George Galloway in San Francisco on Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Flyers around town announced that British Member of Parliament and Socialist firebrand George Galloway was making an appearance in San Francisco. I had to go.
The speech was part of a tour promoting his new book Mr. Galloway Goes to Washington. I got my hands on a publicity copy with the words "Uncorrected Proof" across the front -- which I thought was particularly appropriate in Mr. Galloway's case.
This is a souvenir that I shall treasure forever.
The hallway leading to the auditorium was crowded with eager Galloway acolytes and information tables for radical political groups.
It was difficult to get clear photos of the political paraphernalia (such as this booth for the ISM) in the dim and crowded foyer.
So I collected a small sampling of flyers from the tables and took a picture of them all together, to give an idea of which groups were there, hawking their wares: the ISM, Code Pink, A.N.S.W.E.R., "The Party for Socialism and Liberation," and various Muslim and communist groups -- Galloway's main constituency.
I had heard through the grapevine that some folks were planning to attend the event and hand out flyers featuring embarrassing quotes from Galloway. After a cruising the booths in the foyer, I went back outside and sure enough, a group of three brave souls were indeed handing out anti-Galloway flyers -- the only protesters visible at the entire event. (I'm purposely posting an obscure photo here to protect their identities.)
I took one to see what it said. Most of the Gallowayards took the flyers without really noticing at first what was in the quotes.
It was only later, upon closer inspection, that they must have finally read the text and realized there was a traitor in their midst.
(A week earlier, similar flyers were distributed to the crowd waiting in line to see the debate between Galloway and Christopher Hitchens. During the debate, Galloway actually accused Hitchens of masterminding the flyer distribution -- but in fact the flyers were the brainchild of the independent blog Harry's Place, which has no connection to Hitchens. An excellent video report of the debate can be found here.)
The speeches were about to begin, so I headed back inside Mission High School, which was hosting the event. Near the door to the auditorium, I noticed a school club flyer stuck to the wall.
It starts with henna....
Prior to Galloway taking the stage, Palestinian activist Jess Ghannam warmed up the crowd with an intriguing speech, read from carefully prepared notes.
(Each audio link below opens a small mp3 sound file [between 100kb and 400kb]. Underneath each link is an exact transcription of the speaker's words.)
Jess Ghannam asking who the real looters are:
Ghannam: Who is the real terrorist?
Audience: Bush, Bush!
Ghannam: We must confront another ugly reality: that our government is willing to invest its massive economic and military resources in the colonial exploitation and imperial thuggery of indigenous people of color all over the world and continue its profound neglect, disregard and subjugation of people of color without resources here in the United States. And I ask you, who is the real looter? Who is the real looter -- is the African American brother who is taking milk and diapers for his family the looter?
Ghannam: I lay awake at night and I imagine a picture of George Bush walking through Iraq with a headline that says, 'Savage Looter Taking the Natural Resources of the People of Iraq.'
Ghannam is apparently referring to a now-notorious juxtapostion of photo captions on Yahoo News on August 30, in which Associated Press described an African-American man in the New Orleans flood as a "looter" whereas in a photo immediately below Agence France Press described a flooded white couple as "finding" the food they were carrying. This discrepancy, though completely serendipitous, was immediately decried as evidence of racism in the media and American society in general. The only problem with this theory is that the captions were in fact entirely accurate, as was revealed in an investigation into the facts behind the case.
Ghannam then picked up a meme first enunciated by Cindy Sheehan when she called for Bush to "pull our troops out of occupied New Orleans." Many people at the time assumed that Sheehan's bizarre remark must have been a typo or a slip of the tongue, but Ghannam shows here that it is actually an emerging political talking point:
Jess Ghannam demanding an end to the occupation of New Orleans and elsewhere:
Ghannam: And when we say, 'End occupation of Iraq,' we're saying end all occupations: the occupation of Afghanistan, of Palestine, of Haiti, of the Philippines; and ending economic occupation of Cuba, Venezuela... . [applause] We're also saying, end the occupation of Bayview-Hunter's Point, and of Oakland, and of New Orleans and of Louisiana, because they are occupied now. ...
When we say, 'Free Palestine,' we are demanding complete freedom for all oppressed people and occupied people wherever they are in the world and we are demanding that not only Palestinians have the right of return, but folks in New Orleans have the right of return, black folks in Louisiana have the right of return, all the displaced people of the world have the right to return to their homes. And lastly, to my brother George -- it's an honor to be with you tonight, you know that -- and I wanna say that unless Palestine is free, none of us are free. Free Palestine. [applause]
Finally, it was time for the star of the show -- GEORGE GALLOWAY!
Galloway's words hardly need commentary: either you think he's a genius, the leading Socialist politician of our era; or you think he's a sinister propagandist and rabble-rouser. Listen to the clips below and decide for yourself.
In our first clip, Galloway makes a direct comparison between the American troops in Iraq and the Nazi army of WWII, and compares the Iraqi "insurgency" to the British who faced down Hitler:
Galloway: These liars, these criminals, were warned, 'You are opening the gates of hell with this invasion, and the Iraqis will fight you with their teeth if necessary and as long as is necessary until they drive you from their land.' Because the Iraqi people -- the Iraqi people are not less than us. It could never happen to you, but it nearly happened to us when we stood alone in 1941 against the fascist hordes at the Channel ports ready to invade us. And if Hitler had invaded our country, every person with self-respect and dignity, whether they supported Churchill or hated Churchill, would have fought the Nazi occupation of our country with every bone in their body, and every breath, until they had driven it from their land. [applause] And the Iraqis are not less than us. They do not love their country any less than us.
Next, in a parable about 18th-century British radical politician Charles James Fox who supported the American Revolution, Galloway described the members of the Bush administration as "fundamentalist fanatics," drawing a comparison between them and the Islamic fundamentalists in Iraq:
Galloway: Just imagine going back in time and saying to Mr. Fox, 'Are you sure you're doing the right thing, supporting these anti-colonial revolutionaries? I mean, what if they win? What if their country ends up being run by a bunch of crazed fundamentalist fanatics -- like the Reverend Pat Robertson, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, and the rest of the gang?'
Audience member: Praise Jesus! [laughter]
Galloway: Don't tell me George Bush is a follower of Jesus.... [applause]. Christians believe in the prophets, peace be upon them. Bush believes in the profits, and how to get a piece of them!
As usual, Palestine was uppermost in his mind:
Galloway: Most places in the world have already woken up to this truth, but you have not yet in this country woken up to it, and it's this: Until there is justice for the Palestinian people, there will be no peace in the Middle East... . [applause] It's really quite simple. It's not rocket science: No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace. You have to waken up to that fundamental truth.
The only time there was any hint of dissent in the audience was when Galloway trotted out his favorite inflammatory claims, blaming the 1982 massacre at the Lebanese refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila directly on Ariel Sharon, and also decribing the events in Jenin as a "massacre" as well:
Galloway: And no sooner had the ships bearing the Palestinian fighters left the harbor when thousands of Israeli soldiers and their Lebanese fascist allies descended like wolves upon the defenseless refugees of these camps and massacred thousands of them, their bodies lying bloated in the sun for many days thereafter, a sight which was to become familiar elsewhere later. Now, who was in charge of that massacre?
Audience: Sharon! Sharon!
Galloway: General Ariel Sharon was actually literally standing at the gate of those camps. He was in charge of the floodlighting of those camps so that the butchers of Beirut could go about their killing spree... .
Now Ron McKay and I visited four years ago another camp called Jenin. It was still smoldering from another massacre.
Audience member: Lie!
Galloway: When another large number of Palestinian refugees, supposedly protected by the so-called international community, were massacred.
Audience members: [heckling]
Galloway: This time, General Sharon was not the Defense Minister, he was the Prime Minister in charge of the massacre of Jenin.
Turning his attention back to the American political scene, Galloway seemed to be under the impression -- shared by nearly everyone in the audience -- that the antics of Cindy Sheehan, combined with the effects of Hurricane Katrina, have made America ripe for a people's revolution:
Galloway: Nixon was impeached for far less than George W. Bush is guilty of ... [applause] ... the impeachment of these criminals, and their defeat by the people. And we have a chance to do it. Cindy Sheehan and Hurricane Katrina -- Cindy Sheehan and Hurricane Katrina have changed the political landscape here in the United States of America. If the Democrats had any guts, they'd be capitalizing on it now instead of hiding from it, because they're complicit in it on both sides. [applause]
Galloway wrapped things up with a quote from his hero Lenin, and a salutation in Arabic:
Galloway: ... [If I may be] allowed to quote Lenin in an American high school. Lenin said, 'There are decades when nothing happens, but there are weeks when decades happen.' We are heading for those weeks. We can make those weeks. We have to seize those weeks, you and me! The Americans and the British together have to rise up and sweep these criminals out of power before they do any more damage. Salaam aleikum... . [applause]
If these audio snippets whet your appetite for more Galloway, you can download a huge audio file containing his entire speech at the Indybay site.
Throughout Galloway's speech, directly behind his head, was a large banner with the letters "ISR." I overheard more than one audience member expressing distaste for the banner, as it displayed the first three letters of "ISRAEL" -- even though ISR is actually the acronym for the event's sponsor, the International Socialist Review.
Even so, the audience gave Galloway a rousing standing ovation when it was all over.
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