It is not the allegations that he was being paid by Saddam Hussain - soon to be settled in the libel courts - that will destroy George Galloway. No, it is this book. In this strange, repetitive little manifesto - marketed as an autobiography by in fact a short and incoherent rant - Galloway does not just shoot himself in the foot; he machine-guns his own legs to pieces.
Galloway has never before had to give a sustained account of his attitudes towards the Ba'athist regime in Iraq. To his credit, he opposed Saddam's tyranny in the 1980s when the Americans supported the dictator and his acts of genocide. But - like so much of the Left - when the Americans switched sides, so did he. Hatred of American power appears to be his primary motive, rather than any positive left-wing values of his own.
I have often wondered how he reconciled his shift - from anti-Saddam to desperately trying to rescue his regime. Now we now. Unlike the vast majority of those who opposed the recent war, he has crossed over into blatant, full-throated apologism for dictatorship. Initially, he tries to keep up the pretence that he consistently opposed Saddam. He claims that when he saluted Saddam with the words, "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength and your indefatigability", he was in fact addressing "the 23 million Iraqis, not their President." If you wanted to salute the Iraqi people, Georgewhy do it in front of a man who had just murdered over 100,000 of them?
The early chapters are filled with clouds of hazy Lennonist idealism, with vague talk of 'justice' and (with no irony) the declaration that "My flag is red, my country is the future." This is all unconvincing. When Saddam arrives in Galloway's story, however, we begin to hear the MP's authentic voice.
The extent of totally discredited Ba'athist propaganda on display here is staggering. All those who, in the past, have denied that Galloway has mutated into a Saddamist will simply have to recant when they read this book. For example, Galloway actually refers to the Shi'ites Saddam murdered in the 1980s as "a fifth column" who actively undermined the Iraqi war effort in the interests of their countryÃs enemy." Nobody outside SaddamÃs squalid regime used this terminology; it was purely a justification for the mass slaughter of the dictator's enemies. It has been extensively documented that very few Iraqis supported Iran. They were killed because they opposed Saddam, not because they backed Iran, and Galloway must know it.
How about the passage where Galloway defends Saddam's claim to Kuwait, describing the province as "clearly a part of the greater Iraqi whole stolen from the motherland by perfidious Albion"? What about the fact that Galloway repeatedly refers to Saddam's statements and actions as coming from "the Iraqis", as if Saddam was their legitimate representative rather than their oppressor? For example, he says that in the First Gulf War, "I made my stand with Iraq." No you didn't, George. You stood with Saddam; conscript Iraqis - most in their teens - were being sent to be slaughtered in the name of an invasion they did not support.
Take a look at Galloway's statement that, "In my experience none of the Ba'ath leaders have displayed any hostility to Jews." This beggars belief: the BaÃathists had publicly hanged Jews, and the Iraqi newspapers (all Ba'ath-sanctioned) were filled with insane ranting against global Jewry. In all his many visits to Saddam's Iraq, did he not pick up a single newspaper?
Or how about Galloway's claim that Saddam's mass murder of democrats, Kurds and other anti-Saddam forces in 1991 was a "civil war" that "involved massive violence on both sides"? Again, only Ba'athists have ever used this language or narrative. The reality is very different. In 1991, a vicious tyranny exterminated its enemies. For Galloway to claim that two morally equivalent sides were simply fighting it out is staggering: he is equidistant between a poisoner and the medical crew waving an antidote.
Every single criticism of Saddam is quickly relativized in this way. When Galloway is shown the vast scale of Saddam's palaces, he replies, "Our own head of state has a fair bit of real estate herself". Yes, but British people are not - to use Galloway's words - "dying like flies" on the streets outside. The most bizarre example of Galloway's moral relativism is when he says, "Saddam was a ruthless and cruel man who thought little of signing the death warrants of even close comrades. In this regard he was little different to the leaders of most regimes: we just don't know it in our own countries yet." As if Tony Blair is about to start gassing the SWP and the Tories. As if George Bush is going to start building mass graves in California.
There are even large slabs of praise for Saddam. "Just as Stalin industrialized the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted IraqÃs own Great Leap Forward," he says, and amazingly, this isnÃt a criticism. "He managed to keep his country together until 1991. Indeed, he is likely to have been the leader in history who came closest to creating a truly Iraqi national identity, and he developed Iraq and the living, health, social and education standards of his own people."
He adds a few paragraphs later, "Democracy is not a panacea and the benefits of the Westminster model are often oversold in relation to Third World countries." Tony Benn describes him on the book's cover as "one of the finest democrats of his generation", even though Galloway has openly supported an anti-democratic coup in Pakistan and stressed the importance of "holding [developing] countries together" over democratic rule.
On and on the praise and excuses for Saddam continue. The dictator "may have been a killer but he was not a thief" Ã± a statement that will be shocking to Iraqis whose wealth was pillaged by Saddam for decades. Perhaps the most obscene statement of all come when Galloway libels the Arabs he claims to love. "A majority of Arabs and Muslims [believe] the good Saddam did was more important than the many debits." In Iraq - the Arab country that had to endure Saddam's rule - fewer than 5% of people think he did a good job or want him back. "Over time I came to love Iraq as a man loves a woman," he declares. Well, by reciting Ba'athist propaganda you certainly screwed them, George.
His attitude towards the Palestinians is similarly destructive. Like him, I am disgusted by the 36-year Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and want it to end immediately. But I believe the solution is two states: a safe Palestine next to a safe Israel. Galloway is too cowardly to explicitly oppose a two-state solution, but his wild rhetoric suggests he seeks the very opposite of peace - the destruction of Israel itself, an impossible, loathsome aspiration that is condemning both Palestinians and Israelis to eternal war. For example, he describes the whole of Israel - not just the illegal outposts on the Occupied Territories - as "the West's settler-state sentinel"; how could such a state ever be acceptable? How could it ever deserve to exist? He never mentions the ideal of two states in this book - not once.
He even skirts very close to praising the tactic of suicide bombing which - quite apart from deliberately targeting civilians (often children) and therefore constituting a crime against humanity - has been a disaster for Palestinians themselves. "Virtually alone of all the Arab dictators," Galloway notes with a moist twinkle, "Saddam's endless protestations of fidelity to the Palestinian cause were sincere and, as the families of the martyred and wounded know, he put Iraq's money where his mouth was." Saddam paid young Palestinians to blow themselves and innocent Israelis up. Yep, what a hero. What a friend to the Palestinians. What fidelity.
Galloway's sophistry about Israel is clear when he imagines a conversation with an elderly Palestinian who laments that Israel is full of people "who had houses of their own in Brooklyn, London or wherever". No mention of, say, Poland or Germany - Galloway pointedly evades the main reasons why the state of Israel was created - or the 800,000 Jews ethnically cleansed from Arab countries in the years that followed. No supporter of Palestinian national self-determination should promote this kind of disingenuity - only when both sides understand the others' reasons for being in the Middle East can there be peace.
I was intrigued to discover how Galloway's psyche became like this. How did a working class lad from Dundee turn into a dictator-saluting, anti-democratic monster? Yet the autobiographical elements of this book are so Karen Carpenter-thin that it's very hard to find out. He talks about randomly meeting a representative of the Palestinians in the early 1970s, and visiting the Territories for the first time in 1976; that's pretty much the sum of his explanation.
His failure to describe much of his own life is a shame, because there are many, many controversial episodes that it would be intriguing to see Galloway account for. Like the time he was accused of misusing funds of the charity War on Want, a charge he was absolved of when he explained that staying in luxury hotels for a charity committed to combating third world poverty was a legitimate expense. Or his on-going struggle with the Charity Commission over the fund he set up for Iraqi children - a fund he proceeded to use for political activities and trips.
He lambasts "the Charity Commission's politically inspired witch-hunt" - a reasonable investigation into his fund-raising - with more vehemence than he ever musters for Saddam's genocide or the ethnic cleansing of the Marsh Arabs, which is never mentioned in the book. Indeed, if this tome was your sole evidence, you would assume that the British Labour Party and the Charity Commission were Satanic tyrannies, while the Ba'ath Party and countless other dictatorships were basically decent with a few uncharacteristic lapses.
Some of the problems the book describes - like horrifying global inequalities - are very real, but Galloway's solution - a proliferation of neo-Stalinist dictators - would make them even worse. Indeed, Galloway presents a recipe for global famine: the supression of all markets and the conversion of the world into an immense Cuba (Fidel is "not a dictator", apparently), declaring that "capitalism" is the greatest mass murderer in all history, quite dwarfing Hitler's genocide."
Reading this tiny book (more a pamphlet really) in one short sitting made me feel as though I was trapped in a lift with a crack-smoking Stalin. Galloway approvingly cites a description of him from the Guardian as a "left-wing Lawrence of Arabia." It's more astute than he realises. Lawrence stood with Arab tyrants too, arguing that Arabs were too stupid and culturally backward to govern themselves, and were temperamentally suited to "strong men". So does Galloway. No George, you're not the only one. If only ...Reuse content