Johann Hari's Week: Nice to see George in his natural habitat

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The Independent Online

Are you a resident of Bethnal Green and Bow? Perhaps you live on the Ocean Estate, one of the largest concrete slabs of poverty in Britain - a few minutes' walk from my flat - where people live three kids to a room and struggle with a fiver a day and central London prices. Or maybe you are one of the 6,000 asylum-seekers in this constituency who - now legal aid and appeals have been slashed by the Government - depend on your local MP as your lifeline, the last person who can save you from being deported back to tyranny.

Where's the member of Parliament you desperately need, the man you pay £61,000 in cash and £100,000 in expenses for every year? Ah - he's on Channel 4. And E4. On a live feed, tucked up in his jim-jams in between an ex-Baywatch babe and a man called Maggot. He's there for everyone to see. Everyone, that is, except you.

Yes, I laughed. When I saw George Galloway waving his fat cigar, his eyes flickering with silent rage as he was booed into the Celebrity Big Brother house, I roared and yelped even more than when Germaine Greer traipsed along that carpet after John McCririck. When he anxiously asked the other housemates, "Everyone got booed, didn't they?" and Dennis Rodman shrugged and said, "No," I actually gurgled. At least, I thought, he is in prison - and the other inmates are more dangerous than on your average cell block. We will be watching the live feed at 3am in my flat with an even more intense glee than last year.

But when you live in Bethnal Green and Bow, the joke begins to wear thin. Since he was rejected at the ballot box by 64 per cent of the people who live here in May - but nonetheless became our MP because of our ridiculous electoral system - we have barely seen our (cue laughter) honourable member. He has been at his holiday home in Portugal, on a lecture tour of the Great Satan, and in Syria - where he told the tyrannised population they are "very lucky" to be ruled by a Ba'athist dictator. The only place he hasn't been seen much is here, or in the lobbies of the House of Commons. He has represented us in just 15 per cent of parliamentary votes - one of the worst records of any MP - and spoken in just four debates. Will he return his parliamentary wages for the three weeks he is totally uncontactable by his constituents?

What will his bizarre gaggle of followers - the mix of Trots and Islamic fundamentalists who make up the Respect "Coalition" - say now? At least the party has plenty of spokesmen in his absence. There's Yvonne Ridley, who says, "I'd rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi [who is merrily carving off the heads of those 'infidel' Shia] any day than have a traitor or sell-out for a father, son or grandfather." There's the party's biggest donor, Mohammed Naseem, a senior figure in an organisation that believes "lewd" displays of homosexuality should be punished with death.

Perhaps hanging out with Maggot will not be so surreal for Gorgeous George, the non-MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, after all.

Who else will give up on the 'War on Drugs'?

While Charles Clarke backtracks on the pitifully, pathetically moderate downgrading of cannabis introduced two years ago to stop the squandering of police time, the 'War on Drugs' is collapsing across the world.

The Bolivian people have just elected a left-wing President, Alberto Morales (right), who will legalise the production of coca leaves, an essential ingredient in manufacturing cocaine.

This is crucial because it is the first time a member of the United Nations has refused to abide by the US-led, US-enforced programme of global prohibition. Bolivians - like more and more people across the world - can see that the idea of eradicating all drugs from the face of the earth is preposterous. The only beneficiaries are massive criminal syndicates, who have been handed a $100bn-a-year industry on a shiny cocaine platter.

What will be the next country to refuse to participate in this failing, flailing war? If Hamid Karzai was really in charge of Afghanistan, surely he would join Morales: 70 percent of his country's GDP comes from its opium crops. British troops are - right now - destroying the crops of peasant farmers in that starvation-poor country.

Isn't it more sensible to follow the path of Bolivia - legalisation and regulation - than to carry on shooting at peasants who are trying desperately to make a living?

Sharon: A tribesman I will not grieve for

As the world readies its obituaries for Ariel Sharon, I couldn't stop thinking the best one was written more than a decade ago. It appears in Phillip Roth's strange, stunning novel Operation Shylock, when an ageing Israeli general called Smilesburger looks back on a life spent not only defending the borders of Israel but extending them deep into the West Bank and Gaza.

He says, "I am a ruthless man working in a ruthless job for a ruthless country and I am ruthless knowingly and voluntarily. If someday there is a Palestinian victory and if there is a war crimes trial here in Jerusalem... I shall hang by the neck until I am dead. And what will I say to the court, after I have been judged and found guilty by my enemy? Will I invoke as my justification the millennial history of degrading, humiliating, terrifying, savage, murderous anti-Semitism? ... Will I invoke the horrors of the Holocaust? Absolutely not." Instead, he offers a "simple truth": "I am a tribesman who stood with his tribe."

Ariel Sharon is a tribesman, and he stood with his tribe. He has spent his life lashing out at other tribes on the assumption that life is a zero-sum game: get them before they get you. The thousands of refugee residents of Sabra and Shatila had the misfortune to belong to another tribe, and they paid for it. If Sharon survives, would he really be able to break and remake this life-long mindset? I will grieve not for this elderly general nor for his illusory keep-most-of-the-West-Bank "peace" deal, but for the thousands of people he condemned to death in his long, bitter life.

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