The following interview with George Galloway on ABC Radio National's Breakfast program on July 4 tells us as much about the interviewer as it does about the interviewee, wonderfully exposing the Murdoch press fantasy of the ABC as a kind of leftist bastion for the nonsense it is.
Radio National's too-clever-by-half interviewer, James Carleton, was hilariously unmasked by Galloway as just another lazy peddler of received - which is to say, USraeli - 'wisdom' on the Middle East. I simply cannot imagine him, for example, approaching an interview with US Syrian interventionist John McCain or Israeli spinmeister Mark Regev in quite the same condescending way. Be that as it may, Galloway easily put Carleton in his place, with even Breakfast presenter Fran Kelly finding it necessary to rush to salve her colleague's wounds following the conclusion of the interview. Enjoy:
Fran Kelly: But first in Australia at the moment is the radical and controversial British MP George Galloway, a fierce critic of both the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and his democratically-elected successor Mohammed Morsi. GG is known more famously for his fierce criticism of the US, of Israel, and of his own country's foreign policy. In fact, he was expelled from the British Labour Party for that but twice returned to the House of Commons with upset victories with his small socialist party called Respect. GG twice met with Saddam Hussein. He's spoken with Syria's President Bashar Al-Asad. He's been deported from Egypt by Hosni Mubarak, and is currently a Press TV reporter for Iran. He spoke yesterday with James Carleton and this interview was recorded before the Egyptian army militarily intervened in Egypt.
GG: Instability is inherent in any revolution. Revolution is a process not an event. The French Revolution took more than 10 years. The Bolshevik Revolution more than 6 years. And these Arab revolutions are at most 2 years old, so it's often two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes one step forward, two steps back, and that's where Egypt seems to be today. The long dictatorship from which I was deported and declared persona non grata of Hosni Mubarak is gone but the new dispensation has been born but not grown up yet. One thing is for sure, President Morsi has only himself to blame. He had it all in his hands but he blew it. The Muslim Brotherhood failed to share power and predictably it has utterly failed. Millions of people more than had demanded the removal of Hosni Mubarak are on the streets demonstrating that the President should go just 12 months after a very convincing presidential election victory by him. It's sad but I think it's inevitable and inherent in the Muslim Brotherhood's view of the world, not just in Egypt but in Turkey, for example, where Prime Minister Erdogan is facing rather similar challenges.
JC: Do you see no role for organised Sunni Islam in a democratic, plural context then?
GG: That's why I'm sad because I do. Political Islam is an entirely legitimate political strand. It doesn't have to be like the Taliban or al-Qaida. It can be successful as for a long time Erdogan's government in Turkey was successful. President Morsi I'm afraid never got past first base.
JC: Let's take us to Syria where there aren't any bases in a sense. The long intergenerational dictatorship of the Asads. How do you characterise the situation in that country?
GG: The truth is no one can win the war. The regime cannot prevail over the opposition and the opposition cannot bring down the regime, and in any stalemate the only option is to go to the table. But one of the reasons the opposition has not been able to overcome the Syrian regime is because they have managed to terrify every religious and ethnic minority in Syria, thus consolidating all of them behind President Bashar al-Asad.
JC: Well, let me put it to you that that only began when the conflict metastisised. What it began as was as a pro-democracy, pro-Christian, pro-minority, pro-Muslim pluralist call for demonstrations, and it was Asad whose response was to torture and send in the snipers.
GG: Well, that's true up to a point. I don't know the extent to which Christians were ever involved but most of what you said there I agree with. That said, the militarisation of the Syrian uprising was, it's now clear, a plan of many for a very long time. The Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria as long ago as 1982 was drowned in blood and they've been nursing their wrath ever since.
JC: Drowned by the father of the present dictator, Hafiz al-Asad, who destroyed every single rebel and another 20,000 civilians in Hama to add good measure.
GG: Indeed, and was warmly applauded for doing so, privately if not publicly, by most of the Western governments who did not want to see the Muslim Brotherhood come to power in Syria. And be careful what you wish for because what lies behind your questions is a wish that this trend should succeed. But you see in Egypt where that trend can lead. Me, on the other hand, I was with the uprising in Hama in 1982 because I believe that the Muslims have to have the government that they themselves choose, not one that's imposed upon them by others. But most Western governments supported the late Hafiz al-Asad's crushing of that uprising. It had profound consequences. All I'm saying is that the idea that all of this came out of the current Syrian regime's response to democratic protests is wrong. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the international Muslim Brotherhood, had long planned an uprising in Syria and they got one and look at the result. It ends in the cutting open of peoples' chests and the eating of their hearts, all the while chanting the name of God into the nearest video camera to put it up on YouTube in the belief, apparently, that people will find this appealing, but they don't, and most Syrians are terrified by it which is why they've clung to the jacket of President Asad and that's why he's prevailing I think.
JC: Of course we can't say they've clung to Asad's jacket by any precise measure because he doesn't allow for free or fair elections.
GG: Although he has been advocating them. I personally asked Bashar al-Asad the day after the fall of the Tunisian dictator Ben Ali to call a presidential election right there and then. I like to think he was interested in doing that but other elements of the regime probably precluded that. But I've got a surprise piece of news for you: if there was an election tomorrow for president of Syria, I believe that Bashar would still win it despite a hundred thousand deaths, despite a million plus refugees, and that would be a testament not so much to whatever qualities he has but how terrified the people are of what seems to be the alternative.
JC: And the terror goes, you must concede, in both directions. It's not as if only minorities - Alawis, Christians, Druze, Kurds, feel annihilation. The people of Homs, Deraa and elsewhere are experiencing annihilation, and they fear that should the revolution fail or surrender it will only get worse.
GG: Most of the dying, at least for the past 7 months, has been on the government side, but it's true, there are horrific episodes of violence almost beyond our imagination, but of course representative government will be the key and it's up to the Americans to persuade their clients, the Syrian opposition, to come to the negotiating table.
JC: But how can you suggest that America is the barrier to representative democracy in Syria, not Bashar?
GG: Because Bashar is there in Geneva and has been since Kofi Annan proposed democratic transition. It's the opposition that hasn't turned up. You know this very well. The opposition cannot even agree on a line to be taken towards negotiations in Geneva. Now the US and its clients in the Persian Gulf are the key to this. A regime broadly representative of the Syrian people can be constructed.
JC: And does that require both intervening collections of powers withdraw, not just the Gulf states, but also Hezbollah and Iran, and with a diplomatic cover from Moscow?
GG: Well, Hezbollah were the very last foreign force to enter the war in Syria when often, listening to mainstream media, [one] imagines that they were the first. They were the last to join.
JC: And they would do well to be the first to leave, wouldn't they?
GG: I think that the Lebanese and Iranian presence in Syria is, of course, a reflection of the sectarian divisions that have increasingly become dominant in this conflict. It goes without saying that as the sectarianisation of politics in Syria recedes, so will the presence of their neighbours and their co-Islamists...
JC: But isn't the order the wrong way round? Foreign powers get out first, then...
GG: If you could agree with me right now that every foreigner will withdraw from Syria, no one would be more delighted than me. The problem is people like you, if you don't mind me saying, have a very selective view of which foreigners you want to withdraw.
JC: No, no, no, I'm talking about the jihadis, the Chechens, the Saudis, the Qataris...
GG: Well, wonderful, let's all...
JC: ... and the Iranians.
GG: ... let's all... Frankly, nobody would be happier than the Hezbollah. They don't want to send their soldiers to die in Syria. Their people have been taken from the front with Israel. But of course you and I both know that the Chechens and the Libyans and Australians, hundreds of Australians, who have gone as foreign fighters to Syria cannot be withdrawn by you or me or by my government or your government because they're determined upon martyrdom or victory and that's the problem. These people will somehow have to be withdrawn from this battlefield before others can credibly be asked to do so.
JC: Let me ask you about your work as presenter with Press TV, the broadcaster of the Iranian government.
GG: Actually, I have 3 TV shows. One is with RT, Russia Today, the second with Al-Mayadeen TV, which is a Beirut-based Arabic TV station, and a third with Press TV, and if ABC want to hire me tomorrow, I'm available.
JC: I'm afraid that's above my pay scale.
GG: I'll appear on any television station that will not interfere with what I have to say.
JC: To say that you'll appear with anyone so long as they don't tell you what to say means that you'll appear, logically speaking, with some terrible people.
GG: Yeah, people like Sky News, the BBC, ABC - some of them are truly terrible. I've even been many times on Fox News and you don't get much more terrible than that.
JC: Do you have reservations about the reportage of Press TV?
GG: None whatsoever, anymore than I had any reservation about talking to the ABC which has a take on things...
JC: You talk...
GG: ... with which I profoundly disagree.
JC: You accepted an invitation to be interviewed by the ABC. You are employed as a presenter from Iran's Press TV. There's an important distinction.
GG: Sure, but it's an important caveat this, because what I say on Press TV is what I say on ABC TV and is what I've always said, and I think that's the test, not who owns it.. Look, Rupert Murdoch is the most venal press baron of them all but if he gave me a program on Sky News tomorrow, I'd take it because I know that I would speak my truth on Sky News as I speak it everywhere else.
JC: So that means you have reservations but would also be on Fox. You just seek to counter it with your own consistent views like, for example, Press TV, as I say, the government-owned station in Iran that...
GG: Well, you're a government-owned station. Why do you say that with such a high nose?
GG: Why do you say that as if being government-owned is somehow beyond the pale?
JC: ... because the...
GG: You're government-owned. The government pays your salary.
JC: OK, so you seriously liken the ABC with its independent board and charter...
JC: ... with Press TV...
GG: Please don't make me laugh... independent board and charter. You toe the line of the Australian state. Press TV toes the line of the Iranian state. Don't pretend you got a fur coat on because I can see your drawers. The fact is government-owned media stations are government-owned media stations. Criticise what they've said, and you're about to, that's fine, but don't criticise them because they're government-owned when you get a government paycheck in your wallet. I don't share that interpretation.
JC: Well, that's simply based on following Press TV and their reportage. Take for example when they legalised gay marriage in Minnesota. That took place, quote, because the state is "known to be under the influence of Zionist, Jewish and homosexual figures."
GG: I didn't see that reportage...
JC: I'm happy to give you the copy.
GG: Neither have I had it quoted at me. I'm in favour of gay marriage. I have never said a word against Jews. I'm answerable for what I say. If I worked for Fox News, I wouldn't be responsible for Bill O'Reilly.
JC: You've not met me until today but you're certain I'm a mouthpiece for a government.
GG: I didn't say you were a mouthpiece. I said that you have a government paycheck in your pocket like a Press TV employee has a government paycheck in his. It's hardly fair to throw at me.
JC: I wasn't so much as throwing it at you as seeking to learn the degree to which your views coincided with your government employer, and I'm glad we got there notwithstanding the temperature.
GG (chuckling): Yeah, well, sometimes with heat comes light.
JC (chastened*): George Galloway, thank you very much for being with us.
GG (with a twinkle in his eye): You're welcome.
Fran Kelly: George Galloway there and I guess government-owned is not government-controlled, and that's the difference... George Galloway was once Spectator magazine's debater of the year so our James handled himself pretty well.
I bet that's the last time we'll ever hear Galloway on our ABC.
[*Listen to the interview online and you'll see what I mean.]