Observations from a strange planet
Galloway and Hitchens rouse New York crowdPaul OwenThe GuardianThursday September 15, 2005 George Galloway, the British MP and anti-war campaigner, was labelled a "disgrace" last night by pro-war journalist Christopher Hitchens, who was himself branded by Mr Galloway as a "slug" leaving a "trail of slime".The two rhetorical heavyweights clashed in a rousing debate on Iraq in New York, both landing painful political blows among the insults, although Mr Galloway, Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, came unstuck when he referred to the September 11 attacks.Article continues----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Mr Hitchens, the British Vanity Fair columnist who has strayed from his left-wing roots, began by imagining what would have happened had the policies of the "so-called anti-war movement" been followed over the last 15 years. "Saddam Hussein would be the owner and occupier of Kuwait. He would have succeeded in the annexation - not merely the invasion - but the abolition of an Arab and Muslim state that was a member of the Arab League and of the United Nations. And with these resources, as we now know, because he lost that war, he was attempting to equip himself with the most terrifying arsenal that it was possible for him to ..." Mr Hitchens was unable to finish as a comment from Mr Galloway drowned him out.Mr Hitchens gave short shrift to the incident on which Mr Galloway's reputation principally rests in the US, his famous - or infamous - visit to the US Senate this May, during which he put the anti-war case with a forceful, and, for US politicians, somewhat unaccustomed, lack of deference. "It is a disgrace that a member of the British House of Commons should go before the United States Senate sub-committee and not testify, but decline to testify, and to insult all those who tried to ask him questions with the most violent, cheap, guttersnipe abuse. I think that's a disgrace," Mr Hitchens said, to cheers from the 1,000-strong crowd.Mr Galloway used colourful language of his own. To laughter and applause, he brought up Mr Hitchens's support for the 1991 Gulf war, noting: "What you have witnessed since then is something unique in natural history: the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug. I mention 'slug' purposefully, because the one thing a slug does leave behind it is a trial of slime." But Hitchens claimed that he had simply changed his mind. "I might not have been invited here in this battle of the titans if it wasn't tolerably well known that I think I was probably mistaken on that occasion."And he took issue with Mr Galloway's anti-war credentials. "To hear him speak you would think - would you not? - that he was a pacifist, that he defines himself as anti-war. Now how can this be said in good conscience by someone who has just, standing by the side of the dictator of Syria on the 30th of July, referred to the 154 heroic operations conducted in Iraq by the so-called resistance?" Mr Galloway's comments following his visit to Syria were among his most controversial. He told al-Jazeera: "The Iraqi resistance is not just defending Iraq. They are defending all the Arabs and they are defending all the people of the world from American hegemony." He added, speaking to Arab News Broadcasting: "Most of the operations which they carry out are against the occupying forces and their collaborators and this is normal in every liberation struggle."And he told Syrian television: "Two of your beautiful daughters are in the hands of foreigners: Jerusalem and Baghdad. The foreigners are doing to your daughters as they will. The daughters are crying for help and the Arab world is silent. Some of them are collaborating with the rape of these two beautiful Arab daughters. Why? Because they are too weak and too corrupt to do anything about it."Mr Galloway stirred the crowd when he brought up the case of Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war protestor whose son died in Iraq last year and who has become the focus of fierce debate in the US. Repeating Mr Hitchens' scathing criticisms of Ms Sheehan, Mr Galloway said: "You are covered in the stuff you like to smear onto others. Not just me ... but people much more gentle than me, people like Cindy Sheehan ... who gave the life of her son for the war that you have come here to glory in."Referring again to the Syria episode, Mr Hitchens asked: "Is it not rather revolting to appear in Damascus by the side of [Bashar al-]Assad [the Syrian president] and to praise the people who killed Casey Sheehan, and then to come to America and appeal to the emotions of his mother?"But Mr Galloway hit the wrong note with his comments on September 11. "You may think that those aeroplanes in this city on 9/11 came out of a clear, blue sky. I believe they emerged out of a swamp of hatred created by us." A crescendo of booing cut him off as he continued to speak, and Mr Hitchens commented: "Mr Galloway, you picked the wrong city to say that in, and arguably the wrong month, as well."After the debate, Mr Galloway told Radio 4's James Naughtie: "I think it's amazing that so many people came and so many people were turned away, so much interest in two British guys debating Iraq in New York. There don't appear to be figures in the American anti-war movement and in the American pro-war movement that are able to draw an audience, so maybe we'll have to take this show to the west coast, I don't know."But Mr Hitchens said he was "depressed by the ease with which a cheap point can get applause in the mouth of a really unscrupulous person. When I turned my head - which I tried not to do - it was like looking straight into the piggy eyes of fascism."Mr Galloway is on a speaking tour of America to promote his new book about the Senate hearings, Mr Galloway Goes to Washington.
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