‘Your excellency dear Dr. [Bouthaina] ] Sha’aban I hope this letter finds you well. Please be assured of my warmest fraternal greetings always. I am writing on behalf of Viva Palestina whose world-wide family of solidarity organizations… will soon be setting out for besieged Gaza.” This fawning introduction might sound innocuous enough, if it were not for the fact that it was e-mailed to the special adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad by a former British MP only three months after he left office in 2010.
George Galloway’s obsequious verbosity is now posted online for all to see. The hacker network “Anonymous” broke into the e-mails of Syria’s ruling elite and disseminated them on Tuesday. Other nuggets of slavish devotion to the dictator include: “Syria is, as I have often said is [sic] the last castle of Arab dignity. My only regret is to have to ask for your help again.” It is not clear what “again” refers to. It seems Mr. Galloway had had previous dealings with the optometrist-turned-tyrant in Damascus.
The Galloway transcripts, along with other e-mails, are receiving some attention in the press, with The Atlantic claiming they “reveal the friendly westerners who sucked up to Syria’s dictator.” Another e-mail presents evidence that Assad tried to manipulate public perception through the Barbara Walters interview which aired in early December, 2011. A press attaché writes that the most important thing will be for Assad to mention that “mistakes” were made because there is no “well organized police force… the American psyche can be easily manipulated.” The dustup over the e-mails comes as no surprise to people who have been watching the likes of Assad, Galloway and others for some time. In 1994 Galloway went to Iraq, ostensibly to oppose the sanctions that had been placed on that country, and spoke to Saddam Hussein in front of an audience, saying he saluted the dictator’s “courage” and “indefatigability.”
Later he claimed he was saluting the Iraqi people, but videos of the event don’t seem to convey that impression. The story with Assad and his manipulation of Western leaders and media is also not a surprise. US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited Assad in 2007. She claimed he was ready for peace with Israel. That intellectuals and leaders over the years were duped by Saddam, Assad, Muammar Gaddafi, Idi Amin, or other nefarious individuals who were subsequently proved to be mass murderers is unsurprising in light of the moral relativistic view that often allows these malevolents to scrape by with the meekest of promises.
Consider French philosopher Michel Foucault. The left-wing celebrity philosopher was a devotee of Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini and the Iranian revolution. In 1978 he waxed poetic, claiming that “by ‘Islamic government’ nobody in Iran means a political regime in which the clerics would have a role of supervision or control.”
Each dictator has his Western apologist, it would seem. Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan thug who has crushed the independent media and appears destined to cling to power has a friend in activist-actor Sean Penn. “This is not a dictator supported by the wealthy classes, but rather a president elected by the impoverished and at the service of the Venezuelan constitution, a document not unlike our own. He is a flamboyant, passionate leader,” said Penn. The long list of Fidel Castro admirers is well known.
The co-founder of the London School of Economics (LSE), it should be recalled, was a supporter of Joseph Stalin. After a visit to the Soviet utopia in 1931 he wrote that “we desire to record that we saw nowhere evidence of such economic slavery, privation, unemployment and cynical despair of betterment.” In an awfully worded excuse for mass murder he claimed, “wreckers of Communism could have sidetracked it without ever having to face the essential questions: are you pulling your weight in the social boat? Are you giving more trouble than you are worth? …That is why the Russians were forced to set up the inquisition called first the Cheka… to go into these questions and ‘liquidate’ persons who could not answer them satisfactorily.” Maybe it is not a surprise that the same LSE accepted more than $2 million in donations from Saif al-Islam Qaddadi shortly after he had received an academic degree. Of course the university is now duly embarrassed, has cleaned house and returned the money.
Mr. Galloway may also now come forward to explain his e-mails. But the larger question of how so many who should know better are so often wrong about the most vile institutions and people, is not solved. Only in retrospect are Stalin’s crimes exposed or the reality of Assad’s “reforms” appreciated. By then it is too late, because often not only are the local people crushed and dead, but the foreigner who provided aid and comfort is able to say he or she honestly didn’t know, or was merely using the dictator to help “the people.” This is the post-script of the well-known bookCharlie Wilson’s War.
Wilson became a lobbyist for Islamist Pakistan after leaving office in 1996 and he never took responsibility for ignoring the darker side of the mujihadeen he had encouraged America to support in Afghanistan. Instead the book seems to suggest that had only America built a few schools in Afghanistan in the 1990s the Taliban would not have come to power. But that isn’t the real problem; the question is why the mujihadeen were romantic in the first place.
Judged by democratic standards based on the values of John Locke or the Bill of Rights, one wouldn’t countenance Hussein, Assad, Stalin, Chavez, Castro or any of the others. And yet countenanced they are. In retrospect, people like Galloway look silly, but does his mistake serve as a lesson on the dangers of cozying up to despots? If history serves as evidence, the answer is decidedly no.