There are times in one’s life when you wish you could simply be proved wrong. The sickening electoral romp to power in Bradford, England, by anti-Israel campaigner George Galloway has sadly underlined one of the reasons why I chose to raise my children over here, and not on the doorstep of the constituency that is now in the hands of the man who more than 20 years ago famously encouraged his fellow council members to fly the Palestinian flag over Dundee City Hall in Scotland, and more recently has been a regular presenter and fervent castigator of Israel on Iran’s state-controlled Press TV.
Galloway is one of the most famous and flamboyant politicians in Britain, and whilst I and a great many other people bitterly oppose his warped portrayal of the situation in the Middle East, there is no denying that as a political opportunist and comeback king, he has few equals. The Scot is an outstanding orator possessed of a rapier-like wit, but that only superficially masks his underlying theme which is 100% pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli.
Although he was born a Catholic, Galloway has embraced Islam since the early-1990’s, and after divorcing his first wife has taken two Muslim wives since. His support for the flotillas against Israel, his pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas, pro-Hizbollah, and pro-Ahmedinejad views, coupled with his well documented admiration for Saddam Hussein, to whom he famously fawned when meeting the tyrant face-to-face in Baghdad in 1994, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”, have made Galloway a folk hero for those radical Muslim communities in Britain and beyond who would like to see the British way of life ‘adjusted’ to more closely reflect their interpretation of the Islamic religion and culture.
So when the sitting Labour MP, (herself a British Asian), had to resign her Bradford West seat in parliament due to ill health, an area of the city overwhelmingly populated with Muslims with strong ties to Pakistan and Bangladesh in particular, Galloway seized his opportunity to play to the radical Muslim community and pander to the difficult economic conditions that many find themselves in, partially as a result of the economic downturn in the UK, but also as a result of their lack of integration into mainstream British society. His tactic worked like a dream – or as many impartial observers might argue, a nightmare!
Back in 2003 Galloway had been thrown out of the then ruling Labour party for “bringing them into disrepute”, but soon bounced back by forming his Respect party and became its only sitting MP when beating Labour party candidate Oona King in the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency of inner-London in 2005, another area with a high Muslim population. The main theme of that election victory was his vehement opposition to Britain’s participation in the military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, a point on which he and the then PM Tony Blair bitterly disagreed. He insists he only ever intended to represent that constituency for one term and appeared to spend more time on TV chat shows and as an ‘inmate’ on Big Brother, (for which he was heavily criticized), than in parliament, where his record of attendance was amongst the very worst of the 645 sitting MP’s.
So, back to Bradford West, a constituency a mere handful of miles from my home town of Leeds, another city with an ever growing and some would argue increasingly radical Muslim population. I know the area very well; I spent the first 40 years of my life there. The cities of Leeds and Bradford jointly make up one of the biggest Metropolitan districts in Great Britain; Leeds has always been seen as the more prosperous side of the divide, while Bradford has increasingly become a magnet for very poor Asian immigrants, many of whom are law-abiding and hard working, but others who wish to see the life they left behind in Pakistan, in particular, recreated on the streets of this once flourishing, but now rapidly declining Yorkshire city.
Bradford is famous for its Asian cuisine; ‘Indian food’, (as most white Brits mistakenly refer to it), although the vast majority of the restaurants are owned and run by Pakistani Muslims. When you go for a meal in the Manningham area of Bradford that is packed with excellent curry houses, most establishments have ‘charity’ boxes by the door, and many of those boxes have the green and white Hamas flag on them and are often filled unwittingly by diners who have no knowledge of the flag or where their loose change will be headed. Palestinian and Hamas flags can be seen flying in many parts of town, so the fact that their newly elected MP allegedly donated £25,000 of his own money to Hamas would certainly not have done Galloway’s chances at the ballot box any harm at all.
The ‘funny’ thing is, that Galloway has taken legitimate advantage of the extraordinary freedom of expression granted British citizens and their right to stand for office regardless of the viewpoint they represent, yet in the Hamas-controlled Gaza which he so admires, in the Palestinian Authority, indeed in most of the Arab world, only one viewpoint is tolerated and those that approach an argument from a different angle often disappear into the night never to be seen again!
In 2005 I was living in a country village just outside of Leeds with my wife and two young daughters, a picture postcard setting, when a hand delivered envelope dropped through my door. I opened it to find a disc bearing the image of Osama bin Laden, produced by a mosque situated close to the city centre calling for Jihad against Britain, against Zionists, and against any British politician that supported the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few weeks later, four suicide bombers detonated themselves in four different locations in London, killing 52 people and maiming many more. They were later identified as coming from Leeds and Bradford and had connections to groups who regularly prayed at mosques in the area.
The British Jewish community has dwindled since my childhood and now stands at around 300,000. The Jews who came to Britain in the late-1890’s and early-1900’s, including my great-grandparents on both sides of the family, never asked Britain to change to suit them; they adapted to become part of mainstream British society, and were proud to do so, whilst at the same time maintaining traditions brought with them from eastern Europe. They served (and some died,) fighting for Britain in the two world wars, fighting for democracy and tolerance, and for the place that had granted them sanctuary from horrendous pogroms and persecution. They were proud to be British and proud to embrace the rich tapestry of British culture.
According to some calculations, the Jews of Britain are now reportedly outnumbered by as many as 10 to 1 by the Muslim population. Many traditional British communities have grown fearful of the creeping advance of radical Islam in mainstream society but believe they are powerless to do anything about it. They are frightened to speak out for fear of inciting racial violence, and when anti-Israel or anti-Semitic comments are made, they invariably stay silent – possibly because they too, (to some extent), share those views, but more likely because they are fearful of challenging the powerful Muslim communities in their midst and seeing repeats of the Bradford riots and others around the country from the recent past. According to a 2009 poll, leaked by Wikileaks and somewhat ironically conducted by the Centre for Social Cohesion, 40% of British Muslims said they wanted Sharia law introduced into their parts of the country. Sadly, the opposing voice of moderate Muslims in Britain is increasingly struggling to be heard above the wave of radical rhetoric.
The saddest aspect of all in this tale is that I fear the one party which openly stands up to radical Islam, the equally despicable British National Party, (a thuggish group of neo-Nazi white supremacists who seem to despise Muslims only marginally more than they do Jews), will continue to gain more support and feed off the underlying, but rarely publicly acknowledged fear of much of the British population that Islam is beginning to take over.
George Galloway’s stunning success in Bradford West has sadly reminded me once again that, much as I love the land of my birth and am proud of my British background, the decision to raise my children in Israel, (a country with all its well-documented flaws, frustrations, and seemingly endless and embarrassing difficulties), has proved, so far, to be the right choice.