George Galloway and the topless feminist


By Nureddin Sabir
Editor, Redress Information & Analysis

What does British Member of Parliament George Galloway have in common with topless Tunisian feminist Amina? The answer is that both seem unable to differentiate between defiant gestures and winning the hearts and minds of the undecided.

First, let us discuss Galloway.

Galloway’s Oxford walkout

Last month a big fuss blew when the MP, invited to Oxford University to debate a motion backing the boycott of Israel, its companies and institutions, walked out of the chamber when he heard that the student opposing the motion, Eylon Aslan-Levy, was an Israeli.

According to the Guardian newspaper, something Aslan-Levy said prompted Galloway to ask: “You said ‘we’. Are you an Israeli?” When Aslan-Levy said he was, Galloway walked out. “I don’t recognize Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis,” he said. (See video below.)

Galloway’s declaration reminded us of the Khartoum Resolution, adopted by the Arab states at a summit in the Sudanese capital three months after the June 1967 war. It became known as the “Three No’s Resolution” – “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel”.

Although Israel never had, and still does not have, any genuine desire for a just peace with its Arab neighbours, the “Three No’s Resolution” furnished it with a potent propaganda tool. Armed with the resolution, Israeli hasbara (propaganda) agents working through the Western media successfully portrayed the Arabs as belligerents with no wish for peace and bent on pushing the “Jewish state” into the sea.

It would be wrong to put Galloway in the same basket as the Arab states, which are not known for their principled policies or great communications skills.

On the contrary, Galloway is a highly effective communicator. As Stuart Littlewood says, American readers will remember when he travelled to Washington in 2005 and “delivered a master-class in how to give a Senate Inquisition sub-committee a good spanking”.

Moreover, as Susan Abulhawa argues, Galloway’s commitment to justice for the Palestinian people is unyielding.

No matter where we were or what criticism the world hurled at us, Galloway never waivered in standing by our side. He is and always has been a good friend. That must be honoured, even in situations where his views are perceived as not fully aligned with one Palestinian group or another.

However, we must question the wisdom of Galloway’s refusal to participate in a debate with an Israeli, no matter how repulsive an apologist for Zionist criminality that Israeli is. This is because, in contrast to the Arab states whose “Three No’s Resolution” was intended to withhold de facto recognition from Israel while it occupied Arab lands and denied the Palestinians their legitimate rights, the purpose of Galloway’s presence at the Oxford University debate was to use his exceptional oratory skills and knowledge of the Arab-Israeli conflict to persuade the students of the urgent necessity of boycotting Israel.

In fact, had Galloway persevered with the debate, we have no doubt he would have wiped the floor with the Israeli apologist Aslan-Levy and taken a large proportion of the students with him. But he did not, and it is hard to understand what his walkout achieved: Aslan-Levy is an individual, not a state, so the question of de facto or de jure recognition is irrelevant.

What we do know is that the boycott Israel motion was defeated, and defeated heavily, by 69-10 votes.

It would be unfair to blame Galloway for the boycott motion’s defeat. As is clear … the organizers of the motion have some serious questions to answer.

This was an inexplicable and inexcusable public relations disaster, and a cause for gloating by apologists for Israeli criminality.

It would be unfair to blame Galloway for the boycott motion’s defeat. As is clear from the Guardian report cited above, the organizers themselves have some serious questions to answer. According to the newspaper, the motion’s proposer and the seconder received threatening emails, upon which the seconder withdrew his support and the proposer requested that her name not be publicized.

To us, this smacks of cowardice, and it has an ugly whiff of dishonesty about it. If the proposer and the seconder of the motion did indeed receive threatening emails, then did they report this to the police? And what was the outcome? More than that, why did they not choose instead to display the evidence of threats before the audience in the debate to illustrate the thuggish tactics employed by Israel’s hasbara agents? If they had done that – assuming that such evidence exists – this would have worked nicely in their favour.

Instead, what did they do? The proposer of the motion asked that her name not be publicized and the seconder withdrew his support. What cowardice! In fact, we would not discount altogether the possibility that both the proposer and the seconder were themselves Israeli hasbara agents.

That said, Galloway must take his share of the blame. Writing on his Facebook page, he said that his walkout was in line with his interpretation of the words and concept of boycott, divestment and sanctions which, he spelled out, was:

no purchase of Israeli goods or services, no normal contacts with individuals or organizations in Israel who support the existence of the racist apartheid creed of Zionism… Israelis who are outside of and against the system of Zionism are comrades of mine – like Prof Ilan Pappe. My opponent at Oxford University did not meet this test.

That is all very well, except that Galloway was not at Oxford to signal a detente with Zionism and Israel. He was there to help the Palestinian cause, to win over the undecided, to rout the likes of Aslan-Levy who wanted to defend Israeli racism and criminality. Galloway must therefore accept that his walkout was an own goal. It put the spotlight on him instead of Israeli’s crimes and the need for a boycott, and it deprived the pro-boycott students of his exceptional knowledge and persuasion skills. It was a counter-productive gesture par excellence.

Futile boob displays

However, as counter-productive gestures go, nothing beats that of the Tunisian feminist known as Amina.

On 8 March, International Women’s Day, the 19-year-old Tunisian posted topless pictures of herself on the internet with the Arabic phrase “My body is mine, not somebody’s honour” inscribed across her breasts and stomach.

Topless Tunisian feminist Amina with the phrase "My body is mine, not somebody's honour" inscribed across her breasts and stomach in Arabic

Tunisian feminist Amina: “My body is mine, not somebody’s honour”

Amina’s pictures were intended as a response to the growing assertiveness of Islamists in Tunisia – primitive Salafis and the supposedly “moderate” ruling party, Ennahda. The pictures initially appeared on a Facebook page connected to the Tunisian branch of the feminist movement, Femen, whose masthead carries another photograph of Amina, topless and with the inscription “Fuck your morals” written in English on her chest and stomach. To top things up, Amina also has her own Facebook page with lots of photos of other topless women – feminists who want to show their solidarity with her.

As an act of defiance, Amina’s topless protest cannot be faulted. Just as Galloway’s walkout symbolized the rejection of Israel and Zionism, Amina’s public display of her breasts with provocative inscriptions is a hard-hitting rejection of the misogynous, bigoted and hypocritical Islamists who have hijacked the Tunisian Spring and are trying to impose their backward and socially regressive outlook and lifestyle on all Tunisians.

But to what end? If the purpose was to annoy and provoke the Islamists, then Amina’s gesture is a complete success. Indeed, it did not take long for Tunisia’s king bigot, Salafi preacher Adil Alami, who heads the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, to advocate a punishment befitting his medieval worldview: “According to God’s law, she deserves 80 to 100 lashes, but what she committed is worth much more than that. She deserves to be stoned to death and she must be quarantined because what she did is an epidemic.”

The masthead on the Facebook page of the feminist group Femen carries a picture of defiant topless Tunisian activist Amina with the inscription "Fuck your morals" written in English across her breasts and stomach

The masthead on the Facebook page of the feminist group Femen carries a picture of defiant Tunisian activist Amina

If, on the other hand, Amina’s intention was to awaken the Tunisian public to the hypocrisy of the Islamist ogre hovering over their country, then her semi-naked protest has failed. As with Galloway’s walkout, it not only failed to help the cause, but has done quite the reverse: it has mobilized the Islamists and other reactionaries and has shocked the very people it presumably wanted to win over – the educated, secular and liberal elements who make up a substantial proportion of Tunisian society.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. Tunisian society as a whole is culturally conservative by European standards and, while most people are not Islamist, they are, in common with most Arabs, influenced by the Islamic religion and Islamic values. In this context, to pose semi-naked in order to make a political point is guaranteed to be counter-productive.

Sexual shock tactics are controversial in most societies, even in the relatively permissive Anglo-Saxon world. In our Arab societies they will not only annoy, aggravate and provoke conservatives and reactionaries, but they will also shock and numb everyone.

There is an important lesson to be learned from both Galloway’s Oxford walkout and Amina’s topless protest. In real-world politics, where people are being murdered, stripped of their humanity and dignity, and deprived of their freedom of thought, speech and expression, there is no room for gesture politics. But there is plenty of room for depriving your enemy of oxygen by winning the hearts and minds of the masses. This can be done only through force of argument and mastery of the facts, not by playing to a gallery populated by the converted.

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