Boris Johnson

Bush is leading us to tragedy (2002)

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It’s 20 years since the clamour for the invasion of Iraq was at its loudest. Boris Johnson, The Spectator’s then editor, spoke to the Saudi ambassador to the UK, Ghazi Algosaibi. You can read more on our fully digitised archive.

‘No, no,’ says the Saudi ambassador. ‘This is how you do it. You cannot lift your arm above the shoulder, and you must do it sideways.’ He moves alongside, a big man with a faint resemblance to Leon Brittan, and makes a thwacking motion. Meet Ghazi Algosaibi, 62, a poet and author, the Arab world’s leading envoy to London, who has recently earned not just a personal rebuke from Jack Straw, but the demands of the Jewish Board of Deputies that he be expelled from the country.

Mr Algosaibi recently wrote an ode to a suicide bomber (which prompted the rebuke). In the last two hours, in the lacquered mudejar comfort of his Curzon Street embassy, he has been fluently denouncing the West. He has attacked cultural imperialism, bashed Bush, hammered Sharon, and now, as a coda to a virtuoso performance, he is giving a short tutorial in the virtues of lashing.

‘What would you rather have? Thirty lashes or three years in prison?’ he demands, swishing away. On the anniversary of 11 September, and with a new war impending, it seemed useful to hear the opinions of our most valued and vital Arab ally.

What will he be doing on Wednesday the 11th? Will the flag be lowered? Um, he says, they have this thing about lowering the flag. It has the name of God on it. It seems the embassy has no real plans to mark the anniversary, which is perhaps not surprising, given that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Why was that, by the way?

‘The answer is easy,’ he says.

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