George Galloway arrives on stage chewing gum and wearing a military style jacket. He reminds me fleetingly of Jean Reno in Godzilla: ‘What’s with the chewing gum?’ ‘It makes us look more American’.
It seems a fitting entrance for such a conflicted public figure. He is joined by veteran Scottish actor and director David Hayman, who looks worn and pained, but has an instant rapport with the audience - jokingly enquiring as to why we’re spending our Saturday afternoon listening to a talk on the Afghan war.
I couldn’t help but think a more pertinent question might be: How is it that so many people are here to hear George Galloway speak? Recently branded both a misogynist and an anti-semite, Galloway has been ridiculed and scorned for recent comments about rape, and about Israel. His recent outburst at an Oxford University debate (in which he is recorded saying ‘I don’t recognise Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis’) was one of the most remarkable from a public figure in recent memory.
So, I was surprised that Galloway was offered this platform at all. Howeverhis discussion with Hayman did turn out to be one worth hearing.
For example: how many of us know that the credits of Rocky V close with a dedication to ‘The Freedom Fighters of Afghanistan?’ And that these ‘freedom fighters’, having defeated the Soviets, and removed the basis of British and American support, are now what we call the Taliban? It sounds like Galloway is making fun, but his words certainly offer a different perspective upon the significance of our presence there.
Galloway and Hayman are natural public speakers and good friends, and with a room full of people against the Afghan war conversation was measured and affectionate. But there is a problem with this: without some voice of dissent, events like these become political love-ins, with an air of smugness that spoils the intellectual process of contemplating complex issues. Hayman is a brave and admirable philanthropist but here he seems blind to the fact that his call to ‘stop meddling’ is at odds with his own humanitarian work in Afghanistan, and at odds with his even suggesting what might be done there to help.
Fighting Please was an interesting and important discussion. However, without a stronger counterpoint to obvious anti-war rhetoric the conclusions were always predictable, and in the end much of what took place was two friends patting each other on the back, rather than a real contribution to this difficult debate.