Melanie McDonagh

Galloway and religion

Galloway and religion
Text settings

A few years ago, The Spectator, in an inspired notion for the Easter issue, asked a number of prominent individuals whether they believed in the Resurrection. And among the surprises was George Galloway, who replied emphatically in the affirmative:

‘Yes, I believe in the Resurrection. I believe God restored the life of Jesus of Nazareth and took him to his bosom. The example of suffering and sacrifice followed by vindication is central to my religious belief.’

Is there a way of squaring the George Galloway of the Easter Spectator issue with the campaign he waged in Bradford West, where he made an unambiguous appeal to the Islamic community as Muslims? An interesting piece by Andrew Gilligan in today’s Telegraph says squarely that his campaign was reminiscent of politics of the US Bible Belt and that his victory was ‘thoroughly contaminated with the politics of religion’.  Mr Galloway was certainly quite unamibuous about doing God. On his election, he declared: ‘All praise to Allah!’ During the campaign itself, last Sunday, he said, ‘God knows who is a Muslim and who is not. And a man that’s never out of the pub shouldn’t be going around telling people you should vote for him because he’s a Muslim... A Muslim is somebody who’s not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgment Day. I’m ready for that, I’m working for that and it’s the only thing I fear.’

One reading of these remarks is that they are purely opportunistic. Another is that Mr Galloway is to all intents and purposes no longer Christian. Me, I think he’s been rather clever. His remark that God knows who is a Muslim — defined as one who submits himself to God — is analogous to those unbelievers who would once remark of themselves that they were more truly Christian than the professing sort who let their faith down in practice. He is putting as broad a definition on the word Muslim as it will bear, and is clever enough to refer the interpretation of the matter to God, who is not to be pinned down. Indeed his remarks about his Muslim Labour opponent as a man who is never out of the pub are squarely derived from the notion that by their fruits you shall know them — Muslim is as Muslim does, as it were.

His making much of his teetotalism would not recommend him particularly to the Catholic community from which he came — though there is a forgotten Irish-Catholic tradition of total abstinence from alcohol on the part of ‘pioneers,’ of whom Mr Galloway may be one — but the fact that he has never drunk is undeniably an asset which he makes the most of, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t. As for his remarks about the Day of Judgment, he is perhaps the only Christian politician who is not afraid to talk openly and quite explicitly about his faith; all Christians believe in the Day of Judgment but not many admit to it in public, except in the safe formulae of the Creed, said in the confines of a church.

Yasmin Alibhai Brown, the Muslim commentator popular with the BBC as a moderate, predictably declared on Any Questions that it was quite wrong to view the Bradford by-election as a Muslim victory, on the basis that an actual Muslim candidate was defeated. That’s an unsustainable view; Muslim voters did not put their faith to one side in this election, they rejected someone perceived as an inadequate Muslim for a man who sounded Muslim and certainly made much of being a man of faith. Indeed, this victory has been for that elusive creature, much beloved of the BBC, the ‘person of faith’ (as opposed to an actual Muslim or Catholic). That’s the card Mr Galloway played, and if Muslims read it as tantamount to him being Muslim himself, well, that’s fine by him. (The word Allah, for instance, is simply Arabic for ‘God’). What he comes across as to me is not a Christian denying his faith but as rather a good casuist.

But it wasn’t, of course, just Muslims who voted for Mr Galloway but quite a few white voters. What did he have for them, apart from giving them a chance to wipe the eye of the big, tainted parties? Well, he’s rare in contemporary British politics in being a genuinely impressive speaker, and rather humorous with it. He also has a reputation as an excellent constituency MP. You know, it’s not impossible that these old-fashioned attributes played a part in his victory, and that he may turn out, qua MP, to be good for the people of Bradford.