Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Islamism Brews in Britain

London Letter

Every election has its memorable moment. For the 2005 British general election, that moment came when the Islamist George Galloway defeated the black, Jewish pro-war member of parliament, Oona King, for Bethnal Green and Bow in the East End of London. Mr. Galloway overturned a Labor majority of more than 10,000. As the result was announced, Mr. Galloway yelled exultantly at his ecstatic devotees: "Tony Blair, this is for Iraq!"

Mr. Galloway is not just a demagogue, but a defender of Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, and Yasser Arafat. Mr. Galloway is now the leader of Respect, a party dedicated to mobilizing disaffected Muslims and left-wing yuppies who are against Mr. Blair. A year ago, he was thrown out of the Labor party for inciting British troops in Iraq to mutiny. Mr. Galloway used to spend Christmas with his friend Tariq Aziz - Saddam's erstwhile foreign minister, who is now awaiting trial - whom he insists is a "political prisoner." Saddam's propaganda footage showed him with the dictator. But there he is, still sitting in the mother of parliaments.

The precise nature and extent of Mr. Galloway's involvement with the Saddam regime is, to say the least, still unclear. Since the regime fell, his conduct has been investigated by parliamentary, party, and charity officials. None of these inquiries found proof of corruption, and the Daily Telegraph lost a sensational libel case after it alleged (on the basis of documents found in the Baghdad foreign ministry) that he had been in Saddam's pay, though the newspaper is appealing. Mr. Galloway's name surfaced again in the course of the Volcker inquiry into the U.N. oil-for-food scandal, though the degree of his involvement in the scandal is yet to be seen.

Mr. Galloway boasted that he had "come back from the dead," as he basked in publicity, evidently enjoying his humiliation of feisty little Ms. King. He is proud of his nickname, "Gorgeous George," which he acquired as a result of his public admission of extramarital affairs that ended his first marriage. In mid-campaign, Mr. Galloway's Palestinian Muslim second wife, Amineh-Abu Zayyad, gave an interview to the London Sunday Times. She told the press that when she heard he would call his new party "Respect," she wept. "How can he call it this when he doesn't even treat his own wife with respect?" After Ms. Zayyad alleged that she received calls from women who claimed to have had affairs with him, she said that Mr. Galloway tried to persuade her to stay in Beirut until the election was over. "George said it was the intelligence services, his enemies, that were trying to get at me." She now says she wants a divorce.

Pressed by a BBC anchorman, Jeremy Paxman, to say whether he felt proud of unseating one of the few black women members of Parliament in Westminster, Mr. Galloway lost his temper. "All those New Labor members of parliament who voted for Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush's war have on their hands the blood of 100,000 people in Iraq ... That is a more important issue than the color of her skin," he said, accusing Mr. Paxman of insulting all 15,801 Londoners who had voted for him. He then stormed out of the interview.

It is those voters, overwhelmingly Muslim, who should concern us at least as much as Mr. Galloway. Across the country, city after city with a large Muslim minority showed an above average swing against Mr. Blair and Labor. It seems pretty clear that the great majority of Britain's 2.5 million Muslims obeyed the instructions of their imams or community leaders and voted en bloc for whichever antiwar party seemed to have the best chance of defeating the Blair government. The Muslim defection from their traditional allegiance to Labor cost Mr. Blair up to half of the seats he lost and partly accounts for the unusually strong anti-Blair vote in London.

That Muslim vote is now also Islamist, in the sense of subordinating all other considerations to religious objectives. This is a new political phenomenon for a country that still fondly imagines itself to be a United Kingdom. It is also a phenomenon that is likely to outlast the coalition presence in Iraq, or even the present phase of the war on terror. Since the results of a recent Guardian opinion poll, among others, provides evidence that a large proportion of British Muslims not only thought the attacks of September 11, 2001, were justified, but would like to be governed by shariah law, it makes sense now to talk about an Islamist vote in Britain.

The implications of the emergence of a European Islamism are profound and worrying. The greatest Western scholar of the Islamic world, Bernard Lewis, has already warned that Europe may well become a Muslim continent by the end of this century. If that comes to pass, it may be that the British election of 2005 will be seen as a milestone on the road to what another eminent expert, Bat Ye'or, has already dubbed "Eurabia."
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