Galloway disgraces anti-war platform
YOU don't often hear speakers at major public rallies stung into trading insults or accusations with hecklers. Club comedians yes, some find a bit of badinage with an audience drunk helps fill the time and inspires witty one-line put-downs that win the audience. Then there's the kind of Hyde Park orator (though it's many years since I squandered a Sunday afternoon listening to them) who counts on a heckler (genuine antagonist or stooge?) to attract a crowd looking for entertainment.
It's a bit different in Trafalgar Square, when the platform speaker, one of a line-up, wants to make best use of their time, to inspire the crowd and get their message across, with the help of a powerful sound system.
So I was surprised to hear Respect MP George Galloway, at Saturday's World Against War demonstration, turn from denouncing Gordon Brown's government, its subservience to Washington, squandering of young soldiers and introduction of military propaganda in schools, to attack some people at the front of the rally, accusing them of being "useful idiots", and the "pink contingent" of the khaki war machine.
Galloway is an experienced and capable speaker. He had a good PA system. Where I was standing I could hear every word he said, whereas I could neither see nor hear anyone who might have been heckling him. Other people have said the same. So if anyone there was trying to create a diversion, it was Galloway, alone among the speakers, who allowed himself to be diverted, perhaps because he wanted to be.
But worse than any tactical error was what Galloway actually said. Declaring that "The khaki war machine now has a pink contingent", he went on to declare that if the bombs fell on Iran they would not discriminate, killing gays and straight alike. Very true. And of course his admirers dutifully applauded. To round off, calling for action if Iran was attacked he warned that although the anti-war movement has been peaceful so far it might not remain so.
Being unable either to see or hear what was going on at the front, one could only assume from what Galloway said that the people annoying him were gay campaigners and others rightly concerned at repression in Iran. But what right had Galloway to pretend that these people must favour imperialist war, let alone to smear them as part of the imperialist war machine?
There has been some online discussion about this episode, from quite different viewpoints, in two groups to which I have the honour to belong, Iraq Occupation Focus, where someone complained about heckling of Galloway, and Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI), where people were incensed by Galloway's remarks. To complicate matters, if there was any heckling it is not clear who it was from. Peter Tatchell says neither he nor anyone else from his gay rights group Outrage heckled at the rally. I may add that Peter is also a member of HOPI, and as such, firmly opposed to war on Iran. Likewise the Iranian comrades who were there, who have been with the anti-war movement from the start, and continue their anti-war campaigning even though the Stop the War leadership has tried to stifle their voice and excluded HOPI from affiliating.
Attention has been focused on the Iranian regime's treatment of homosexuality -which according to President Ahmadinejad at the UN does not exist in his country - by the case of Mehdi Kazemi, a 19-year old gay Iranian national whom the British government intended to deport because his student visa had expired. Mehdi had appealed for sanctuary after hearing that his former boyfriend in Iran, Parham, had been tortured until he gave his lover's name, and then executed.
Under the Dublin Treaty, the young Iranian cannot apply to another EU country for asylum.
He tried fleeing to the Netherlands, and thought he might head for Canada. But the Dutch government - notwithstanding Holland's reputation for enlightened attitudes on sexuality, and claims to oppose Islamicist pressures - detained the desperate young man and said it would send him back to Britain. Here, following representations by Green MEP Jean Lambert and some Labour and Liberal MPs, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has agreed to review the case. But Mehdi could still face deportation to Iran, and a possible death penalty.
Another case has come up, of a lesbian woman, Pegah Emambakhsh, 40, also threatened with deportation back to Iran.
We might have expected George Galloway MP to champion such cases, both to show his commitment to human rights and to expose the hypocrisy of the British and other Western governments which affect concern over the regime in Iran but don't show any willingness to shelter its victims. It would not be too difficult either, to point out the British and US government's complicity with a far worse repressive regime in Saudi Arabia, which they are competing to arm; nor for that matter to point to the way women and gays are suffering in Iraq since their country was "liberated". But then the stooge Iraqi government installed since the occupation is, as we have seen, supported by Ahmadinejad. And Galloway, the one-time hand shaker with Saddam Hussein has now apparently thrown in his lot with Ahmadinejad.
At any rate, the Respect MP has defended the Iranian regime and claimed on Channel 5 television's Steve Wright show that Mehdi's friend Parham was not executed for homosexuality alone but for "sex crimes". He has been challenged to give his sources for that. http://gayswithoutborders.wordpress.com/2008/03/13/uk-george-galloways-iranian-anti-gay-propaganda-mehdi-kazemis-boyfriend-defamed/
The MP, who finds time for so many things, is joining Respect stablemate Yvonne Ridley on the Iranian government-funded Press TV, though we should note that the Evening Standard's Andrew Gilligan and Michael Dobbs also have their niches there.
To be fair, Galloway did say he was against the young Iranian being deported, and that he did not support the death penalty. But he did so in reply to questions, and after beginning by saying the issue was being taken up to reinforce anti-Iranian propaganda. It was also on TV, before he could claim to be provoked by any hecklers, that he introduced his remark about "giving the khaki war machine a tinge of pink". He must have been so pleased with it that he saw the Trafalgar Square diversion as a chance to more or less repeat it.
It is true that some of the people now keen to seize on this issue have had a longstanding urge to get Galloway. But these are not coming from the gay rights movement nor are they the Iranian and other campaigners in HOPI. Nor is there the slightest justification for Galloway's smear that people are pro-war or in league with the government.
What Galloway adds to the prejudices of his Islamicist allies is the method of the Stalinists, and for that matter their McCarthyite counterparts, whereby criticism of a regime is equated with war conspiracy, and political opponents are branded as "agents".
It will be interesting to see what some of his supporters have to say, not least former members of the International Marxist Group, once to the fore in proclaiming gay liberation, and now ensconced in Galloway's Respect Renewal, where they remained loyal after he ditched his Socialist Workers Party allies. But more important, the Stop the War Coalition must either dissociate itself from Galloway's attack or risk becoming increasingly discredited with him.
If we want to oppose war on Iran, we need an anti-war movement that is not afraid of the truth, as the British government is, and can call on the wider public to act because it is respected and trusted.
* SUPPORTERS of Mehdi Kazemi, though pleased with the Home Office review, want to make sure he and others are allowed to stay. They are going ahead with a demonstration this weekend in London. It is from 2pm -3pm, in Whitehall opposite Downing Street.
* Hands off the People of Iran (HOPI) website: