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2005-07-08

British Antiwar MP George Galloway: "London Has Reaped Blair’s Involvement in Iraq"

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We spend the hour looking at the terror attacks in London. At least 50 people are dead and hundreds wounded in the worst attack in that city since World War II. We go to London to get reaction from British antiwar MP George Galloway, author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot and journalist Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times of London. [includes rush transcript]

Today we spend the hour looking at the terror attacks that rocked London yesterday. The death toll from the coordinated bomb attacks has risen to at least 50–making it the deadliest attack in London since the Second World War. The final death toll is not yet known due to the dangers of reaching some of the underground blast sites. 700 people were injured in the attacks–22 of them are in critical condition.

A massive intelligence investigation is under way to find those responsible. British Home Secretary Charles Clarke said looking for potential bombers was like searching for "needles in haystacks". He also said the number of dead is expected to rise.

A series of four bomb explosions struck London’s transport system during the morning rush hour yesterday. Three London Underground trains were hit within half an hour, and a London Bus was hit 30 minutes later. The four explosions came between 8:51am and 9:47am.

The blasts occurred one day after London was awarded the 2012 Olympics and coincided with the first full day of the G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland. Prime Minister Tony Blair flew back from the summit immediately after the attacks and gave an address from 10 Downing Street.

  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair, July 7, 2005.

President George Bush expressed his condolences and said, "We will not yield to the terrorists, and will find them and bring them to justice."

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Thursday’s coordinated attacks bore all the hallmarks of the al-Qaeda network. The attack, which was a coordinated strike against transportation systems during rush hour, closely resembled the Madrid bombings last year that took 91 lives.

A previously unknown group calling itself the Secret Organization Group of al-Qaeda of Jihad Organization in Europe claimed to be behind the attacks. In a statement posted on an Islamist website, the group said the attacks were "in revenge of the massacres that Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan". The group also threatened Italy and Denmark unless they removed troops from Iraq. Police said they couldn’t confirm the authenticity of the statement.

Cabinet ministers said forensic teams were hunting for clues on who carried out the bombings and whether suicide attackers were involved. The New York Times is reporting that timing devices rather than suicide bombers set off the explosions.

While British officials contend the security level in London had been high, the domestic intelligence agency MI5, had advised businesses in the past two months that the threat from international terrorism in Britain was lower than at any time since September 11.

The attacks led to the complete shutdown of the London Underground network and many roads near the affected stations were closed, severely congesting road traffic. Police urged London commuters to consider whether to come to work on Friday to avoid burdening the transport system. London is the world’s oldest subway system, transporting 3 million people each day.

  • Stephen Grey, journalist with the Sunday Times of London.
  • George Galloway, Respect Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow in East London, England. He was previously Labour Party member but he was expelled in October 2003 because of statements he made opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In January 2004 he formed a new political party, RESPECT The Unity Coalition, and was returned to Parliament as its candidate in the 2005 general election.
  • George Monbiot, an author and columnist for the London Guardian. He is author of the book "Manifesto for a New World Order."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Prime Minister Tony Blair flew back from the summit immediately after the attacks and gave an address from 10 Downing Street. This is an excerpt.

TONY BLAIR: It is through terrorism that the people that have committed this terrible act express their values, and it’s right at this moment that we demonstrate ours. I think we all know what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to use the slaughter of innocent people to cow us, to frighten us out of doing the things that we want to do, of trying to stop us from going about our business as normal, as we’re entitled to do, and they should not, and they must not succeed. When they try to intimidate us, we will not be intimidated. When they seek to change our country or our way of life by these methods, we will not be changed. When they try to divide our people or weaken our resolve, we will not be divided, and our resolve will hold firm. We will show by our spirit and dignity and by our quiet, but true strength that there is in the British people, that our values will long outlast theirs. The purpose of terrorism is just that, it is to terrorize people, and we will not be terrorized. I’d like once again to express my sympathy and my sorrow to those families who will be grieving so unexpectedly and tragically tonight. This is a very sad day for the British people, but we will hold true to the British way of life.

JUAN GONZALEZ: British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking at 10 Downing Street yesterday. US President George Bush expressed his condolences and said, quote, "we will not yield to the terrorists, and we’ll find them and bring them to justice." Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, said Thursday’s coordinated attacks bore all of the hallmarks of the al Qaeda network. The attack, which was a coordinated strike against transportation systems during rush hour, closely resembled the Madrid bombings last year that took 91 lives. A previously unknown group calling itself the Secret Organization Group of al Qaeda of Jihad organization in Europe claimed to be behind the attacks. In a statement posted on an Islamist website, the group said the attacks were, quote, "in revenge of the massacres that Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan." The group also threatened Italy and Denmark, unless they remove troops from Iraq. Police said they could not confirm the authenticity of the statement. Cabinet Ministers said forensic teams were hunting for clues on who carried out the bombings and whether suicide attackers were involved. The New York Times is reporting that timing devices, rather than suicide bombers, set off the explosions.

While British officials contend the security level in London had been high, the domestic intelligence agency, M-15, had advised businesses in the past two months that the threat from international terrorism in Britain was lower than at any time since September 11. The attacks led to the complete shutdown of the London underground network and many roads near the affected stations were closed, severely congesting road traffic. Police urged London commuters to consider whether to come to work on Friday, to avoid burdening the transport system. London is the world’s oldest subway system, transporting 3 million people each day.

We go now to London to speak with journalist, Stephen Grey, who is with the Sunday Times of London. We’re also joined by George Galloway, who is the former British MP, who was expelled from the party in October of 2003 because of statements he made opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In January 2004, he formed a new political party, RESPECT The Unity Coalition, and was returned to Parliament as its candidate. We’re also joined by George Monbiot. He is an author and columnist for the London Guardian, and he is the author of the book, Manifesto for a New World Order. He just arrived back from the G8 Summit in Scotland. Welcome to all of you. And I’d like to start with Stephen Grey, journalist with the Sunday Times in London. Welcome to Democracy Now!

STEPHEN GREY: Good morning. Hi.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you tell us, what is the latest information on what is the aftermath of the bombings?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, as you’ve said, the police have just had a press conference and given us some more facts about the latest situation. The fatality count is now at least 50, but we do expect that number to rise. What the police have said now is that there is a tube train, a subway train, still underground with the carriage where the explosion took place, which up until now, they still have not managed to reach, and there are many bodies inside that carriage. We’re absolutely certain, though, there is no one alive there, but there’s a scene of unimaginable carnage down there. It’s very difficult to reach. There are safety issues, whether the tunnel itself may be in danger of collapsing, and therefore the police are proceeding with extreme caution in getting to that place. We have also heard that the size of explosives used was probably around just under ten pounds, the kind of explosive you could put in a small backpack. The police are guiding us that they don’t have any evidence at this stage these were suicide bombs. that it’s conceivable these were devices that were left on the trains and on the bus by individuals, perhaps with timers, that sort of a thing.

That’s the latest on the investigation, and London itself has gone back to work. There are 10 out of the12 tube lines are working again, and most people are — have reacted to this with quite a degree of calm, which perhaps reflects the fact that obviously London has been targeted before over the years by terrorists, particularly the Irish Republican Army, although not with the same devastation we saw yesterday in terms of lives lost and as one policeman on the scene pointed out to me yesterday, the difference with the IRA was, generally speaking, they did provide some kind of warning in advance of their attacks, allowing a degree of evacuation of these scenes. But no such warning was provided yesterday before the attacks.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And George Galloway, the respected Member of the Parliament, your reaction. You’re recorded in some American newspapers here as saying that England had reaped the results of its involvement in the war in Iraq.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, London has reaped the involvement of Mr. Blair’s involvement in Iraq would be more accurate, because, of course, the vast majority of Londoners, and I have no doubt, the vast majority of the people affected by that despicable act of mass murder yesterday were opponents of Mr. Blair and Bush’s war on Iraq. This was an atrocity, as you have just been hearing. But it was also the site of some great heroism and public service from the very public service workers, underground workers, firefighters, and ambulance staffs and health service workers, and policemen and so on, who are praised when they are heroes like they were on 9/11, but when they ask for a decent living or to stay in the public service, rather than be privatized, they are routinely denounced by the same government ministers now heaping praise upon them.

The British are going about their business today, as your last speaker said, with the stoicism for which our country is famous. And we must continue that. But it would be entirely dishonest to pretend that this came out of nowhere, inexcusable, but not inexplicable. Sadly, all too explicable and explained, even before we did it, by the anti-war movement. We said this would not make the world a safer place, it would make the world a more dangerous place. And just like all of the other things we said about the war in Iraq, sadly, we have been proved right again yesterday, as we have been so many times.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re talking with George Galloway, anti-war MP from England. We’re also speaking with Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times of London.

[break]

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re talking with several guests in London over the situation of the bombings that occurred yesterday. We’re talking with George Galloway, an anti-war M.P. from England; also a journalist with the Sunday Times of London, Stephen Grey; and we’re going to be talking soon with George Monbiot, the author and columnist for the London Guardian. I’d like to get back to Mr. Galloway; your criticism of Britain’s participation in the war — apparently, there was rebuttal from Home Secretary Charles Clark, who said that this has nothing to do with Iraq or any other particular foreign policy, it’s about a fundamentalist attack on the way we live our lives. And he apparently was reacting to your criticism yesterday.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, only a fool would say that, and only a fool would believe that. In fact, the terrorists themselves have said in the website to which your previous caller referred, that that’s exactly why they carried out the act. So, only a fool believes that this came out of nowhere. It came out of a deep swamp of hatred and bitterness that we have soaked in blood these last few years. This is obvious to any sentient being. And the only way that we can truly resolve this matter — and of course, in the interim, in the short term, I’m thoroughly in favor of the most rigorous policing and intelligence response to try and stop these dastardly acts from happening, but the only way we can really be clear of them, the only way we can be safe from them, is if we reduce the number of people out there who are ready to support those who are ready to hurt us. The fish has to swim in water, and bin Laden is swimming in this water, in this swamp that we have created.

JUAN GONZALEZ: George Monbiot, columnist with the London Guardian. Your views on what happened yesterday and the impact on England in the future?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, first I’d like to say that at the moment, we don’t know who planted these bombs. It’s a fairly good guess that it was someone affiliated with Al Qaeda or a similar organization, but we must be cautious about this, because if you remember what happened in Oklahoma or remember what happened in Madrid, in both cases, the wrong people were initially blamed. And the wrong intelligence leads were followed. And so, I think while I understand what George Galloway is saying, it’s actually too early to say that this is because of such and such a policy, because we don’t yet know who the perpetrators were.

However, I would broadly endorse what he said about not creating conditions which are likely to stir up more terrorist acts. And there’s no doubt that by invading Iraq, we have caused a great deal of resentment and anger within the Muslim world. And if that hasn’t come back to haunt us yet, then it may well come back to haunt us in the future. But as I say, we don’t yet know (a) who did this, and (b) what their motivation is. So, it really is too early to start saying this is because of a particular policy that we followed.

As far as its impact on Britain is concerned, I am worried that we are going to see the loss of certain civil liberties as a result of this. We have seen with, for example, the PATRIOT Act in the United States, that there has been quite a curtailment of some fairly basic human rights, including the right to free assembly and the right to free expression and, of course, there has been a great deal of very intrusive surveillance and policing of the Muslim community and indeed parts of the non-white community in general in the U.S., some of which appears to have very little to do with anything which could reasonably be regarded as dealing with terrorism. And I’m concerned that that’s going to come over here. I’m concerned that the draconian restrictions on protest that we already have in this country could be extended. Already we have seen several people saying that this provides justification for the introduction of a new identity card in Britain. We don’t yet have an identity card, but they’re talking about an identity card which includes biometric identification, and plenty more besides, which could turn into quite an oppressive state tool if we’re not careful.

And it’s also, of course, a further effect is that just as we were all beginning to talk about some of the other issues that affect our lives, such as climate change, such as global poverty, such as what’s happening in Africa, these are all issues which we desperately need to be discussing, those have been knocked off the front page and knocked out of the front of people’s minds. And so, while this awful event, this dreadful attack, has been a terrible, terrible tragedy for the people caught up in it, it could have further ramifications which could themselves have tragic implications for many people in Britain and around the world.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times, your sense of the impact of these attacks on the G8 Summit itself and its ability to even get much work done?

STEPHEN GREY: Well, I think a lot of the work is done by officials, and so the work will continue. I suppose that it’s more of a political effect in that it’s changed the focus away from what was some pretty important work there, and obviously, vital for Africa, and clearly the degree in which people are able to put pressure on those leaders has been diminished, really, because the focus has gone away.

Can I just come back on what George Galloway and George Monbiot were saying? I don’t, as a reporter, don’t want to comment on the rights or wrongs of the Iraq war, but I would just obviously just put that in context. I think a lot of people in London will obviously see a lot in what George Galloway is saying, his remarks will have a lot of resonance with people who have expressed views on the Iraq war, but obviously, there will be others who will take the view that we should, in fact, strengthen our resolve in operating in Iraq for the sake of not giving in to terrorists.

But I would say one important thing, where I think what George Galloway says resonates with what I have seen. I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East recently and in Iraq, in fact, last year. I think one important thing to understand about the nature of Islamic terrorism is that it’s not just about a threat to the way of life of the West. If you talk to people who actually are close to these movements, I mean, they hate, above all, the policies of the West, and what — you know, I won’t comment on those policies, but they extend much — they’re not just invasion of Iraq, they also extend to our policies to the Middle East peace process, our involvement in Afghanistan.

Many of the people who are drawn to these movements are not people who are looking for some sort of Taliban lifestyle, they’re people who are actually motivated because they support some kind of insurgency about the way the West is dealing with the Middle East, and they feel the Middle East is utterly humiliated. The Middle East people are utterly humiliated by the West and the Western policies. And this is the response they seek. It’s an appalling response, but I think to understand it, you’ve got to understand it goes a lot further than simply a kind of revulsion against the Western way of life.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to get back to the whole issue of the possible targeting of Muslims in England. George Galloway, you represent a district that has a large Muslim population. The Islamic Human Rights Commission yesterday warned London Muslims to stay home, fearing a backlash, and the Guardian has learned that within hours of the attacks, 30,000 abusive and threatening emails were sent to the Muslim Council of Britain’s website. Your reaction to the possible targeting of Muslims in England?

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, I’m just looking at my own computer screen now. I’ll just give you the title of one of them: "Pig Islamists." And that sort of person is out there. But I must say to you that I think the British people are bigger than that, and I disagree with the advice, if that was what it was, that Muslims should stay indoors. In fact, they should unite with the rest of us in absolute rejection of terrorism and of war. We must be tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism. It’s really basic common sense. It’s not left wing, it’s not rocket science.

It’s just basic common sense that if you don’t drain the swamp that I have talked about, if you don’t intervene to stop the ongoing calvary of the Palestinian people, who for 50 years have been dispossessed, sent to the four corners of the world as refugees, regularly massacred, occupied, if you don’t do something about the hundreds of thousands of foreign soldiers occupying Iraq, if you don’t stop propping up the puppet presidents and the corrupt kings who rule the Muslim world almost without exception from one end to the other, then you lay bare your double standards, your hypocrisy, when you talk about liberty.

What our leaders want is liberty for us, but only up to a point, and they’re ready to take that away if it suits them, but no liberty for anybody else. And the people in the Muslim world can see it very clearly. They know that nobody gave a toss about the thousands who were killed in Fallujah. Nobody in the British Parliament raised any qualm about the American armed forces reducing Fallujah to ash and killing thousands of people. Yet, they go into the kind of emoting that we saw yesterday about the deaths in London.

I’m different from that, and most British people are different from that, when you reach them. The blood of everyone is worth the same. God didn’t differentiate between a dead person in London killed by sheets of flying glass and red-hot razor sharp steel and someone who died the same death in Baghdad. These deaths are the same. And war of the kind that we have seen — unjustified, illegal, based on lies, in Iraq, is terrorism of a different kind. Just because the President, who ordered it is wearing a smart suit rather than the garb of an Islamist in the Tora Bora doesn’t make their orders more legitimate than orders if they were given from bin Laden.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, George Galloway, I’d like to bring back George Monbiot into the discussion. You just came back from covering the G8 Summit. And, of course, the press attention before yesterday was focused not just on the summit but on the massive protests of the British anti-war movement that was outside the summit, as well, and the anti-globalization forces that had massed to protest the summit. Your sense, George Monbiot, of the impact on that movement of these attacks?

GEORGE MONBIOT: Well, we have completely fallen off the news agenda. I completely understand that. I’m not complaining about it. It’s just what happens, but unfortunately for what we were trying to do, we were really making some gains. We were beginning to mobilize a lot of attention not just to the issues that we were initially complaining about — that is, the tremendous power of the G8 nations over the rest of the world, power exercised through the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the U.N. Security Council — but we were also very successfully articulating our dissent from the line taken by Bob Geldof and Bono and the other leaders of the G8 and of the Make Poverty History campaign, which has been quite extraordinary and exceptional in many ways. They have managed to mobilize billions of people around the world, and push the issues of Africa and poverty to the very top of the political agenda.

But those of us, the many thousands of us who met in Edinburgh and then at Gleneagles in order to protest against the G8 Summit drew a very sharp distinction between what we were doing and what we felt that Bono and Geldof were doing, which was protesting to ask the G8 Summit for favors, to beg, as we saw it, for a few more crumbs from the rich man’s table. And in doing so, we felt that they were fetishizing the power of the G8 leaders. They were saying, you have the world in your hands, and you must now use this power to save that world from itself. Of course, what they weren’t talking about was saving the world from themselves, from the G8 leaders and the disastrous policies they’re pursuing in Africa and elsewhere.

And we were — we felt and had expressed very strongly that the Live 8 and Make Poverty History campaigns in many ways were taking us back to an Edwardian era of tea and sympathy, that they were replacing our political campaigns with philanthropic campaigns. And they were handling the G8 leaders as if they were the potential saviors of the world, while completely ignoring and sidelining the harm that they were doing. And it’s one of the — one of the effects of these dreadful bombings is that just as we were really making progress with that, it’s now completely off the agenda. That’s fair enough, but it’s just an unfortunate side effect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Stephen Grey of the Sunday Times, your sense of, again, the impact, long term, of these attacks on British society, and on this rather large and developing both anti-war movement and a movement questioning the growing gap — the economic gap in the world.

STEPHEN GREY: That’s a big question. I think that — I think the British people are quite calm about dealing with these matters. I think, you know, there will be some reaction. Inevitably, there will be some hate generated. There will be, you know, attacks on the Muslim community, but I think that these are, just as the terrorist attacks, perpetrated by very small minorities. We have a very multicultural society here in London, and I think that most people very well understand the very small numbers of people involved. They realize that the terrorists probably disguised themselves very effectively as normal citizens here, so then they will see that there is no need to target anyone who, you know, looks overtly Muslim. I think that we’ll look at it in quite a broad sense, I think — sorry, quite a calm sense.

And broadly speaking, I think that as time progresses, they will obviously think about the causes of all of this, but there will be a reaction. I mean, the investigation itself is going to be very difficult, obviously. We have seen no large scale roundup of suspects this morning. The police are trying to investigate this with great sensitivity, but obviously, in order to get to these people, they are going to have to make all kinds of inquiries. If it does turn out that an extreme Muslim group is involved, then they will have to engage with the Muslim community, have to to get information, and no doubt, they’ll have to — they will be arresting people, and that will cause some reaction and disturbance.

It’s very difficult thing to investigate, and clearly there will be some backlash. And I think everyone will have to stay quite resolute, which I think they will, but it will not be an easy time, and clearly, there may also be further demands for much tougher police action, security powers, etc., although ultimately, I’m not convinced that through tougher security and essentially a kind of semi-military response to terrorism that you deal with the underlying causes, which — and stop the recruitment of these people, which is ultimately what we need to do, because as we have seen, al Qaeda as an organization is becoming more of an idea that is inspiring people around the world. And it’s no good simply arresting people you regard as a leader of this organization. You have to address why it is that people are popping up all over subscribing to the ideology and perhaps having no link whatsoever to the leadership in, now probably in Afghanistan or if not arrested somewhere, and therefore it’s the ideas that are going to become paramount. And it’s actually showing that the ideology of al Qaeda is bankrupt and that the West has an alternative which can also appeal to the Muslims who feel dispossessed.

JUAN GONZALEZ: If I may — if I may interrupt just to get a final comment, a quick final comment from George Galloway in terms of how you see the impact of this on Tony Blair. You were expelled from the Labour Party for your opposition to — your strident opposition to the war in Iraq. Your sense of how this will impact on Tony Blair?

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, it could go either way. It could give him a new lease of political life. He may decide that his declaration of impending retirement sometime in this Parliament needs to be set aside, or if there’s a Spanish-like phenomenon now sweeps the country, it could mean the political end of him very soon. I hope it’s the latter, because I think we need a change of policy. And we’re not going to get a change of policy without a change of leader, because the leader, both here and in your country, is so utterly identified with the policy that we have been following now. You have mid-term elections coming up rather sooner than we have a general election. My reading of the U.S. situation is that Bush will pay a very high political price at those elections. And we’ll see on the streets and in the public opinion polls and on the airwaves and in the letters, columns of newspapers and so on here in Britain, which of the two alternative ways that this could go will actually happen.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to thank George Galloway, member of Parliament and a noted anti-war leader in Britain; George Monbiot, the columnist for the London Guardian; and Stephen Grey, a journalist with the Sunday Times. Thanks to all of you for being with us.

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