Gorgeous George, how are ya

by Daniel on May 7, 2005

A few thoughts on Galloway’s victory in Bethnal Green & Bow, below the fold. More detailed psephological analysis, including how me and Martin Baxter got it so wrong[1] tomorrow, but somehow the BG&B result seemed more important to me than the rest of the election.

[1]Yes yes yes and how the betting markets got it so right, are you bloody happy now James.

The thing one needs to understand about George Galloway is that his nickname, “Gorgeous George” is, as they say on the left, no coincidence. If you don’t know who the original “Gorgeous George” was, have a look at this potted bio. If you’re interested, have a look through this excerpt from Roland Barthes “Mythologies” on the subject of professional wrestling, for a bit of context.

Thanks, welcome back. That’s the whole point of Gorgeous George. He’s in many ways an utterly reprehensible character; friend of dictators, self-aggrandising, supporter of a lifestyle seemingly out of proportion to his income, frequenter of the libel courts, stirrer of racial tensions, etc etc. But, he does put on a hell of a show, and that’s why he won in Bethnal Green.

The Bangladeshis and poor whites who live in that area (it’s just around the corner from a bank I used to work in so I know it a little bit) are not daft. They work in the garment trade, an industry which is not notorious for its fools. They must be aware of the plain facts; that Oona King was a very hard-working constituency MP, that she was not unsympathetic to issues that concerned Muslims (her main claim to fame before the election campaign blew up was that she had compared Palestinian living conditions to the Warsaw Ghetto and called for a boycott of Israel) and that Galloway is going to spend most of his time as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow doing what he spent most of his time doing as MP for Glasgow Kelvin; wandering round the country, making speeches to extreme-left audiences and not showing up in the House of Commons. The major effect of electing Galloway over King on the constituents will be that in general, they will have to put up with somewhat worse housing conditions over the next four years, and that the task of dealing with the labyrinth of local government bureaucracy which blights their lives will be that much more difficult as they will not get their local MP’s involvement on anything like as timely or systematic a basis.

And yet still they voted for him. Why? To ask the question is either to answer it, or to admit that you have no real understanding of the nature of working class politics in the UK. They voted for Gorgeous George for the same reason that the Glaswegians voted for him again and again, with ever-increasing majorities. Because he puts on a bloody good show, and more importantly, because he gets right up in the faces of the people at the top of the tree.

You see, it’s entirely laudable and sensible to vote for someone who will spend morning noon and night tirelessly plodding away making incremental gains on your behalf and trying to smooth over one or two of the little inconveniences that make life slightly, but tangibly and materially, more difficult to live. The sensible thing to do would be to continue to vote that way, and hope for gradual and marginal progress toward a better tomorrow for our grandchildren.

But that’s living small. Living small, in the sense of knuckling down and grinding away at a system which is based on a hierarchy that has you at the bottom of it, accepting your place in that hierarchy and beavering away at the task of making your position at the bottom of the pile as tolerable as possible. And I think that the main lesson from Michael Marmot’s work is that living small, over the long run, will kill you as sure as heart disease. In general, incremental improvements are the only way to a better future. But for the health of the soul today, sometimes you need to live large. And if the only way to live large is to vote for a George Galloway, a Derek Hatton or a James Michael Curley, then from time to time, then so be it. The purpose of professional wrestlers is to provide a spectacle of grotesque chaos while laughing in the face of the normal order of things, and the purpose of a certain kind of socialist politician is very similar. It’s not grown up, it’s not sensible and it’s not constructive, but it is exactly the kind of impulse on which any hope of a genuinely different society has to rest.

If the Bangladeshis of Bethnal Green & Bow want to chuck away eight years of New Labour in order to give a good old “eff off” to Tony Blair, then I say good luck to them. And furthermore, I say “bollocks” to anyone on the “decent left” who has the temerity to lecture the actually existing working class on what some imagined “decent working class” of the mind should be hoping and dreaming. Just as Galloway’s own nickname is not a coincidence, I’d suggest that the name of his party, “Respect” was not chosen by accident, and to claim that his election simply smacks of “communalism” isn’t, as far as I can see, showing a lot of it.

See, I can’t stand George Galloway; I’ve always despised the man. But that’s the whole point of Gorgeous George. You’re not meant to like him, any more than you’re meant to like Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks or Ravishing Rick Rude. But if Gorgeous George’s name is up on the marquee, then I’m not going to blame anyone else for going to see the wrestling show. And that’s why I cracked open the election bubbly to raise a glass to Gorgeous George’s victory; not for the sake of celebrating the victory of the only politician in the UK who I think genuinely deserves the label “pseudo-left”, but rather for the sake of celebrating that entirely laudable condition of the human spirit which his victory represents. A condition which might, indeed be summed up rather well with the three words “courage, strength and indefatigability”.

{ 78 comments }

1

morinao 05.07.05 at 4:25 pm

Well, may the show never pall the way it did for the good people of Minnesota and California and their celebrity politicians. Although I suppose Ventura and Schwarzenegger were elected more out of contempt for the alternatives than hope for the future.

2

Jasper Milvain 05.07.05 at 4:30 pm

Incrementalist question: Do the local-government Labour people in BG&B now

a) Work really hard and become especially helpful, in order to prove what a useless MP Galloway is?

or

b) Pointedly do bugger all, in order to prove what a useless MP Galloway is?

My hope is that they chose a) and it works. My guess is that they’ll chose b) – and he’ll just benefit from the chance to slag them off.

3

P O'Neill 05.07.05 at 4:42 pm

Of course he’s not alone being a high-profile MP who’ll most likely be useless for his constituents. Can the people of Henley be getting much value out of having Boris Johnson as their MP? Admittedly of course, they may not need such services as much, and he may have a better constituency organisation than GG will.

4

shwe 05.07.05 at 4:46 pm

eloquently argued for, and perhaps not altogether off the mark, though the radicalisation caused by the war might have been enough to do the job even without GG. Does it also explain why people vote for monkey mayors and drug-taking ex-mayors I wonder?

5

Bubb Rubb 05.07.05 at 5:14 pm

There has been some chatter that Galloway picked this particular constituency and targeted King in particular because of the racial angle. Most obvious is the fact that he ran in South London than in Glasgow.

I have read that Galloway used the the fact that she has Jewish heritage in the campaign and there are certainly other episodes that are not necessary to report here. He also made comments about King’s skin color that to say are inappropriate is to be generous.

She was one of the only black women MP’s in the whole UK. She represented a constituency that is extremely poor and diverse with many Asian’s. She has an extremely progressive record and fought specifically for the things that people in that district should care about: multiculturalism and housing.

Jeremy Paxman of the BBC, who has had various run-in’s with Galloway in the past, had an infamous interview with him on election night. Some of the highlights are below. You can see video (the video is must see!) of the row and read the transcript here. Here is also a good BBC article on how Galloway got the political support. He plied the Mosques it appears exclusively on the Iraq question. Galloway is a man who got everything wrong, one big thing right and thinks the whole world should congratulate him. He makes me sick, personally.

JP: Mr Galloway, are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?
GG: What a preposterous question. I know it’s very late in the night, but wouldn’t you be better starting by congratulating me for one of the most sensational election results in modern history?

JP: Absolutely, because you then went on to say “including a lot of women who had blacker faces than her”
GG: Absolutely right, absolutely right. So don’t try and tell me I should feel guilty about one of the most sensational election results in modern electoral history.

6

Jimmy Doyle 05.07.05 at 5:45 pm

Fair enough, D2. GG’s critics can certainly sound self-righteous; then again, any critic of GG has a lot to be self-righteous about. But if the rhetoric at Harry’s Place sometimes makes me roll my eyes, the rhetoric at Lenin’s Tomb makes me feel slightly ill.

7

Robin Green 05.07.05 at 6:38 pm

The name Lenin’s Tomb sometimes makes me feel slightly queasy. The site is intended to make you feel queasy.

8

Richard Cownie 05.07.05 at 7:28 pm

I don’t know a whole lot about Galloway. But after
Blair threw him out of the Labour Party, it seems
his election is another instance of the voters
showing their contempt for Blair’s sanctimonious
control-freak attitude. Like Ken Livingstone’s
win, this is a well-deserved poke in the eye for
New Labour.

And as for Galloway being a friend of Saddam, let’s
point out that a solid majority (even in the US)
now agrees with him that
invading Iraq was a Bad Idea; and for all his
terrible faults, Saddam was doing a better job
of running Iraq (more electricity, more jobs,
fewer deaths, more opportunities for women) than
the coalition has managed.

9

john c. halasz 05.07.05 at 7:57 pm

Pardon my ignorance coming from “life is so good in Ameereeca!”, but has Gorgeous George ever displayed any effective tactical sense? One thing that liberals usually don’t seem to get is that politics, especially electoral politics, is all about the “swing” influencing the exercize of the levers and mechanisms of governing power, so that, if one aims at, say, 36 degrees left, one needs a significant plurality at 90 degrees left, especially given the inevitable “clawback” exercized on any government by the “powers-that-be” in the permanent government and the institutional and economic structure of society. Given his penchant for retrograde hard left views, it would seem that he would just indulge in counterproductive, obtuse left sectarianism, but I thought I might ask anyway. But, from my point of view, anything that gives Toney Blare and his “New” Labor acolytes a hard, bloody punch in the nose over the Iraq War adventure is not all to the bad. If Blair had any real sense of honor, rather than just a greasy, self-righteous false piety, he would have resigned a long time ago, rather than seeking the “vindication” of “history”, especially since his decisions amounted to a political character self-assassination, in terms of what he ostensibly “stood for”, and since clear evidence emerged in the course of the campaign the Blare knew full well what the Busheviks were up to, such that his poodle behavior amounts to a betrayal of the independence and best interests of the people of the U.K. All politicians are gamblers, which is precisely why they are to be judged publically on their prudential judgment, as much, if not more, than their ostensible “normative” commitments. And, given what he, in fact, knew, it’s the collossal, craven failure of such judgment on Blare’s part that irrevocably condems him, since with the Busheviks, it’s not so much their nasty and brutal arrogance that appalls, but rather their incredible, dissociated ignorance and incompetence, in the spirit of Talleyrand: “It’s worse than a crime; it’s a mistake”.

10

nnyhav 05.07.05 at 9:00 pm

“That entirely laudable condition of the human spirit” seems more what lottery tickets represent. It’s not grown up, it’s not sensible and it’s not constructive, but it is exactly the kind of impulse on which any hope of a genuinely different lifestyle has to rest.

11

nick 05.07.05 at 9:08 pm

has Gorgeous George ever displayed any effective tactical sense?

Picking BG&B over, say, Blackburn?

For me, Gorgeous George’s victory was worth it mainly for the comment he left at Harry’s Place (if it was him) comparing their efforts to the Guardian’s ‘write to an Ohioan’ strategy.

On Daniel’s point, The Road To Wigan Pier also makes for interesting reading. (And it’s any compensation, the betting markets were hovering at a majority of around 90 on election day.)

12

Dick Fitzgerald 05.07.05 at 9:25 pm

You sound like a speechwriter for tony Blair. xymphora’s post today 5-7-05 deals with liars like you.

13

Look Behind You 05.07.05 at 10:02 pm

I don’t like Galloway either, but on the other hand who needs another New Labour toady voting for ID cards, the abolition of Habeas Corpus, etc. I feel quite certain that Blair would have taken us into the Vietnam War, had he been in charge at the time, and that Oona King would have voted for it.

14

Bob Duckles 05.07.05 at 10:22 pm

“how me … got it so wrong”

???

15

Omri 05.08.05 at 12:02 am

The pro-wrestling analogy is spot on. Like a pro-wrestler, GG loves to put on a show, but only with a carefully set script. Anything steps out of line, like Salam Pax popping up to ask him about his stances, and he flees.

16

Mark 05.08.05 at 12:32 am

“Saddam was doing a better job
of running Iraq (more electricity, more jobs,
fewer deaths, more opportunities for women) than
the coalition has managed.”

This statement might need a bit more support.

17

abb1 05.08.05 at 4:26 am

Pseudo-left is better than no-left.

Stick it to the man, screw the system.

No Gods, No Masters, Against All Authority.

18

Peter Briffa 05.08.05 at 6:13 am

Daniel’s argument could equally apply to all those thousands who voted BNP. Did he sip any champagne thinking of those plucky working class folk, sticking it to the man?

19

soru 05.08.05 at 6:16 am

Seems the BNP is missing a few tricks. All they need to do is put a few token ‘socialist’ statements in an unread manifesto, pick a front man with a bit of charisma, and they would win the key middle class ‘student to dinner party’ support.

If all you are going to be doing is putting on a show, does it matter what the theme of the show is?

soru

20

Daniel 05.08.05 at 7:29 am

No it couldn’t. The BNP don’t promise the white working class anything other than shoving some other poor bugger a bit further down the totem pole than they are. If the working class in Barking can’t set their sights any higher than that, then that’s an expression of despair, not hope. And even though despair is probably an entirely sensible reaction to having Margaret Hodge as your MP, it’s not the sort of thing that outsiders would celebrate.

21

monkle 05.08.05 at 8:12 am

I agree with daniel – it’s highly patronising to regard the electoral decisions of the ‘working classes’ as subject to the same moral censure as those of you and I.

Seriously though, we can grant that Galloway’s election fulfils an arguably reasonable desire of bethnal green residents to ‘stick it to the man’, accept that their voting achieved this aim, and was not self-defeating, but yet sill regard it as wrong (perhaps simply because Galloway is a nasty piece of work).

22

JA 05.08.05 at 9:31 am

This whole thread and half the comments make me ill.

As you yourself say, Daniel, Galloway is a despicable character. Yet because some ‘working class’ people voted for him (as if the voters of BG&B were really voting along class lines or about class issues) we have to somehow admire him, or at least laugh about what a crazy maverick he is.

When a significant number of people votes for a politician who has publicly praised a mass murderer, not to mention described the day the Soviet Union ended as ‘the saddest day of my life’ that is *a bad thing*, full stop, irrespective of whether the voters are working-class or middle-class, black or white. End of story. To suggest otherwise is itself deeply patronising to the ‘decent working class’ – whoever they in fact are in this case. Personally, the only Galloway voter I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days was a typical middle-class, anti-war ‘not in my name’, ‘I just wanted to give Blair a bloody nose’ liberal. I’m sure she must have been the exception though, and the rest of the BG&B voters are just waiting for Galloway to start organising the mass strike any day now.

As for:

‘Saddam was doing a better job of running Iraq (more electricity, more jobs, fewer deaths, more opportunities for women) than the coalition has managed.’

and

‘For me, Gorgeous George’s victory was worth it mainly for the comment he left at Harry’s Place (if it was him) comparing their efforts to the Guardian’s ‘write to an Ohioan’ strategy’

… I don’t’ think George Galloway isn’t the only person around here who should be described as ‘pseudo-left’.

23

JA 05.08.05 at 9:39 am

Sorry, last line obviously meant to read:

I don’t think Galloway is the only person around here who should be described as ‘pseudo-left’.

24

Richard Cownie 05.08.05 at 9:48 am

>This statement might need a bit more support.

More electricity: I’ve been following this,
don’t have the reference at hand right now but I believe the pre-invasion power was at about
4800MW-hours/day. And currently it’s below
that, maybe 4500MW-hours/day (there were a few
months where output was above the pre-invasion
level, but sabotage and inadequate maintenance
have sent it back down). I believe also that
Baghdad in particular gets a good deal less
power than it used to (which probably means some
areas do better than they used to). Anyway, this
information is all on the web so you can google
for it if you don’t trust me.

More jobs: under Saddam, Iraq had a functioning,
albeit poor, economy. Now it’s crippled by the
lack of security and the destruction of
infrastructure. The figures I’ve seen suggest
over 50% unemployment.

Fewer deaths: the Lancet study estimated 100K
excess deaths in 18 months after the invasion
compared to the death rate under Saddam. Most of
those were due to violence, with the biggest
cause being US aerial bombing. And many of the
deaths are of women and children.

More opportunities for women: under the secular
Baath regime, Iraqi women had a better deal than
in most of the Arab world, they could get a
good education and work as doctors, teachers,
engineers. I’ve seen reports that the Shiite
militias in Basra (and presumably other parts of
the Shiite South) are enforcing the wearing of
the hijab (is that the right word for the head-to
toe black ?) and generally making life impossible
for women. Elsewhere there’s a wave of kidnapping
and rape which makes it unsafe for women to go
out on their own. And Islamists who dominate
the new government are likely to move towards
elements of Islamic law which make life hard for
women.

If you just read the front page, you’re missing
out on what a complete and unbelievable screw-up
the Iraq misadventure has been. Dig deeper.

25

abb1 05.08.05 at 9:54 am

Is it even controversial that Saddam was doing a much better job running Iraq in, say, 2002 compare to how it’s run now? Does one really have to become ‘pseudo-left’ to notice that? That’s sad.

26

Martin Wisse 05.08.05 at 10:11 am

Shorter Daniel:

“you can’t blame the poor misguided buggers to vote for a showman and I’m magnificent enough to see this.”

The people in BG&B voted for Galloway because they were sick of King and her lies and libel, sick of Nu Labour and sick of the illegal and immoral war in Iraq.

Anything else is sour grapes.

27

Richard Cownie 05.08.05 at 10:23 am

Perhaps I should clarify my position.

I think Saddam was pretty terrible. I think a
lot of other dictators are just as terrible, or
worse. Given a choice between living in pre-
invasion Iraq, post-invasion Iraq, or Saudi Arabia,
then if I were a woman I would definitely choose
pre-invasion Iraq. If I were a man then Saudi
Arabia would be the first choice, pre-invasion
Iraq would be the second choice.

If you’re unemployed, your cousin has been
kidnapped, foreign troops shoot you if you come too near, and you only have electricity 4 hours
a day, then your theoretical “freedom” doesn’t
count for much.

28

Daniel 05.08.05 at 10:44 am

full stop

In my experience, people who demand that almost anything be analysed as good or bad, “full stop”, are almost invariably cocks.

29

Daniel 05.08.05 at 10:48 am

Martin: I don’t think it’s at all misguided to vote for GG in BGB and basically agree with your analysis. Doesn’t make Gorgeous George into a good person though.

30

Katherine 05.08.05 at 11:30 am

What if this is the final insult to injury that gets them Brown as PM much sooner? In that case it will be an amazingly effective vote.

Not terribly likely, but it’s not impossible.

31

des von bladet 05.08.05 at 12:50 pm

Katherine: Don’t be saying this “not terribly likely”–Blair’s imminent oustning has been the top story in the UK (and the top story about the UK elsewhere in Yoorp) since Friday morning.

The “lame duck” meme is a positive feedback loop–it is precisely as true as we believe it to be, so believe it early and believe it often!

32

Tim Worstall 05.08.05 at 1:23 pm

they will have to put up with somewhat worse housing conditions over the next four years, and that the task of dealing with the labyrinth of local government bureaucracy which blights their lives will be that much more difficult as they will not get their local MP’s involvement on anything like as timely or systematic a basis.

Why should an MP have to do anything about this at all? Shouldn’t an enlightened bureaucracy, set up to provide services to the poor simply, just, umm, work?
Or is there something about the welfare state that I’ve missed, like that it doesn’t work as advertised?

33

mg 05.08.05 at 2:31 pm

The reason the beurocracy sucks, Tim, is it’s underfunded. Low taxes – not as good as you thought! Makes sense to me

34

Matthew 05.08.05 at 4:22 pm

Galloway is the only one saying harsh words about the war… “lies, murder, unprovoked attack”. He gets elected despite the odds. It’s all pretty simple really.

You say “”bollocks” to the decent left”? I say bollocks.

35

Jason McCullough 05.08.05 at 4:40 pm

“When a significant number of people votes for a politician who has publicly praised a mass murderer, not to mention described the day the Soviet Union ended as ‘the saddest day of my life’ that is a bad thing, full stop, irrespective of whether the voters are working-class or middle-class, black or white.”

I could go dig up horrible quotes where GOP presidents praise various Saddam clones and said people voted for them as all that’s holy, etc. Might want to take off the moral bit-flipping blinders.

36

Tom G 05.08.05 at 5:56 pm

Jason McCullough,

What would be the point of digging up “horrible quotes where GOP presidents praise various Saddam clones”?

If you want to criticize someone go ahead. But would proving that there are worse people somehow make Galloway’s beliefs better?

Tom G.

37

martin 05.08.05 at 7:01 pm

Would you think that the Northern Ireland results are more important than BG&B? The polarization of those results – at both ends of their unique spectrum – does not augur well.

38

Richard Cownie 05.08.05 at 7:14 pm

So no-one’s stepping up to back up the claim that
the coalition is running Iraq better than Saddam
did ? Pretty feeble if you want to believe that
but don’t have any evidence to support it.

As for Galloway being pro-Soviet, well I don’t
agree with that, but as far as I know Blair and
the Labour leadership were happy to tolerate
it, and only expelled him from Labour because
he had the guts to speak out against the Iraq war:
a position which in hindsight looks correct.
When you throw people out for saying stuff they
believe, and which turns out to be true, then
you deserve a big poke in the eye.

I daresay Galloway is a royal pain in the ass,
and has plenty of views I would disagree with.
But let’s face it, he was right to oppose the
war and I applaud him for it.

39

Katherine 05.08.05 at 8:31 pm

no, I just meant it “not very likely” that Blair stays if King wins and goes if Galloway wins. I think it’s pretty likely that he resigns now.

Yes, N. Ireland is much worse.

40

mw 05.08.05 at 9:05 pm

Is it even controversial that Saddam was doing a much better job running Iraq in, say, 2002 compare to how it’s run now? Does one really have to become ‘pseudo-left’ to notice that? That’s sad.

Nah, it’s obvious–Saddam, man, he made those trains run on time. Plus, the great thing was, his police state had the people so completely and thoroughly cowed that he really didn’t have to torture and kill all that many anymore.

Whereas now, what a shambles! The Iraqi people have these odd ideas and silly hopes for the future and the Baathists are now simply forced to start over from square one killing them in droves to crush these absurd ideas and get the people properly oppressed again. At which point, the Iraqis can go back to flying kites in the parks and Iraq will again be a peaceful, well-governed country as it was in 2002. But it is a shame that Uday won’t be around to ‘whip’ the Iraqi Olympic team into shape for 2008 games–though if they’re back in power in time, I’m sure the Baathists will be able to find somebody else in their ranks capable of carrying on his proud tradition of leadership.

41

Richard Cownie 05.08.05 at 9:25 pm

>the Baathists are now simply forced to start over
>from square one killing them in droves

From the estimates I’ve seen, the killings by
coalition forces are roughly double the killings
by insurgents. Say what you like about Saddam,
but he hadn’t dropped any 500lb bombs on urban
areas for many years.

Anyway, with deaths running at 40/day over the
last couple of weeks, it seems we can probably
say the Iraqi civil war has now started,
and God only knows what it’s going to look like
once it’s over. It’s been bloody awful so far,
but it’s going to get worse, and it’s very
likely that the eventual outcome will be either
a strongly-Islamist regime sympathetic to Iran,
or else a revived brutal Sunni dictatorship.
If anyone can explain how either of those
outcomes is “better” in either a utilitarian,
humanitarian, or realpolitik sense than having an
aging and weakened Saddam in power, then I’ll
listen with interest but great skepticism.

42

Pat 05.08.05 at 10:02 pm

Interesting that Daniel thinks that successfully defeating a libellous smear campaign from a right-wing state-supported source is ‘reprehensible’. At least we now know Daniel’s paymaster.

43

Jimmy Doyle 05.08.05 at 10:43 pm

D2: “In my experience, people who demand that almost anything be analysed as good or bad, “full stop”, are almost invariably cocks.”

Torturing innocent children for fun? Or do only “cocks” say that’s bad, “full stop”?

In my experience, people who demand that almost anything be analysed as only good or bad depending on the circumstances are almost invariably mealy-mouthed wankmeisters.

44

Daniel 05.09.05 at 12:36 am

Jimmy, you’ve just read a sentence with the qualifier “almost” in it, and responded with a constructed philosopher’s example of an extreme case. Have a break and a KitKat, man.

45

tvd 05.09.05 at 1:34 am

Happy V-E Day, Mr. Cownie. I’m sure we could have waited Hitler out, too. He didn’t even have any sons. Certainly Germany’s electrical grid functioned better before we stuck our noses in.

And all those munitions factory workers we robbed of their jobs…

46

abb1 05.09.05 at 2:09 am

Nah, it’s obvious—Saddam, man, he made those trains run on time. Plus, the great thing was, his police state had the people so completely and thoroughly cowed that he really didn’t have to torture and kill all that many anymore.

Mw, but did he govern better or worse than the current regime? That is the statement in question, not whether his regime was good or bad.

It seems obvious that Saddam’s regime was better (or less bad, if you wish). Who knows how long it’ll take the current regime to have the people so completely and thoroughly cowed that they really don’t have to torture and kill all that many anymore.

47

fifi 05.09.05 at 2:41 am

Iraqis are falling in love again now that Saddam is gone.

48

mw 05.09.05 at 6:31 am

Mw, but did he govern better or worse than the current regime? That is the statement in question, not whether his regime was good or bad.

Is the question of good governance really separate in your mind from the issue of oppression by a brutal police state? Stalinist regimes are still eligible for the abb1 seal of approval if they produce enough megawatt hours of electricity?

I think Saddam’s regime governed not only exponentially worse than the current regime, but worse than all but a handful or two of regimes in human history. It seems that your value system and mine are very different.

49

nick 05.09.05 at 6:58 am

I think Saddam’s regime governed not only exponentially worse than the current regime, but worse than all but a handful or two of regimes in human history.

And you were around to judge all of them? Dear me. Reminds me of those inevitably near-sighted ‘best songs/presidents/iPod accessories’ polls.

Also, mw, that blue marlin you caught the other day? It was actually a sardine.

50

paul_holloway 05.09.05 at 9:07 am

mw, Saddam’s regime was in the top three worst regimes in history? So it goes Stalin, Pol Pot, then Saddam? You, sir, are an idiot. And to say that Iraq was far worse under Saddam: do you really think that rape and torture is somehow better when it is performed by an occupying army of Westerners rather than a local government of Arabs? Is it wrong for Saddam to oppose insurgency by draining marshes but okay for an occupying army of westerners to oppose insurgency by flattening Fallujah? Our actions in Iraq are an order of magnitude worse than anything that Saddam tried; if he had carried out the assaults on Fallujah/Najaf/Samarra we would be talking about them as being worse crimes than Halabja; similar numbers of people were killed in those attacks.

Unfortunately, ideology does not make things true because you want them to be.

51

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 9:22 am

>Is the question of good governance really separate
>in your mind from the issue of oppression by a
>brutal police state? Stalinist regimes are still
>eligible for the abb1 seal of approval if they
>produce enough megawatt hours of electricity?

Fine. When are you going to start agitating for
an invasion of Singapore – oppressive dictatorship,
but highly competent and economically successful ?

In any case, the total of oppression doesn’t
seem likely to improve in Iraq: will it be better
when 50% of the population is oppressed for being
women (in which they have no choice), instead of
2% being oppressed for choosing to engage in
political activity ?

52

abb1 05.09.05 at 9:59 am

Stalinist regimes are still eligible for the abb1 seal of approval if they produce enough megawatt hours of electricity?

Sure, during the WWII, Russians, Ukranians and others, having to face a worse alternative, overwhelmingly have chosen to fight for Stalinism. And I suspect megawatt hours of electricity might’ve been a part of it too, however small.

Why do you want to be so dogmatic in this particular case, Mw, against all common sense and logic?

53

mw 05.09.05 at 2:04 pm

mw, Saddam’s regime was in the top three worst regimes in history? So it goes Stalin, Pol Pot, then Saddam? You, sir, are an idiot.

Did I say top three? I said, top handful or two. A handful is an itentionally imprecise measure, but I think Saddam’s regime would have a pretty decent chance to crack the top 10. Iraq doesn’t have the scale to compete with Hitler, Stalin, or Mao, of course, and on a smaller scale, Pol Pot was more sociopathically vicious, but after that, Saddam’s right in the running.

54

mw 05.09.05 at 2:16 pm

Fine. When are you going to start agitating for
an invasion of Singapore – oppressive dictatorship, but highly competent and economically successful ?

Singapore? Why would I do that? Mass graves? Nope. Aggressive wars? Nope. Crimes against humanity? Nope. Psychotic heirs? Nope. Democratic reforms in Singapore are long overdue, but the idea of an invasion is silly.

In any case, the total of oppression doesn’t
seem likely to improve in Iraq:

Doesn’t seem likely to you.

will it be better
when 50% of the population is oppressed for being
women (in which they have no choice), instead of
2% being oppressed for choosing to engage in
political activity ?

I don’t agree that a conservative Islamist Iraq is going to emerge. And as for the idea that only 2% were oppressed and the rest untouched by Saddam’s police state–I find that a profoundly offensive idea. Do you really believe all those purported 98% who managed to stay safe by living lives of submission were unaffected and unoppressed? My god…

55

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 2:27 pm

>Singapore? Why would I do that? Mass graves? Nope.
>Aggressive wars? Nope. Crimes against humanity?
>Nope. Psychotic heirs? Nope. Democratic reforms in
>Singapore are long overdue, but the idea of an
>invasion is silly.

Iraq? Mass graves ? Not since 1992. Aggressive
wars ? Not since 1992. Crimes against humanity ?
Nope, not recently. Psychotic heirs ? Great,
let’s get them alone and powerless in a house and
hit them with Hellfire missiles from a helicopter, that’s just the ticket to claim the moral high
ground.

>I don’t agree that a conservative Islamist Iraq
>is going to emerge

Oh boy, I feel so much better, now that I know
your opinion I can ignore all the published past
statements of the leaders of Iraq’s government,
which clearly indicate that they favor a rather
strong role for Islamic principles.

56

mw 05.09.05 at 2:47 pm

do you really think that rape and torture is somehow better when it is performed by an occupying army of Westerners rather than a local government of Arabs?

And do you think torture at Abu Gharib under the National Guard (as appalling as it was) was of the intensity, scale, and duration as it was under Saddam? Are the two really roughly equivalent to your way of thinking?

Is it wrong for Saddam to oppose insurgency by draining marshes but okay for an occupying army of westerners to oppose insurgency by flattening Fallujah?

In a word, yes. Except that, of course, Fallujah was not ‘flattened’ (that would have been straightforward enough to accomplish from the air with no ground combat at all). And the coalition has both re-filled the marshes AND is actively working on the reconstruction of Fallujah (which, however, is unfortunately going slower than one might hope).

Our actions in Iraq are an order of magnitude worse than anything that Saddam tried;

You are a loon.

If he had carried out the assaults on Fallujah/Najaf/Samarra we would be talking about them as being worse crimes than Halabja; similar numbers of people were killed in those attacks.

It seems odd to have to point this out but the fighting in Falluja and Najaf was just that…fighting against heavily armed insurgents. Halabja was the gassing of civilians. Not to mention, that I (but not you apparently), distinguish between military actions against a civilian population by a police state aimed at terrorizing and oppressing, and military actions against violent, anti-democratic, islamist fighters done in order to end terrorist attacks and make a democratic election possible (which democratic election the terrorists were doing their utmost to prevent and disrupt by the most flamboyantly, disgustingly violent means possible).

In my view, all fighting is not the same–it matters critically who and what you are fighting for and who and what you are fighting against.

Unfortunately, ideology does not make things true because you want them to be.

Nor does it make them false because you want them to be false.

57

mw 05.09.05 at 2:58 pm

Oh boy, I feel so much better, now that I know your opinion I can ignore all the published past statements of the leaders of Iraq’s government, which clearly indicate that they favor a rather strong role for Islamic principles.

Yes, there is debate about whether the Koran is going to be a source or the main source of Iraqi law. The key words in the above being there is a debate. A debate in Iraq. By freely elected representatives. What a concept.

Yes, no doubt there are fundamentalists who’d like to impose a strict islamic regime, but they cannot do it without losing Iraqi Kurdistan for starters.

58

abb1 05.09.05 at 3:00 pm

In my view, all fighting is not the same—it matters critically who and what you are fighting for and who and what you are fighting against.

That’s true. But you seem to be fighting for some beautiful dream, mirage that no one but you can see. Meanwhile, real people who want nothing but normal life are being killed in droves. It’s just like what Mao, Che and Pol Pot were doing, they were building the bright future too.

59

aretino 05.09.05 at 3:04 pm

Not so sure about the working-class rebellion angle. Comparing the 2001 and 2005 results, it looks like nearly half of Galloway’s support came from Tories or nationalists.

60

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 3:09 pm

>And do you think torture at Abu Gharib under the
>National Guard (as appalling as it was) was of the
>intensity, scale, and duration as it was under
>Saddam? Are the two really roughly equivalent to
>your way of thinking?

Scale, no. Intensity and duration, yes. It’s clear
that there has been a systematic policy of harsh
treatment of prisoners; and also that many have died
as a result. Beaten to death is beaten to death,
whether its US troops or Saddam’s goons doing the
beating. And those who attempt to minimize the
problem will share the responsibility if the
scale expands.

>In a word, yes. Except that, of course, Fallujah
>was not ‘flattened’ (that would have been
>straightforward enough to accomplish from the air
>with no ground combat at all).

From what I’ve read, 80% of houses were destroyed.
“Flattened” is a pretty fair description. Or do
you have actual evidence to the contrary ?

>It seems odd to have to point this out but the
>fighting in Falluja and Najaf was just
>that…fighting against heavily armed insurgents.
>Halabja was the gassing of civilians.

Firstly, there is some doubt as to whether Halabja
was done by Saddam or by Iranian forces. But
leaving that aside, the government or occupying
power has a responsibility to maintain order and
protect civilians. The bombardment of Falluja
and the gassing of Halabja are pretty much on the
same page in my view. After all, we’ve heard repeatedly from the coalition that there are only
about 2000 insurgents. If that’s so, destroying
a city of 300000 people is surely overkill.

>Nor does it make them false because you want them to be false

You persist in fanciful interpretations to justify
your position; but I guess that’s your only choice,
because the documented facts are unfavorable.

61

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 3:15 pm

>Yes, there is debate about whether the Koran is
>going to be a source or the main source of Iraqi
>law. The key words in the above being there is a
>debate. A debate in Iraq. By freely elected
>representatives. What a concept.

It’s possible there might be such a debate in the
future – though as you say, it’s hard to see how
the Kurds and Shiites can reach a compromise.
But so far it seems there has only been tactical
infighting to determine who gets the plum
positions of patronage and influence in the
government, e.g. the oil, interior, and defense
ministries. There is a huge gap between what you
would like to believe is happening, and what is
actually happening.

62

mw 05.09.05 at 3:49 pm

“And do you think torture at Abu Gharib under the National Guard (as appalling as it was) was of the intensity, scale, and duration as it was under Saddam? Are the two really roughly equivalent to your way of thinking?”

Scale, no. Intensity and duration, yes.

By duration, I mean time–as in roughly 30 years of Baath torture vs months of Abu Gharib before it was exposed and stopped.

From what I’ve read, 80% of houses were destroyed. “Flattened” is a pretty fair description. Or do you have actual evidence to the contrary ?

Yes, I have seen figures very different than that, for example:

In addition to schools, 30,000 houses were damaged in the fighting and nearly 5,000 were destroyed. Also in need of repair are an estimated 8,500 businesses, 60 mosques and 20 government offices.

http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&display=rednews/2005/05/08/build/opinion/35-guest-opinion1.inc

The actual numbers and percentages of ‘damaged’ and ‘destroyed’ seem to be a function of the politics of whoever is doing the reporting, but high estimates of damage seem to be 40% destroyed.

63

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 3:56 pm

>By duration, I mean time—as in roughly 30 years of
>Baath torture vs months of Abu Gharib before it was
> exposed and stopped.

Rubbish. It hasn’t been stopped. We’ve been
torturing in Gitmo, Afghanistan, elsewhere in Iraq,
and also using the odious “extraordinary rendition”
outsourcing of torture. Wake up and smell the
goddam coffee.

>In addition to schools, 30,000 houses were
>damaged in the fighting

30000 houses “damaged” chasing 2000 guerrillas ?
Sounds like flattening the city to me.

64

mw 05.09.05 at 4:02 pm

But you seem to be fighting for some beautiful dream, mirage that no one but you can see.

Nobody but me? Those Iraqis who tell pollsters they expect the future will be better can see it. Or how about this–very appropriate to the current topic:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/vote_2005/frontpage/4456839.stm

Of course, that’s just Salam Pax — what the hell does he know about Iraq and its future?

Meanwhile, real people who want nothing but normal life are being killed in droves. It’s just like what Mao, Che and Pol Pot were doing, they were building the bright future too.

Dreams of a pluralistic, democratic government are, in your mind, ‘just like’ Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ and Pol Pot’s ‘Year Zero’? If that’s what you believe, that does explain a lot. I guess I’ll have to give you credit for being consistent anyway.

65

abb1 05.09.05 at 5:01 pm

Those Iraqis who tell pollsters they expect the future will be better can see it.

Everyone expects future to be better, especially when they can’t imagine any worse. Their ‘better future’ may be tantamount to ‘killing a lot of American infidels’, for all we know.

And yes, I don’t see any daylight between Pol Pot’s “with rifles in one hand and hoes in the other, our workers, peasants, and revolutionary armed forces are striving grandly to build democratic Kampuchea” and your fighting for “pluralistic, democratic government” in Iraq. Or his “what’s rotten needs to be removed” and your “military actions against violent, anti-democratic, islamist fighters”.

66

David All 05.09.05 at 5:52 pm

abb1: If you cannot tell the difference between what the US is doing in Iraq and what Pol Pot did in Cambioda, you should seriously consider joining a monastery to get a better perspective on events through study and mediatation.

67

Richard Cownie 05.09.05 at 9:13 pm

>Of course, that’s just Salam Pax—what the hell
>does he know about Iraq and its future?

I’ve stomped this “Iraqi-blogger” argument before,
but here goes again. What percentage of Iraqis
speak English and have Internet access ? So
trying to generalize from the output of English-
language Iraqi bloggers is just about worthless.
Not only is it a tiny sample, but it’s a sample
which is massively biased towards the well-educated
and relatively westernized. I doubt you’d hear
the same views among (ex-)inhabitants of Fallujah,
or residents of Sadr City. But we can’t tell,
because English-language journalists can’t visit
those areas without massive security.

Shorter warblogger argument: “I assume things are
going really well in all the areas we can’t
visit because we’d get blown up”

68

c 05.09.05 at 10:53 pm

Pol Pot was mainly a kids army who didn’t know what they were doing, the US does

69

abb1 05.10.05 at 2:34 am

David All,
abb1: If you cannot tell the difference between what the US is doing in Iraq and what Pol Pot did in Cambioda, you should seriously consider joining a monastery to get a better perspective on events through study and mediatation.

They’re both killing a large number of people for the sake of freedom and democracy, as they envision it. Don’t you think this is fair way to describe their missions? Instead of emphasizing specifics of their visions and arguing their merits, shouldn’t we just stop the killing.

70

mw 05.10.05 at 7:27 am

I’ve stomped this “Iraqi-blogger” argument before, but here goes again. What percentage of Iraqis speak English and have Internet access ?

The point was not that Iraqis wealthy and educated enough to be bloggers are representative — the point was simply to refute the idea that democracy was ‘a mirage that only I could see’ (and to pull ‘Gorgeous George’ back into the discussion, while I was at it).

No, we don’t know Iraqis want democracy because of a few bloggers, we know because of what Iraqi opinion polls tell us, and especially (and obviously) because huge numbers of them braved suicide bombers and turned out to vote.

I’m sorry, but what kind of people do you think Iraqis are that they don’t much care if they are ruled by a murderous, tyrannical police state or by a democratically elected government?

71

mw 05.10.05 at 8:04 am

They’re both killing a large number of people for the sake of freedom and democracy, as they envision it. Don’t you think this is fair way to describe their missions?

No, that’s not a fair way to describe the missions, it’s an amoral, superficial, and totally f**king demented way to describe them. The Khmer Rouge didn’t kill enemy fighers who’d taken up arms against them, they slaughtered a million and half civilians by design.

And nobody in his right mind could argue that the Khmer were fighting for ‘freedom and democracy’ (any more than Al Queda or the Taliban are fighting for ‘freedom and democracy’). These aren’t terms that mean anything and nothing. At least they aren’t to me–apparently they are to you.

Instead of emphasizing specifics of their visions and arguing their merits, shouldn’t we just stop the killing?

But the terrorists are not inclined to ‘stop the killing’ until the coalition is gone AND the democratically elected government is destroyed AND an Baathist-Islamist police state is established. But, of course, the Shia would not be inclined to accept subjugation again and won’t be willing to forgo fighting and killing to prevent it. Even if you belive ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ are empty, meaningless words, and that a Islamofascist government would be as good as any other form of government (as you’re suggesting)–even then, it is ridiculously simple-minded to think that ‘just stopping the killing’ is any sort of solution.

72

moni 05.10.05 at 8:14 am

Galloway: “We are not going to agree on this. You are a supporter of the war. You are a supporter of the occupation and I am an opponent. Your family joined the puppet government.”

Pax: “We are helping to build the new Iraq.”

Galloway: “That’s your point of view, it’s not our point of view and you are entitled to your opinion, and I welcome you to London, and I am entitled to mine – and let’s see what the British people think.”

There you go, democracy summed up in one sentence.

I’m sorry, but what kind of people do you think Iraqis are that they don’t much care if they are ruled by a murderous, tyrannical police state or by a democratically elected government?

You’re right, mw, that’s not the Iraqis, it’s those who think that because their rulers decided to start a war in Iraq, everyone should have just greeted that proposal with universal consent.

(Otherwise it’s, the terrorists win/you want Saddam back/you don’t care about Iraqi bloggers…)

73

Richard Cownie 05.10.05 at 8:33 am

>I’m sorry, but what kind of people do you think
>Iraqis are that they don’t much care if they are
>ruled by a murderous, tyrannical police state or
>by a democratically elected government?

You argue from anecdotes and sweeping
generalizations; I prefer data. The Saddam
regime of 1993-2003 was not especially
“murderous” in terms of numbers killed –
probably only 2000-3000 per year; and no
more “tyrannical” than many regimes we continue
to support and arm (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan)

In contrast, the Lancet survey, also supported
by surveys of returning US troops, suggests that
the occupation regime has been much more
murderous – and yes, I do think that word is
appropriate to describe the deaths of women and
children in their homes from aerial bombing, or
the shooting of innocent people in cars who
happen to come too close to US convoys.

Unfortunately the probable outcome of this is
an Islamist regime which will be *massively*
tyrannical to the women of Iraq. Look at Iran
or Saudi Arabia. For sure Iraqis are doing their
best – with bullets and the ballot box – to choose
their own government. And it’s in human nature
to be hopeful about the future. But so what ?
This is a monumental screwup.

74

Dave D 05.10.05 at 11:03 am

Of course you can fault Saddam on one or two things, but he ran a damn tight ship—I’ll say that for him. At least under him you knew where you stood. And who is to say that the Iraqis didn’t really mind it that much, even if he did overdo it a bit on occasion? It’s so patronising to try to second-guess their opinions—just another symptom of lingering neo-colonial attitudes. But whatever he did, it could hardly be worse than the Americans, with their MacDonalds’ and their Hollywood blockbusters.

Why try to change anything, when you’ll only make things worse? What’s any of it got to do with us?

75

Richard Cownie 05.10.05 at 11:37 am

>But whatever he did, it could hardly be worse than
>the Americans, with their MacDonalds’ and their
>Hollywood blockbusters.

Nice strawman. Look, I’m not anti-American. I’m
British, and I’ve chosen to live in America and
marry an American. I like American movies and
American food. But I object to killing tens of
thousands of people, imprisoning many others,
torturing people, destroying tens of thousands
of homes, failing to spend the appropriated
$18B of reconstruction money on actual
reconstruction. I’d be really happy if Iraqis
were now living under the same conditions I enjoy
in Brookline MA. But it just ain’t so. Iraqis
aren’t watching Hollywood movies and eating
MacDonalds: they’re being bombed and shot, and –
to our eternal shame – mostly by the coalition
forces.

To be honest, when I marched to protest against
the war in 2003, I didn’t expect that the US would
screw it up as badly as it has. I thought Iraqis
would be better off – just not enough to justify
the huge evil of war and the disruption of
international law and institutions that was
involved under those circumstances. I was wrong.
Bush’s team has achieved the almost impossible
feat of making life in Iraq *worse*, and death
more frequent, than it was under Saddam.

Maybe it will eventually get better – though the
chances don’t look good at the moment – but we
can only talk with certainty about what’s
already happened, and that’s bloody awful.

Enough already.

76

abb1 05.10.05 at 11:51 am

The Khmer killed people who they considered to be enemies of freedom and democracy and you’re killing people who you consider enemies of freedom and democracy; I see no difference whatsoever.

You grab random people and torture and kill them for the sake of freedom, you bomb cities, you wrap villages into barbed wire, every day you shoot random cars on the road and kill random bystanders. The only difference between you and the Khmer is the firepower.
———————————————–
Why are the ‘terrorists’ not inclined to ‘stop the killing’? Why are there, apparently, hundreds of thousands of them risking and sacrificing their lives every day to kick the Americans out of the country – if the democracy you’re bringing to them is such a great thing? Why, uh?

What are they – robots programmed to sacrifice themselves for a ‘Baathist-Islamist [sic] police state’ instead of enjoying life in a MacDonalds?

Well, then, how do you know you aren’t a robot?

77

c 05.10.05 at 6:49 pm

I find all that freedom and democracy sounding nice but what does that really mean. I could look at for me unimportant stuff like Israel and woman’s right but i could also just look at oil. I like mine to be low but somehow i think that the Iraqi’s want something completely different. So why would i believe that the Americans want a democratic Iraq when they, even under Carter, made plans to invade it if the price went to high

78

Tom Doyle 05.11.05 at 4:00 am

The wrestling Barthes describes, which he saw in France presumably in the mid-50’s, is virtually identical to the wrestling televised in the US a few years later, when I was a young fan. I was very surprised to learn this. I had assumed that US wrestling was a manifestation (or example) of American Exceptionalism, like capital punishment, not having a national health system, and other idiosyncracies.

I don’t know much about US wrestling as it is now. Its my impression that it’s somewhat popular, I have no knowledge about its current style in the US, nor about French wrestling at all.

Moving on to Daniel’s essay, the fact that Galloway, and a US wrestling star in the 50’s and 60’s, have the same nickname supports no inferences about Galloway’s personality, character, politics, or his performance in the recent election. Nor does it support any inferences about the voters in the BB&G district.

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