The Guardian October 31, 2001


MPs must be free to speak out against war.
We will not be silenced

by George Galloway*

In exile in Switzerland, shortly before the Russian revolution, Lenin said 
that "there are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when 
decades happen". We are, it seems, living through such weeks.

It is hard to remember a time when political instability, civil strife and 
the roar of bombs and missiles have so scarred the international landscape.

Governments like Norway's fall, others like Australia's cut and run for a 
khaki election. General Musharraf, Pakistan's self-appointed military 
strongman, admits he's forcing through a policy rejected by 83 per cent of 
his compatriots.

General Sharon's Israeli government, riven between hawks and superhawks, 
now appears to have embarked on a doomsday option, possibly including the 
assassination of Arafat, following the slaying of the world's least 
attractive "tourism" minister.

The "soft centred" European governments are beginning to squirm and the 
Labour benches in the British parliament are turning queasy at the 
slaughter of the world's poorest by the world's richest.

Coalition comrades, India and Pakistan, are shelling each other across the 
line of control in Kashmir.

Aid agencies are in "emotional" revolt and, like Mary Robinson, (UN Human 
Rights Commissioner) are having to be ordered back into their box.

Muslim streets are burning from Gaza to Jakarta. In the House of Commons, 
former defence ministers, Labour right-wingers like Gwyneth Dunwoody and 
MPs with large Muslim electorates have swollen the ranks of the usual 
suspects  those like me, who have opposed all the wars of the new 
imperialism.

Internationally, the coalition is shakier still. The Arab League, echoing 
NATO leaders, has declared that any attack on an Arab country will be 
regarded as an attack against all of them.

The Saudis, having denied the US use of their bases and declined a visit by 
Tony Blair, are now questioning the basis of the whole campaign  even 
openly doubting the involvement of Bin Laden in the crimes of September 11.

Meanwhile, the phone-in lines to Arab television stations are jammed with 
opponents of the war and blood-chilling threats of mayhem in revenge. Bush 
and Blair may not be "at war with Islam", but "Islam" is now at war with 
them and we will be lucky if that is not soon visible on the streets of 
northern English cities.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the reaction to the "Middle East fit 
for heroes" the Anglo-Americans are promising. The Arabs simply don't 
believe it.

Britain, after all, has a track record. The Palestinian tragedy was 
authored here in the building in which I write. During the Great War, while 
Lawrence of Arabia rallied the tribal hordes to support our jihad on the 
Turks  with the promise of Arab independence  over in Downing Street Mr 
Sykes and Monsieur Picot were carving up the area into British and French 
colonies.

In 1991, Britain and America offered the Arabs a new deal, with Israel 
forced to implement international legality, if they backed the fight 
against Iraq. Promises made and broken with a handshake.

Seldom can a western war drum have sounded more hollow. Seldom can the 
prattle of ministers  Labour ministers, many of whom I can still see 
sporting their CND badges  about command and control centres, air 
defences and radar capabilities, seem so obscenely stupid.

The Afghans have none. The airport at Kabul is no more than a collection of 
shacks, whose telephones couldn't even make outgoing calls. And the 
statement, delivered by our defence secretary with all the gravitas of 
Captain Mainwaring, that we had achieved "air-superiority" over Afghanistan 
 over a Flintstones-style air force which couldn't even leave the ground 
 will live forever as one of those stories you really couldn't make up.

So what are the "allies" bombing? The four UN mine-clearing staff, the 
shepherds and their families in the village of Khorum, the Red Cross 
compound in Kabul, the residents of Kandahar, the trucks full of terrified 
refugees!

An already restless audience here, never mind among the 1.3 billion Muslims 
nursing their wrath, will not sit through this unequal fight with 
equanimity. And without a change of policy, the winter snows will soon 
begin to tilt this disaster into an international catastrophe.

The government was repeatedly warned of the grisly consequences of its 
tango with Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan. I accused it on the eve 
of the fall of Kabul of having opened the gates to the barbarians and of 
the long dark night which would follow.

Many of us have since described the rising tide of radical Islam, buoyed by 
our double standards towards Palestine and Iraq, and our buttressing of 
stooge kings, generals and presidents of the Muslim world  now laughably 
lined up behind "operation enduring freedom".

But even for those who have brought us to this terrifying cusp in world 
events, there were alternatives.

The squeeze could have been kept up on the Taliban  three weeks is not a 
long time to secure extradition on a capital offence, especially without 
providing evidence to the country concerned.

The judicious waving of carrots to tribal chiefs could well have achieved 
the betrayal of Bin Laden. And if military action was seen as unavoidable, 
the target should have been the Arab legions in the mountains, not the poor 
ragged Afghans they've colonised, who never invited them in  we did  
and now have no way of making them leave.

A trial in a neutral country together with Muslim jurists, would have been 
one way to show how "civilised" we were. Instead we've answered savagery 
with savagery.

On the home front, there are disturbing signs of the Downing Street general 
staff losing their nerve. Careless talk circulates about members of 
parliament being carpeted, media appearances vetted, ultimatums issued.

Throughout the second world war, Aneurin Bevan subjected the line of the 
Churchill coalition government to excoriating criticism and withering 
examination  as Churchill himself had done with Chamberlain.

Both would have scorned the idea of their actions being licensed by whips, 
as if we were circus dogs whose duty was to perform tricks for the 
ringmaster.

I too have now been summoned and will have to courteously explain that I, 
for one, will not be gagged.

This bombing has to stop  and the war is too important to be left to 
ministers and generals.

* * *
George Galloway is Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin and a columnist for the Scottish Mail. gallowayg@parliament.uk

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