Respect Renewal MP George Galloway has been far from sympathetic to the case of Mehdi Kazemi, instead choosing to spew homophobic bile and defend the Iranian regime. Showing his complete contempt for human rights and democracy, he has levelled the ridiculous accusation that people campaigning against the deportation of Mehdi Kazemi are “the pink contingent of imperialism” – even though the protests are against our own government.
The controversy started on 13 March on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff chat show, where Galloway said that the papers’ coverage of Mehdi’s story amounted to “demonisation of Iran”, even though Mehdi is himself Iranian. What Galloway did not like was the criticism of the Iranian regime.
Denying that you can be executed for being gay in Iran (thousands of dead suggest otherwise), Galloway claimed that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was executed for “sex crimes against young men”. Not even the Iranian government has made this claim, but the contortions of Galloway’s rhetoric do not have much time for little matters such as fact or evidence. By all accounts, the “sex crime” in question was “sodomy”, a term Galloway himself used on his Talksport radio show to describe homosexuality.
After an outcry and an angry statement in the papers by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Galloway made another appearance on Channel 5 – only to dig himself even deeper. Accusing Tatchell of being a “pink” cover for imperialism (which is both untrue and deeply homophobic), Galloway said that it was pointless to criticise homophobic laws in Iran since there is homophobia everywhere, from Tehran to Tunbridge Wells. At a meeting at SOAS, he reiterated the point, claiming that people who criticise the Iranian regime’s homophobia do not seem concerned by anti-LGBT discrimination elsewhere, such as in US ally Saudi Arabia.
Not only is his allegation totally untrue, but we can also note that Galloway himself does not protest against homophobia anywhere else. For example, there was a demo at the Saudi Embassy when the Saudi king visited Britain in winter, but Galloway did not attend. In fact, the Respect manifesto has in the past always omitted reference to LGBT rights, which neatly complements Galloway’s homophobic remarks on his radio show.
Galloway’s position, at its most ‘rational’, appears to be that we should defend the Iranian government absolutely, because it is under threat of war and sanctions, which would make everything worse in Iran by far. Of course, it is true that any sort of western or Israeli attack on Iran would be an absolute disaster for the people who live there, and indeed that sabre-rattling against Iran will invariably strengthen nationalism in that country and allow President Ahmedinejad to posture as “anti-imperialist”, buttressing his regime. We are opposed to all sanctions, bombing “raids” or war.
However, it does not follow that we should whitewash the Iranian regime, which in the here and now is meting out death and destruction against its own people. The anti-war movement will not deserve a hearing if it does not tell the truth, and clearly Galloway cannot have it both ways – he is claiming both that opponents of Mehdi Kazemi’s deportation are just a left cover used by British imperialism, but also that we are wrong to protest against the British government for threatening to deport him!
Furthermore, the left will be failing (and currently is failing) in its solidarity effort with Iranians if it does not also support them in their struggle against the theocracy. Practical solidarity with workers’, women’s, student and - to the extent that they can exist even underground - LGBT organisations in Iran is an extremely important task for socialists at this time of great struggle inside Iran..
Of course, Galloway is not really a socialist. Never on the left of the Labour Party when a member, he displays no interest in workers’ struggle and social movements, but instead places his sole political focus on apologetics for various third world regimes which take his fancy, including Iran, Syria and Cuba. As I was keen to point out to him when he spoke at SOAS, he is a Stalinist and a homophobe who has nothing to do with the kind of left we need. We need a working-class set of politics which takes up liberation issues and democratic questions, not support for this or that Islamist regime which spouts rhetoric against US imperialism.