Is George Galloway Muslim ?
In the last few days before George Galloway’s amazing by-election triumph in Bradford, a crudely photocopied leaflet flooded the Asian areas of the seat. “God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not,” it said. “Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for. I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate [the Labour candidate, Imran Hussain] in this election can say that truthfully. I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life, and paid a price for it. I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards.”
The leaflet contains no official logo of Mr Galloway’s Respect party, or the names of an agent or printer, as required by electoral law; Mr Galloway denies that it came from him. Its allegations that Mr Hussain is a heavy drinker are totally false and libellous.
At Mr Galloway’s official campaign rally in Bradford’s Hanover Square last Sunday, footage of which was still available yesterday on his own website, he said: “I’m a better Pakistani than he [Mr Hussain] will ever be. God knows who’s a Muslim and who is not. And a man that’s never out of the pub shouldn’t be going around telling people you should vote for him because he’s a Muslim. A Muslim is ready to go to the US Senate, as I did, and to their face call them murderers, liars, thieves and criminals. A Muslim is somebody who’s not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgment Day. I’m ready for that, I’m working for that and it’s the only thing I fear.”
There was a Respect campaign banner behind Mr Galloway as he spoke. The slogans on it were in English and Urdu. The Urdu slogans were above the English ones.
At another rally that evening, the man who is now Bradford’s MP talked again about divine judgment. “We stand for justice and haqq [the Islamic concept of truth and righteousness],” he told the overwhelmingly Muslim crowd. “Many of us, myself included, believe that for religious reasons… I believe in the Judgment Day, that all of you do. And I just say this: how will you explain, on the Last Day, that you had a chance, on 29 March 2012, to vote for the guy who led the great campaign against the slaughter of millions in Iraq, but instead you voted for a party which has killed a million Iraqis?”
In the early hours of yesterday morning, God, it seems, delivered. Even at 2am, an ecstatic, 100-strong crowd still waited outside the Richard Dunn Sports Centre, where Mr Galloway had just achieved the third largest swing in modern British political history – 36 per cent, annihilating Labour, which has held this seat since 1974, with more than double the number of votes they got.
Allah’s messenger emerged, carried aloft by his supporters like a victorious football captain, to be driven off to his victory party in a Hummer, a variant of the vehicles used by American troops in all Mr Galloway’s least favourite imperial wars. Inside the building, Labour was still trying to take in a result that had utterly shattered the best political week they’d enjoyed since 2007.
“We went into the count thinking we’d won,” says one Labour source involved in the campaign. “The Tories thought we’d won. It was when the postal votes were opened that we knew we were in trouble. They were 75 per cent for Galloway. We thought it was going to be very tight. Then we thought we’d lost by a couple of thousand. Then we realised we’d lost by 10,000.
“We were stunned. We are in double-digit leads in the [national] polls. We fought our campaign against the Tories. We totally underestimated Galloway, we treated him as a minor party. The Tories were as appalled as we were. It’s incredible what he’s done.” Mr Galloway, meanwhile, was on Sky News, declaring that he had won more than an hour before it was officially announced. With the Galloway crowd outside, Labour’s Mr Hussain left the sports centre by the back door.
George Galloway’s victory yesterday was of a kind most often seen in the US Bible belt, and unknown in Britain for many years. His was the first election for a generation or more so nakedly fought through the invocation of race and faith. “All praise to Allah!” said the new MP, through a loud hailer, to the crowd in front of campaign HQ yesterday. And throughout the campaign, Mr Galloway expressed no doubt that there was another, guiding hand at his side.
“It’s happened by fate, or destiny, that this by-election has occurred, and that I am available,” he said, at a doorstep meeting on March 17. “This is a place which is almost a perfect fit for the politics I represent.”
His election would, he said, help satisfy voters’ “wajib [duty] to care about the Aqsa [Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem], about the people under occupation in Kashmir, about the massacre in Kandahar.” He developed his theme the next day, saying: “Neither will I forget those who are bleeding elsewhere in the Ummah [the global community of Islam]. We have problems here in Bradford, but the people of Gaza have even more problems.”
Mr Galloway had some useful earthly allies in Yorkshire, too. At his main rally last Sunday, one of his supporting speakers was Abjol Miah, a leading activist in both Respect and the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), which wants to create a sharia state in Europe. Mr Miah has been an important figure in the IFE’s ever-growing influence in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets. He had taken a key part in the election of Lutfur Rahman, thrown out of Labour for his links with the IFE, as mayor of Tower Hamlets.
The IFE also played what Mr Galloway himself, in a secretly recorded tape, called “the decisive role” in his previous shock election victory, in Tower Hamlets in 2005. “I am indebted more than I can say to the Islamic Forum of Europe,” he said. The IFE also has an active operation in Bradford.
Then there was the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), another radical group that campaigned against a Labour MP for being “Jewish” (she wasn’t, as it happened). It waded in strongly for Mr Galloway, repeating the baseless smears against Mr Hussain. “Thirsty Imran Hussain (hic) likes his refreshments,” smirked MPAC’s website. “And campaigning in this unseasonably good weather is thirsty work indeed … George Galloway is giving Hussain a real run for his money.” Mr Galloway, said MPAC, was a teetotaller, “a defender of Muslims and Bradford West’s last hope”.
His links with radical Islam are real enough. As well as the IFE, he remains a presenter for the Iranian regime’s state-controlled Press TV channel. He has repeatedly praised and met the leaders of the banned Palestinian group, Hamas.
Yet, ironically, Mr Galloway probably didn’t need to go so far overboard to win in Bradford. The truly striking thing about his result was that he won across the seat, in the mixed and mainly white wards of Thornton & Allerton, Heaton, and Clayton & Fairweather Green as well as in the inner-city wards which comprise one of Britain’s most ethnically Asian seats. Bradford West had a strong Tory vote, and was a serious Conservative target at the 2010 election. Large parts of that Tory vote, as well as Labour’s, must have gone to Galloway.
“This was a massive defeat for both the major parties, and in our relief about derailing Miliband’s bandwagon we must not forget that,” says a Tory strategist closely involved in the by-election. “There is clearly a huge disaffection which mainstream politics is not capturing.”
For so many London politicians, their main contact with the North is stepping off the train in Leeds or Manchester. In the centres of both those cities, you could be forgiven for thinking that the old industrial areas were doing well. But only a few miles beyond these honeypots, secondary cities like Bradford and Oldham are in deep economic trouble.
Bradford is number one on a recent list of “at-risk” shopping towns produced by the banking group BNP Paribas. Galloway made hay with the number of derelict sites in the city’s centre, blaming an “incompetent” local council dominated by Pakistani “village politics”. In fact, the main empty site is about to be developed, with the council playing a key role – but the criticism chimed with a lot of Bradfordians, of all races, who haven’t been able to find satisfying work. Bradford’s Muslim voters, and the white ones, responded as much to Galloway’s economic pitch as to his religious one.
This victory could have delivered the slap that Westminster politics needs. It’s a shame, then, that it has been so thoroughly contaminated with the politics of religion.