Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Civility and Its Discontents

George Galloway is the British Member of Parliament (M.P.) who has been in the news lately over allegations that he took kickbacks from Saddam Hussein. His foes -- the U.S. right and the British Labor party -- have proven to be almost almost as deadly in wielding symbolic violence as they are in physical devastation, but in Galloway they have found the kind of opponent who not only mirrors their imperial ferocity, but joins this with the slashing debating skills that only the British public school system and, later, parliament can perfect.

When the U.S. Senate moved to have hearings on the "oil for food" scandal, Galloway stunned his critics by agreeing to appear without immunity before the Senate (which he referred to as the "lion's den") -- the first time a British politician has been interrogated as a hostile witness in the U.S. Senate (BBC). According to a spokesman, told of the U.S. hearings, Galloway said: ‘Book the flights, let’s go - let’s give them both barrels.’ He quickly added: ‘That’s guns, not oil.’

He also said of the committee: "This is a lickspittle Republican committee, acting on the wishes of George W Bush." He likened Norm Coleman the Senate committee chairman to the late senator and anti-Communist crusader McCarthy: "Joseph McCarthy must be smiling admirably in Hades."

Before the hearing began, The Guardian reports, "the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow even had some scorn left over to bestow generously upon the pro-war writer Christopher Hitchens": "You're a drink-soaked former Trotskyist popinjay," Mr Galloway in formed him. "Your hands are shaking. You badly need another drink," he added later, ignoring Mr Hitchens's questions and staring intently ahead. "And you're a drink-soaked ..." Eventually Mr Hitchens gave up. "You're a real thug, aren't you?" he hissed, stalking away.

At the hearings, he went on the attack, referring to Norm Coleman as a "neo-con, pro-war hawk." The BBC reports: "Far from displaying the forelock-tugging deference to which senators are accustomed, Mr. Galloway went on the attack."

He told Norm Coleman: "Now I know that standards have slipped over the last few years in Washington, but for a lawyer, you are remarkably cavalier with any idea of justice." (According to the BBC, "the whole room scanned Mr Coleman's face for a reaction. The senator shifted in his seat - nervously it seemed").

The Guardian reports that "the courtroom became a vaudeville theatre, as the MP lampooned his interrogators, accusing them of making "schoolboy howler" mistakes."

Accused of supporting Saddam, he retorted: "I was an opponent of Saddam Hussein when British and Americans governments and businessmen were selling him guns and gas. I used to demonstrate outside the Iraqi embassy when British and American officials were going in and doing commerce."

“I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning. 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."

"On the very first page of your document about me, you assert that I have had many meetings with Saddam Hussein. This is false," Mr Galloway said. "I have had two meetings with Saddam Hussein, once in 1994 and once in August 2002. By no stretch of the English language can that be described as many meetings. In fact I've met him exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns."

When Mr Coleman asked how he could have failed to be aware of Mr Zureikat's oil deals, Mr Galloway turned the attention to Mr Coleman's campaign fundraising.

He said: "Well, there's a lot of contributors, I've just been checking your website..."

"Not many at that level, Mr Galloway," the senator interjected.

"No, let me assure you there are," Mr Galloway went on. "I've checked your website. There are lots of contributors to your political campaign funds, I don't suppose you ask any of them how they made the money they give you."

Mr Coleman stuck to his task. "If I can get back to Mr Zureikat one more time, do you recall a time when you specifically had a conversation with him about oil dealings in Iraq?"

After the hearing, Galloway declared victory. He said of Coleman, the committee chairman: "He's not much of a lyncher."

Later he said of his appearance: "I did a bit of sanction busting," he said, brandishing a cigar. "I smoked a Havana cigar just like this one. I smoked it inside the Capitol building, I even blew the smoke at the White House." (Reuters).


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