imperial bourgeoisie to ingratiate himself into the ruling class of America,' he said. These days you would have to rent out an early Woody Allen comedy if you wanted to hear an American employ this kind of language, but Rollin was not joking. Nor was anyone else.
The sense that the proceedings were something of a throwback to a more revolutionary era became impossible to ignore when Hitchens turned up and began distributing leaflets to the crowd. They listed Galloway's various statements and political positions down the years, most of which were news to those gathered. To them Galloway was a plain-speaking Scot who had socked it to a Senate committee back in May. Some were surprised to read that he had saluted Saddam Hussein and praised other Middle East dictators like Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Nevertheless, Hitchens was met with a volley of abuse, much of it from Rollin, though nothing like what was to come.
Teetering on the elegant side of dishevelled, Hitchens cut a defiant figure shuffling along the line. 'Have you got the sheet on fascism?' he asked, as he proffered another leaflet. A veteran of these kinds of meetings, he seemed to relish the contest. In years gone by when he was a columnist with the Nation (the voice of the American dissenting left), he was feted by the very people who were now calling him 'disgusting', 'an opportunistic whore', and other less complimentary terms. Nowadays he is denounced by metropolitan radicals as a turncoat. First for backing the invasion of Afghanistan, following the 9/11 attacks, and then, more controversially, for endorsing the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Yet buried beneath the accusations and counter accusations, the sense of fringe politics betrayal and disloyalty, this dispute in a college hall also pointed to the heart of much larger issues such as anti-imperialism and principled intervention, totalitarianism and democracy, jihadi terrorism and American militarism. Thus it was a kind of theatrical representation of the disagreements that are currently reshaping, splitting and even destroying what was once known as the Left.
To get a clearer picture of this fracture, I wanted to speak to Hitchens and Galloway before their clash. I wanted to visit their respective training camps and discuss at length their opposing outlooks away from the heated atmosphere of the ring - excuse me, stage. First I planned to travel to Portugal to see Galloway in his infamous holiday home. Then I would go to Washington, where Hitchens now makes a comfortable living as one of the most prolific and gifted political writers in the business.
Everything seemed set until I made a cardinal error. Just a week before the interview with Galloway, I wrote a column that questioned his views on the relationship between free speech and religion. At the Edinburgh festival, he had warned in a discussion on a television adaptation of The Satanic Verses that anyone who offended religious beliefs should be aware that they would suffer 'blowback'. 'You should do it very carefully,' he cautioned. As the comment was addressed to a panel that included Salman Rushdie, who knew all about 'blowback', it might have been construed as indelicate or even threatening. I wondered in print how Galloway could appear to be so sensitive to the issue of faith while at the same time lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union (what he called the 'biggest catastrophe of my life'), an atheist state in which many people had been imprisoned for 25 years in slave labour camps for the crime of praying. But it seems that Galloway, the tough former boxer from Dundee, can take most things in his stride, except criticism. The interview was off. 'I don't want to talk to you,' he told me on the phone, 'and that's it.'
This was a shame. I was looking forward to Portugal, and had already mentally packed my swimming trunks. With the possible exception of Robert Kilroy-Silk, a man with whom he has a number of uncanny similarities, Galloway is the most deeply tanned politician ever to step foot in Parliament. My guess was that we would have had our chat poolside. It might not have ranked alongside Galloway's midnights swims with Fidel Castro in Cuba, but it would have been a welcome break from what we workers refer to as the struggle.
There were also some questions I wanted to put to him. For instance, if he is so firmly committed to anti-imperialism that in any battle between North Korea, Kim Jong-Il's slave state, and the United States he has said that he would side with North Korea, why did he appear to support the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, a war that is estimated to have killed as many as 1.5 million people and also inspired a generation of jihadis? How could Galloway denounce Arab dictatorships yet toady up to Saddam in 1994, when he was well aware of his endless crimes. 'I thought the President would appreciate to know,' he told the dictator to his face, 'that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their new-born sons Saddam. I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.' How could he go to Syria and announce that the country was 'lucky to have Bashar al-Assad as her president' when its people had no say in the matter. And was there any level of terrorist barbarity in Iraq and elsewhere that he would condemn, or was everything acceptable in the war against Western capitalism and democracy? The answers would have to wait. Still, I hoped to talk to him in New York before or after the debate.
In the meantime I flew to Washington DC to put another set of questions to Hitchens. Given that neither Hitchens nor Galloway are men who recoil from the sound of their own voice, and both have a persuasive talent with words, it would be a challenge to invent two more contrasting personalities. Hitchens is a former public schoolboy who went to Oxford, while Galloway attended grammar school in Dundee and graduated with honours from the uncompromising study that is the Scottish Labour Party. Both were drawn to the far left, Hitchens to the Trotskyist International Socialists, which he soon quit, and Galloway to what was effectively the Stalinist wing of the Labour movement. He is careful not to praise Stalin the man but rather his achievements in 'industrialising' the Soviet Union - a process that led, of course, to millions of deaths. But perhaps their most commented-upon difference is that Galloway is a teetotaller, while Hitchens, to put it at its mildest, is not.
I met up with Hitchens at a Georgetown restaurant after a White House party thrown for President Talabani of Iraq. He was with a number of Washington wonks and Kurdish supporters, and also Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's special envoy on human rights to Iraq. Clwyd had known Talabani since his days as a Kurdish resistance leader fighting Saddam. She could recall visiting him in the mountains when the idea that he would become president seemed so fanciful as to be absurd. What she could not recall was the anti-Saddam activism that Galloway insists he once took part in. The Respect MP claims that he was a staunch opponent of Saddam, only supporting his cause after Iraq invaded Kuwait and thereby made an enemy of the US.
In that first Gulf War, Hitchens, too, took Iraq's side against the US-led coalition. 'At the time I would freely admit I really hated Bush senior,' he told me. 'But I quite soon began to feel like a dog being washed. I did know about the nature of the Saddam regime because I'd already been in Iraq. I had no excuse not to know. I suppose I have to plead guilty to thinking of Kuwait as a royal family rather than a nation, but I knew better. I was fatally irresolute about this.'
It was a visit to Kurdistan, where he saw that Bush Snr was viewed as a hero, that changed his mind. For a long time he had thought that unless the Americans created a Palestinian homeland they had no business in the Middle East. 'I still do believe in the establishment of a Palestinian homeland but I no longer think that everything else has to be postponed.'
It's this kind of analysis that has led many of his former allies to dismiss him as a neo-conservative. 'No,' he states, 'I'm not any kind of conservative.' All the same, he admires the neo-cons' willingness to confront the status quo. 'One heard people who claimed to have radical credentials say that the removal of Saddam would destabilise the Middle East. Well excuse me comrades, you like it the way it is? Destabilisation is now a bad word?'
Of course, many people surveying the instability of Iraq today do indeed question the wisdom of the intervention. In a perceptive essay he wrote on Churchill, Hitchens suggested a few years ago that the British wartime leader was too committed to war 'to turn back without risking ridicule or obloquy'.
I asked him if he ever felt aware of the same risk. 'There is no analogy to the Churchill position,' he replies. 'What would it take for me to desert [the Iraqi secular and democratic forces]? Well nothing, there is no way. It's like saying, "Oh I couldn't very well be your friend after you'd gone broke and been mugged, and after that burglary at your home."'
Nor is he any more tolerant of the argument that Iraq is another Vietnam. 'There were no fascists against the Vietnam war but every fascist group is against the war in Iraq. I was not against the Vietnam war; I was pro-the Vietnamese revolution. And I would be the same today. Galloway is not anti-war. He's pro-war on the other side. He's gone to all the trouble to make that clear and in a way I admire that. I think he is hypocritical insofar as he doesn't always say the things in London that he says in the Middle East.'
Hitchens says that he no longer has any political allegiances, and something he mentioned just before we parted - after a 4am finish at his downtown apartment - seemed to point to where the chasm had opened up between himself and his opponents. 'It's not really an argument about the facts of the matter. It's an argument about the mentality.'
Whatever patience or sympathy he once had with the outlook that sees the West only as the problem and never the solution had been exhausted. His side and Galloway's side were separated by fundamentally opposing perceptions of reality that could not be bridged by means of reason. It did not bode well for the debate.
In New York I introduced myself to Galloway before the hostilities were under way. He smiled and said hello then turned and walked away. I was beginning to accept that he was not going to talk to me. The event had been arranged as part of his American book tour, promoting Mr Galloway Goes to Washington. Tomorrow in Chicago he is speaking with Jane Fonda, a partnership that was organised, much to Hitchens's amusement, by Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues
At last Hitchens and Galloway took their positions at podiums on either side of the stage, neither looking at the other. Among the audience was Oona King, the former Labour MP defeated by Galloway in Bethnal Green. In his beard and open-necked casual blue shirt, the Englishman resembled the part-time college lecturer that he in fact is. Galloway, by fastidious contrast, was wearing a beige suit with a carefully co-ordinated tie, his bronze pate shining under the stage lights. Hitchens began his proposal - 'the war in Iraq is just and necessary' - by calling for a minute's silence for the 160 Iraqis murdered that morning in Baghdad by al-Qaeda.
There were instant boos and hails of protest from some members of the audience. In July in Syria Galloway had given a speech celebrating the '145 military operations every day' made by 'these poor Iraqis - ragged people with their sandals and their Kalashnikovs ...' But the Iraqis killed on Wednesday were poor labourers looking for work and they were blown apart by sophisticated explosives. It was not clear to me at least why they were unworthy of a minute's silence.
In many ways, the level of debate never recovered from this indecency. Both speakers accused one another of sinking to the gutter and both made direct attacks on the other, though it was Galloway who was perhaps the more personal. Seeking to trump the 'drink-sodden former Trotskyist popinjay' remark with which he had bested Hitchens outside the Senate committee meeting back in May, he reflected on his earlier admiration for the writer. He had gone on to make natural history, said Galloway, 'by metamorphosing from a butterfly into a slug'. After that he then accused Hitchens of being 'ready to fight to the last drop of other people's blood'.
These were prepared insults that may have pleased a section of the crowd but said nothing about the situation in Iraq today, much less the situation under Saddam. But the cheers that they elicited appeared to lift Galloway, or at least the volume of his voice, till he reached a pitch of finger-waving declamation that was both comical and a little frightening to behold. Even the moderator, the less than neutral anti-war broadcaster, Amy Goodman, was moved to ask Galloway to place the microphone further away from his mouth.
But it was to no avail. 'You did write like an angel,' Galloway screamed at Hitchens, 'and now you are working for the devil. Damn you and damn all your words.' At one of the more surreal moments in the evening, Galloway, his tan reddening as the veins in his neck did battle with his tie, accused Hitchens of 'cheap demagoguery'. The 'popinjay' may have his faults, but demagoguery is not his style. Instead he prefers a more urbane approach of teasing out ironies and inconsistencies. How, he wondered, after Galloway had invoked Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar protesting mother of a slain soldier, could he go to Syria and praise the murderers of the son then come here and offer support for the mother.
Yet Hitchens allowed much of the goodwill he built up to dissipate when he refused to blame George Bush for the debacle in New Orleans, and resisted the idea that racism played a part in the plight of the abandoned citizens of the Gulf coast. It seemed almost as if he had it with the bien pensants of the left and wanted to get at them any way that he could.
As the debate drew to a close, both speakers were eager to finish. Like two fighters who had no more punches to throw, they were waiting for the bell. Opinion was divided over who triumphed, though from where I sat Hitchens won on points. America may see itself as the home of democracy, but there was no vote. So it was left to the market to decide. A post-event book signing was convened and it was noticeable that the queue was almost twice as long to see Hitchens.
In the end the evening served to confirm much of what we already knew: Galloway will ally himself with anyone, no matter what their politics, against what he calls the 'two biggest rogue states in the world', America and Britain. And Hitchens has developed a steely contempt for the defeatism of his former friends. 'This is masochism,' he told the audience, 'but it's being offered to you by a sadist.'
Afterwards Amy Goodman told me that in the US it was hard 'to get a debate in which two people disagreed with each other'. I'm not sure that that's true, though it might be that to get two people who disagree with each other as much as Hitchens and Galloway you have to look to Britain, which has a more rumbustious tradition in these matters. In any case, the two sides of what was once the left - the interventionists and the anti-imperialists - have seldom seemed so far apart, nor Iraq so far away.
Galloway and Hitchens get down and very dirty
From James Bone of The Times, in New York
George Galloway, the anti-war Respect Party MP from Bethnal Green, is guilty of "sinister piffle". Christopher Hitchens, the pro-intervention polemicist who writes a column for Vanity Fair, practises "Goebbellian tricks".
The two rival titans of the raging row over Iraq engaged in an intellectual prize fight in New York last night that quickly degenerated into knock-down, drag-out bar-room brawl.
Before a jeering crowd of more than 1,000 in a college auditorium, the two men - once allies on the Left - hurled invective at each other for almost two hours, until exhaustion set in.
A scruffy, sweating Mr Hitchens accused Mr Galloway of being an apologist for dictators, fresh from Damascus where he had praised the 145 attacks a day by Iraqi insurgents on coalition troops.
"The man’s hunt for a tyrannical fatherland never ends," Mr Hitchens said. "The Soviet Union let him down, Albania’s gone ... Saddam’s been overthrown... But on to the next, in Damascus."
In an apparent Freudian slip, Mr Hitchens confused the Dundee-born politician at one point with Libyan leader "Mr Gaddafi".
Mr Galloway, inexplicably tanned and looking worthy of the nickname "Gorgeous George" in a well-pressed biege suit, denounced Mr Hitchens as a former-Trotskyist stooge for a reactionary government in Washington bent on dominating the Iraqi people.
"People like Mr Hitchens are willing to fight to the last drop of other people’s blood, " the MP said to wild applause."How I wish he would put on a tin hat and pick up a gun and go and fight himself."
Mr Galloway argued that the war in Iraq had made the world less safe and that Islamic fundamentalism was now on the rise with "10,000 new bin Ladens".
The show-down grew out of a clash between the two when Mr Galloway testified in May before a United States Senate sub-committee that had accused him of profiting from the oil-for-food scandal. At that chaotic meeting, Mr Galloway extravagantly dismissed the exiled British journalist as a "drink-soaked, former-Trotskyist popinjay". Mr Hitchens responded by challenging the MP to a proper debate. Mr Galloway accepted the challenge while on an anti-war speaking tour of America and promoting his new book about the Senate hearings, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington.
For the Americans in the audience, the debate offered a airing of differences by two British proxies for arguments over Iraq that are seldom articulated so vigorously in the United States. Though a vote was never taken, the motion before the audience was: "The war in Iraq was necessary and just."
Combat began on the pavement outside with Mr Hitchens handing out leaflets noting Mr Galloway’s more egregious tributes to Saddam, including the infamous 1994 speech in Baghdad in which he told the Iraqi strongman: "I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."
Once inside, Mr Galloway cleverly contrasted his opponent’s past record of support for Palestinian fighters and opposition to the 1991 war in Iraq to his current pro-war stance.
"What you have witnessed is something unique in natural history - the first ever metamorphosis of a butterfly back into a slug," Mr Galloway informed the appreciative crowd. "I do not know what it was," he said. "I do not know if it was Vanity Fair or the lucrative contracts you have landed since. Maybe it was the whisky. Somehow, you decided in 2002/3 to take a line that was in complete opposition to the line you used to take. Were you wrong in ‘91 or are you wrong now?"
Unabashed, Mr Hitchens conceded that his views had changed since 1991. "I have not repudiated them. It’s just that I no longer hold to them," he said to hoots of derison from the audience. He explained that the transformation took place when he found himself among the Kurds of northern Iraq at the end of the war in Iraq in 1991. He vowed to support their secular, leftist opposition to the "fascism" of Saddam.
Even as accomplished a demagogue as Mr Galloway eventually overstepped the mark. To boos from the audience, he suggested that American foreign policy was to blame for the September 11 attacks - particularly Washington’s support for Israel.
"Some believe that those aeroplanes on September 11 came out of a clear blue sky. I believe they came out of a swamp of hatred created by us," he proclaimed. "I believe that because the total, complete unending and bottomless support for General Sharon’s crimes against the Palestinian people."
Mr Hitchens also blundered by issuing an unpopular defence of the Bush administration’s handling of the flooding of New Orleans. "This is where it ends," Mr Galloway crowed. "You start off being the liberal mouthpiece for one of the most reactionary governments this country has ever known and you end up a mouthpiece and apologist for these miserable malevolent incompetents who cannot even pick up the bodies of their own citizens in New Orleans. You know, Mr Hitchens, you are a court jester - not in Camelot like other miserable liberals before you, but in the court of the Bourbon Bushes."
For a college audience in New York, opinion was fairly evenly divided. Although Mr Galloway had student anti-war sentiment on his side, Mr Hitchens held on to supporters of Israel and the Kurds.
"I think it was a tie," said Michael Thompson, a political science professor at William Patterson University in New Jersey. "It was more rhetorical than it was substantive. There was just too much ad hominem oratory."
"The outcome of this debate is going to be seen in ten years time. History will tell," said Pepe Lopez, an anti-war advertising executive. "Hitchens was wrong."
Among those watching was Oona King, the Labour MP defeated by Mr Galloway at the last election. "I think Galloway won in terms of oratory skills," she said."I think it’s great to see Britons bringing the tradition of debate to the United States. But at the end of the day, they are two very arrogant men who both have very flawed arguments."
Here is the audio
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Note: Palast and Cindy Sheehan will be speaking at the Operation Ceasefire concert sponsored by DC Anti-War Network and United for Peace and Justice -- all day and night at the Washington Monument.
by Greg Palast
During his debate with Salman Rushdie at the recent Edinburgh TV Festival, someone asked George Galloway if television should broadcast an adaptation of Rushdie's novel, "Satanic Verses." According to Rushdie, Galloway replied, "If you don't respect religion, you have to suffer the consequences."
Holy Jesus! This was, unmistakably, an endorsement of the death-sentence fatwa issued against Rushdie by Ayatollah Khomeini.
Add this endorsement of killing for God to Galloway's notorious opposition in Parliament to a woman's right to choose abortion, and you get yourself a British Pat Robertson. What next? Will he be "saluting the courage, strength and indefatigability" of abortion clinic bombers, as he saluted Saddam?
The Honorable Member of Britain's House of Commons has become the new love-child of American progressives for his in-your-face accusations about our own government's mendacity in sending our troops to war in Iraq. I myself quoted Galloway with admiration.
But the man who saluted the "courage" of Saddam Hussein in 1994, who today can't and won't account for nearly a million dollars in income and expenditures for a charity he founded to buy medicine for Iraqi children is not, friends, the best choice as our anti-war spokesman.
Where did this guy come from? Who invited him here? The answer: US Senate REPUBLICANS. As Cindy Sheehan was gathering public sympathy as the Gold Star mom against the killing in Iraq, the Republican party decided to import an easier target to pummel. So they brought over the "I-salute-your-courage, Saddam" religious fundamentalist crack-pot who can't tell us where the money went.
That's why the Republicans chose him for us. This gross cartoon from abroad whose "charity" is stuffed with loot from an Oil-for-Food profiteer is the image they prefer on TV to Cindy Sheehan whom they dare not confront.
Yes, Galloway was the punching bag that punched back, and for that we are appreciative. Now GO HOME, George.
We need to repudiate this guy -- before the warmongers do, with glee.
I'm sorry, but I'm not going to let Karl Rove or some sick GOP Senator pick my heroes for me.
Some well-meaning progressives have said that my exposing Galloway plays into the hands of the "other side." Friends, this isn't a World Cup match, with sides; it's a World War, with too many dead bodies piling up.
Galloway says, "I have religious beliefs and try to live by them. I have all my life been against abortion and against euthanasia."
Well, Mr. Galloway, you may live by your beliefs -- anti-choice, fatwas, Saddam's "courage" -- but too many are DYING by your beliefs.
I admit, I was suckered by Galloway. I was the first journalist in the UK to rush to his defense on television when he was accused of wrong-doing. I wanted to believe in him, but the hard facts condemn him -- and us, if we don't act true to our moral imperative.
Mr. Galloway told the Independent newspaper, "I'm not as Left-wing as you think."
Indeed, he isn't.
Next Saturday, September 24, Cindy Sheehan and I will be speaking at the Operation Ceasefire gathering in Washington DC, sponsored by the DC Anti-War Network and United for Peace and Justice. Please join us.
Hopefully, our voices won't be drowned out by George Galloway's antics.
HITCHENS REPLIES, GALLOWAY HIDES
Friday, September 16, 2005
by Greg Palast
Mr. Christopher Hitchens says he doesn't remember his words that way. [In my column, "What's Left?," I wrote:
"Some drunk accosted me, saying, "George Bush was right about everything he said about Iraq!" It was Christopher Hitchens."
Also, Mr. Hitchens wishes to make a distinction between "a drunk" and a "drinker." Fair enough.
The other subject of the column, Mr. George Galloway, has gone into hiding, as far as I can tell. At the least, he has refused, as of this printing, to honor his promise to BBC Television Newsnight and his donors to make public the financial records of his "charity."
I have offered Mr. Hitchens' this space to reply in his own words. I neither agree with his recitation of facts nor his conclusions, but I find it harmless enough to reprint in total:
I was naturally delighted to see that you had decided to call out George Galloway, and to ask him the very questions that he has declined to answer (and dare not answer truthfully). It is appalling that this tool of dictators and assassins should be adopted by any movement daring to call itself anti-war.
Since I think you will have to agree that I have done much of the spadework in exposing Galloway's true beliefs, interests and allegiances, I do not want to suspect you of "balancing" your own denunciation of him with a needless aspersion on myself.
The only time that you and have met properly was during an onstage event at the Los Angeles Times book fair. It was quite a long panel discussion chaired by Aaron Sorkin, and it was recorded. I can distinctly remember being somewhat cold to you after it, because of your ignorant crowd-pleasing remarks about President Karzai being only "the mayor of Kabul". If you can produce any evidence that I was "out of it", or that I gave a blanket endorsement of the Bush administration, I will be glad to inspect it. Until such time, I will harbor the unworthy suspicion that you are ingratiating yourself with your base in order to cushion the blow they might otherwise feel at your exposure of the Left's latest hero.
GALLOWAY VERSUS HITCHENS; PROGRESSIVES VERSUS OURSELVES
Guerrilla News Network
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
By Greg Palast
Man, it just felt so good watching George Galloway rip Senator Coleman an extra exit hole. In May 2005, you'll remember, while most American politicians were mincing and cowering, the Honorable Member of the British Parliament, George Galloway, told a panel of stunned US congressmen:
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies."
It was one hell of a performance.
Tonight, Galloway will launch his American tour, a kind of extended curtain call to his US Senate debut, starting with a Punch-and-Judy show with Christopher Hitchens in New York.
In May, our Bush-kissing Congressmen could only respond to Galloway's challenge with dusty old smears and lame-ass questions.
But before we rally 'round this stand-up guy from Britain, we should ask him a few questions of our own.
Honorable Mr. Galloway, you met with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1994 and said, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength your indefatigability. And I want you to know that we are with you until victory, until victory, until Jerusalem."
After this effusive praise for Saddam, the two of you shared some Quality Street chocolates and some funny stories about Winston Churchill.
In 1990, Saddam executed a troublesome reporter, Farzad Bazoft, of the Observer newspaper of London. You complained about it at the time. Some time later, Saddam finished off about 100,000 Shi'ites and Kurds.
My questions are, "Are Quality Street chocolates your favorite brand? And did you forget the name of the reporter that Saddam executed? And how is it that you found the courage to challenge a bunch of US Senators but became such a pussy cat when confronted with a man whose killing spree easily exceeds theirs?"
And when you were challenged on your arse-licking praise of the dictator, why did you prevaricate and obfuscate by saying the worshipful words were for the Iraqi people, not Saddam. In fact, your words were very specific: "Your Excellency, … I thought the president would appreciate to know that even today, three years after the war, I still meet families who are calling their newborn sons Saddam."
I have to say, Mr. Galloway, you are a charitable man with a big heart. But the charity is for whom? You founded something called the Mariam Appeal for Iraqis suffering under UN sanction. You raised cash on your solemn promise that, "The balance after Mariam’s hospital bills have been paid will be sent as medicine and medical supplies to the children she had to leave behind." But little of the money seems to have gone there, isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway? It seems that nearly a million dollars can't be accounted for. And the diversion of most of the money was, you said, for "emergency" purposes. One of those emergencies was the payment to your wife -- isn't that correct, Mr. Galloway?
And the source of nearly half a million dollars of that money, Honorable Sir, came from a trader in the corrupt Oil-for-Food program. The payment was equal to the profits earned by this oil trader who was blessed with discount oil from Saddam. Is that correct?
So if we add it up, Mr. Galloway, while you were railing about medicines denied Iraqis by Messrs. Bush and Blair, you were taking money skimmed from the program earmarked to pay for those medicines. And other moneys donated for medicine for Iraqis you and your group also skimmed off for "legitimate expenses" of yours, is that correct?
George Bush took money from unnamed Persian Gulf sources, as you apparently have. Should I question him, or simply ask him if his purposes were "legitimate" or an "emergency"?
And might I have a copy of the financial records of your "charity"? You promised to make them public but the records now seemed to have disappeared into Jordan. Would you mind retrieving those?
And why did you tell the US Senate the British Charity Commission "recovered all money in and all money out … they found no impropriety"? I have read their findings. In fact, the Commission excoriated you for failing to record where your million came from and where it went. And they recovered none of it.
I remember when Paul Wolfowitz told the US Congress the war in Iraq would not cost taxpayers one penny. Wolfowitz avoids prosecution for perjury because he did not testify under oath. Did you lie in your testimony because, as a foreign legislator, Mr. Galloway, you are immune from prosecution for perjury?
And when you said, "The Arabs must have a mentality that says, I want to be like Hizbollah." Sir, you mean the Hizbollah that took hostages in Lebanon and guns from Reagan, or the Hizbollah who joined Argentine military Fascists on a killing spree?
And why have you ducked for two months my request to answer questions?
Friends and comrades, this is not about George Galloway. He's just another self-promoting fart. Six months from now, even his smell will be gone.
This is not about George Galloway, but about us. What's Left? Are we about standing for the defenseless -- or the cruel and senseless?
A couple of months after the invasion of Iraq, I was in Los Angeles and some drunk accosted me, saying, "George Bush was right about everything he said about Iraq!" -- weapons of mass destruction, the al-Qaeda connection and more. It was Christopher Hitchens, "debating" me, and furious. His confusing our President's assertions with reality was a verbal pie he threw in the air and caught on his face.
He was flustered not because I disagreed with him -- he enjoys that, being the look-at-me bad boy -- but because I agreed with him: Saddam was a monster and Iraqis, overwhelmingly, wanted him gone.
But I could not, like Hitchens, shill for Mr. Bush's war of "liberation." I could see where it would end. When a snake devours a rat, it doesn't liberate the captive mice. The mice are "saved" -- for lunch.
But it is not good enough for the Left to oppose Mr. Bush's re-colonization of Iraq. We needed to have actively supported Iraqis fighting to remove their Mesopotamian Stalin. And now, we'd better come up with something a little less nutty than a recent suggestion by one otherwise thoughtful writer that we, "unconditionally support the insurgency" of berserker killers and fundamentalist madmen. If that's the Left's program for Iraq, count me out.
We can't define ourselves as the "anti-Bush," blindly supporting those he opposes, and thereby letting the nitwit Napoleon in the White House pick our enemies for us. Nor can our revulsion for Bush's horrors throw us into the arms of swamp-things like George Galloway.
Don't get me wrong. Unlike Hitchens, I cannot support the Prevaricator-in-Chief, the President who ordered Cindy Sheehan's son, Casey, to march to his death in Baghdad. But I'll be damned if I'll cheer some rich white Brit-hole who brings joy to Casey's killers.
Senate Testimony - Audio
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's new book claims that debate has always been a vital part of Indian culture
BY ARAVIND ADIGA
DEBATER: Sen sees dissent as part of India’s democratic character
Back in November 1998, I stood in line outside the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University to hear Amartya Sen—who had just won the Nobel Prize in economics—talk on "Reason Before Identity." A long queue of students were waiting for admission; and I had to cram into one of the uncomfortable seats upstairs. Sen, in his heavy academic robes, began brilliantly, with a joke about how he had just been pestered by a dim-witted immigration official at Heathrow Airport who couldn't grasp the notion that an Indian like Sen could be the Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University. From then on, things went downhill. As Sen began unraveling his theories of personal identity, I realized that I disagreed with everything he said. Within a few minutes, I wanted to leave. Only the suspicion that it would be unpatriotic to walk out while a fellow Indian was lecturing at Oxford kept me in the Sheldonian.
Actually, the patriotic thing to do— as Sen himself asserts in his new book—would have been to walk out. In The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity Sen insists that the love of debate and dissent is as deeply entrenched in Indian culture as the love of religion and mysticism. Understanding this little-known fact, he says, is one of the keys to unlocking the puzzle that still baffles so many Western political scientists: how an impoverished and unruly country like India has turned into one of the world's most successful democracies.
A love of dissent certainly comes naturally to Sen. The Nobel Prize was awarded to him for his contribution to welfare economics. His body of work is diverse, but he is best known for challenging the conventional wisdom that famine is caused by a shortage of food. Sen pointed out that famine-struck areas often had enough food; the real culprit was a disturbance in the economic system—for instance, a sudden rise in prices—which made the food inaccessible. In his new book, Sen directs his iconoclastic zeal on the perception of India—held by many abroad, and also within the country—as a place with only one kind of culture, which is spiritual and otherworldly, and one kind of society, which is rigidly hierarchical and patriarchal. Sen points out that if Indians have historically been the world's most religious people, they have also been, paradoxically, its most skeptical. Many of India's most influential thinkers, like the Buddha, were agnostics—or outright atheists. "Indeed, Sanskrit not only has a bigger body of religious literature than exists in any other classical language, it also has a larger volume of agnostic or atheistic writings than in any other classical language," says Sen. Just as it has allowed space for skepticism within a mainly theistic tradition, Indian culture, he argues, has also made room for women and the underprivileged to voice their opinions.
Among Sen's targets are the Hindu fundamentalists, who permit no scope for diversity in their interpretation of India's history; so are those who insist that tolerance and dissent are uniquely Western concepts. Not so, he counters: they are as Indian as yoga and hot curry. He also takes a swipe at the "Asian values" theory, which was popular in the 1990s and emphasized a supposed dichotomy between "Western" values of individuality and democracy and "Asian" values of conformity, discipline and reverence for tradition. The dichotomy is fake. One of the basic requirements of a democratic political culture—a tolerance of those who challenge the orthodoxy—has always been a part of Indian culture.
As it is Indian to dissent, I have to point out that the book has its problems. Sen gives too much weight to historical anomalies and aberrations to make his case. He loves to cite the Mughal Emperor Akbar as an illustration of how open-minded and inquisitive Indian monarchs could be. Yet Akbar was a one-off—none of his successors was as ecumenical, and a few were outright bigots. The might of orthodoxy and narrow-mindedness in Indian history is greater than Sen allows it to be, while acquired Western political traditions probably play a greater part in creating contemporary Indian society's liberal values than Sen believes. Also doubtful is his insistence that the values of debate and dissent are not just Indian but "subcontinental." If so, why has democracy not taken firm root in neighboring Pakistan?
These are minor quibbles. But having missed a golden opportunity to curry favor with Sen back in 1998 by walking out of his lecture, I am now scribbling down every point of dissent in the margins of his splendid, wonderfully written new book.