Bradford West, United Kingdom
It’s possible that George Galloway, the Member of Parliament for Bradford West in the United Kingdom, will lose his seat in the general election today. It would be nice if this reflected a revolt by his constituents against his habit of blaming “Zionists,” the U.S., and Britain for all the world’s ills. In practice, it’ll be because he’s done nothing of substance for his constituents since he was elected in a notorious 2012 by-election. But you take your wins where you can get them.
Galloway is fond of threatening lawsuits against anyone who describes him as an anti-Semite. It would be a full-time job to catalog Galloway’s hatred of the West and contempt for anyone who gets in his way, but his style can be fairly judged by his claim in March, made on his show on Iranian Press TV, that Zionists were behind the Ukrainian revolution in order to help the Nazis come to power so that Ukrainian Jews would move to Israel and “settle” the Palestinians.
If that doesn’t make any sense to you, it just shows that you’re not thinking on Galloway’s level. That’s a blessing, because it’s a level that includes a record of supporting Syria’s Assad regime, which he’s described as “the last bastion of Arab dignity.” Obvious ironies of ascribing dignity to Assad aside, Galloway poses in Bradford West as a defender of Muslims. It appears to make no difference to anyone concerned that the Syrian regime is Alawite, and that it’s working hand in glove with the Iranians – who aren’t Arabs – to kill Arab Sunni Muslims.
But details aren’t Galloway’s strong point. His pose is that he’s a world figure, and that Bradford West is lucky to have a big man standing up for it in Parliament, just as Muslims around the world somehow benefit from his outsized aura. Regrettably, the bit about him being a world figure isn’t entirely wrong, even if it elides the difference between being famous and being infamous. The rest of his claims are so much tosh. His record of attendance in Parliament is dire, and he has no connection to Bradford – he’s described representing it as “98% tedium.”
Both Galloway and Bradford have had long and not entirely happy careers. Galloway has moved from constituency to constituency, been kicked out of the Labour Party, and migrated from the pro-Soviet authoritarian left to Zionist-hating authoritarian progressivism. Bradford, for its part, has seen some of Britain’s worst ethnic riots, and has endured a long slide from the era when it was the home of the world-leading wool mills that, as they declined, imported their workers from Kashmir. Today, the Bradford West constituency is over 50 percent Muslim. Bradford built its core when it was rich, so it doesn’t look like a post-industrial wasteland, but statistically, it’s one of the worst-off places in Britain. The city and the man, unfortunately, were made for each other.
But as the eminent historian of Italy, Denis Mack Smith, once commented, Benito Mussolini could only have fooled so many people with his strutting sawdust caesar act for so long in an era when the Italian public was politically unsophisticated. It was his style that mattered to them, not his substance. Something of the sort is also true in Bradford, where there are lots of unemployed young men yearning for respect – not coincidentally, the name of Galloway’s party – and even more women who are used to being ignored, or to far worse than that. Until it all went wrong, Mussolini, too, got a lot of mileage out of pretending to be the vindicator of the oppressed.
But as the reality of Galloway’s promise of service to his constituents becomes clearer, he’s falling back on clever forms of abuse. One of his appeals in this campaign has been that his Labour opponent, Naz Shah, is lying about her escape from a forced Islamic marriage at age 15: Galloway claims she was 16, and therefore that the entire business was, as he would almost certainly not put it, kosher. On its surface, the point of this argument is to appeal to the Muslim men of Bradford – especially the young unemployed ones who constitute much of his core support. But it’s actually more subtle than that, as I found when I visited Bradford.
Subtlety isn’t a word you associate with Galloway, or with these sorts of affairs in Britain. Earlier this month, Lutfur Rahman’s second term as Britain’s first democratically elected Muslim mayor ended when a High Court judge voided the 2014 election and banned him from standing again. Rahman was found guilty of all manner of corrupt electoral practices; staying true to type, he tried to pervert the course of justice before the High Court with equal energy.