George Galloway's entrance into MacEwan Hall, packed with an audience of 800, drew a standing ovation from the enthusiastic crowd.
Galloway knew who he was addressing and got the audience on his side quickly with a light-hearted rant about Jason Kenney, Conservative MP for southeast Calgary, making a quip about the lack of snow removal near his constituency office. This was interspersed by the audience breaking into applause every few moments. Despite Galloway's passionate delivery, however, few ideas were presented and the former British MP preached to the choir, giving the event the feel of an anti-war or pro-Palestine rally. Galloway's brilliant oratory did not mask his lack of any comprehensive ideas on Palestine or Afghanistan where he was merely limited to criticizing Israel and NATO. While this might be effective in firing up supporters, it does little to spread the cause of justice in Palestine.
Galloway's visit was entitled "Free Palestine. Free Afghanistan. Free Speech" and his presentation followed that outline, allotting a roughly equal amount of time to the three subjects. His long barrage of insults towards Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government ended with the promise he wasn't "going to let this rest" and boldly told the audience he would be taking Kenney to court. In a brief show of hypocrisy, Galloway noted that free speech should be limited if racial or religious hatred is incited -- perhaps to cover the fact that he was complicit in the attempted banning of Jean-Marie le Pen and the successful banning of Geert Wilders (fascist politicians from France and the Netherlands respectively) from his country -- but asserted that his speech did neither of those things. Galloway remained insistent that his being labelled "controversial" is a misnomer and implied that his opinions are common sense to anybody outside of Canada. I'm not sure what he was attempting to do with that statement, but an MP who was kicked out of his party back home can hardly be described as preaching what is apparent common sense.
In fact, Galloway made a number of quips meant to boil the blood of the audience. Even without attacking the Harper government directly, Galloway insinuated that Canada is somehow regressive in its values towards the Middle East -- as if Canadian attitudes have reversed in the past five years or so to become an "embassy for the racist, apartheid state of Israel." He also made the somewhat bizarre claim that it seems the only people who are still fans of the Jewish state are in Canada.
After a long-winded defence of the left from charges of anti-Semitism, he launched into his portion about Afghanistan. This one, more than any others, contained a lack of new ideas and an assumption that the audience already shares his views. Galloway mocked the idea of leaving soldiers to "train" Afghan troops and claimed Canada was providing political cover for American and British troops who would be engaged in a combat mission. Rather than offer a single idea on what can be done to help the country, Galloway focused on criticizing NATO forces and vaguely compared the "occupiers" to Nazi Germany.
Galloway's discussion of Palestine was somewhat more informative. He first stressed the importance of negotiating with Hamas, then made a long, impassioned speech about Israeli war crimes in the Gaza strip and decried the double-standard Israel enjoys in international law. In one of his stronger statements of the night, Galloway stated that since "western governments don't give a damn . . . western people have to give a damn."
The question and answer period was oddly formatted. Galloway responded several questions at once, leaving some details (and entire questions) unanswered. The only part of the lecture that approached the introduction of opposing views was a two-part rant on 9/11 conspiracy theories (after Galloway was attacked in the second set of questions for his answer from the first set in which he labelled 9/11 conspiracy theorists "insane"). Galloway dismissed
see GALLOWAY, page 11
9/11 "truthers" as mad and missing the point. While Galloway's total contrarian insistence on the absurdity of these theories was admirable, it's a shame he resorted to the "Bush was too stupid to pull it off" argument which, once again, discredited legitimate points for the sake of populism.
While Galloway is a brilliant orator, he presupposes that his audience shares his viewpoint. This means he feels justified in not contributing any ideas on what should be done (as opposed to what shouldn't). There was no detailed discussion of Afghanistan's future, no detailed discussion of Palestine's future (in fact, the idea of a Palestinian state wasn't even mentioned beyond criticising Israel for an illegal occupation). Furthermore, Galloway often takes the same dogmatic tone as those he criticizes. I wish Mr. Galloway the best of luck in his fight for a free Palestine, but substance needs to take precedence over style, even when preaching to the converted.