The voters of Bradford West are quickly learning what it means to have George Galloway as their Member of Parliament. At the moment, the residents of Bradford West are regretting their decision.
Constituents first became concerned with his behavior after Julian Assange sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after the British Foreign Secretary insisted that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, where he is wanted by the police to answer allegations of serious sexual assault.
Galloway trivialized the accusations against Assange, dismissing his conduct as "bad sexual etiquette;" and contended that even if the allegations against Assange were "100% true," they still do not constitute rape: "At least not rape as anyone with any sense can possibly recognize it," he concluded. In a video posted to YouTube, Galloway stated with characteristic righteousness:
Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them. It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said: "Do you mind if I do it again?" It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape, or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.
The backlash was immediate and severe. Salma Yaqoob, who led Galloway's Respect party, was unequivocal in her denouncement of his views. Writing on her website, she slammed Galloway:
Let me be clear, as a politician and as a woman. Rape occurs when a woman has not consented to sex. George Galloway's comments on what constitutes rape are deeply disappointing and wrong.
The trouble did not end there for Galloway. Yaqoob went on to note that "any individual who believes themselves to be a victim has a right to have their grievances heard in a fair manner and not have their allegations belittled or dismissed." By contrast, Galloway was unrepentant and used his twitter account to state, "Oh how this "liberal" chorus of Pavlovian reaction must delight the Pentagon!
Matters later worsened for Galloway when he was sacked as a political columnist for Holyrood, a Scottish magazine, after he refused to retract or apologise for his remarks. The magazine's editor, Mandy Rhodes, explained:
George Galloway is no longer a columnist for Holyrood magazine and the reasons for that, I would have thought, are fairly obvious…his recent outpourings about definitions of rape have left me, frankly gobsmacked. There is no excuse, ever, for sex without consent and regardless of the details of the Assange case, Galloway's comments and inappropriate language about rape per se are alarming.
Not known for his humility, Galloway continued attacking his critics on Twitter and eventually courted yet more controversy after calling one user a "window licker," a highly derogatory slang term for the disabled. The statement prompted an outcry from charities for the disabled. This time Galloway did back down, offering a half-apology on YouTube. He said:
It's clear that by being drawn into dialogue with a moron I have inadvertently caused a great deal of upset to the parents of disabled children, disabled people themselves and those campaigning and raising funds and awareness on their behalf, it would never knowingly be my intention to do so.
Few were ready to accept Galloway's maudlin tears, not least because he shed them them with evasions and deceit. Rather than apologize frankly for the incident and leave it there, Galloway continued to try and explain away his remarks. That was apparently the final straw for his party's chairperson, Salma Yaqoob. She resigned from the organisation, saying:
It is with deep regret that I have decided to resign from Respect. The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for everyone in the party. I feel necessary relations of trust and collaborative working have unfortunately broken down.
Although the unmistakable but unspoken implication here is that Galloway went too far, this response was not the only humiliation to be visited upon him. Days later, the Bradford Muslim Women's Circle – some of whose members Galloway is supposed to represent in parliament – summoned him to a meeting to explain his views.
Far from allaying their concerns, he only heightened them. One of those present, Irna Qureshi, declared that, "Galloway's honeymoon in Bradford appeared to be nearing its end." He constantly invoked Islam and the Quran, as if to play to the sentiments of his audience. "The only person pushing Islam to the top of the political agenda last night was Galloway himself," Qureshi noted. She went on:
Although the women were undeniably Muslim, it was local issues we wanted to speak to Galloway about…This is why his insistence on addressing us purely in terms of our religious identity, made the meeting all the more frustrating.
The crowd was horrified by Galloway's remarks over rape and noted that he should be filled with regret over Yaqoob's resignation. After all, as a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf, her support for his campaign in Bradford was critical in galvanising Muslim women voters in Galloway's favor. "It was Muslim women who were credited with being a key component of his stunning victory in Bradford West," Qureshi observed. "Galloway went from making us feel important to making us feel totally ignored. He didn't appear to be promoting our local agenda, so whose was it? Moreover, his religious tone was alienating, giving the meeting the air of a sermon rather than a Q&A session."
Whenever they pushed him to apologize for, and retract, his comments regard rape, Galloway merely obfuscated. "Rape is a vile crime," he said. But, he continued, while refusing to apologize, "Mass murder is worse. The invasion and occupation of one Muslim country after another by the United States is even worse."
Galloway has traded on his "secret Muslim" identity for years, occasionally spouting Islamic pieties in the hope of winning Muslim votes. He is an effective, if envenoming, politician, skilled at exploiting sectarian and confessional concerns.
Galloway won the seat in March after a by-election was triggered when the incumbent, Marsha Singh, was forced to step down for reasons of health. In characteristic fashion, Galloway fought a deeply divisive campaign of dog-whistle politics, exploiting the concerns of the heavily Muslim-dominated constituency.
During that campaign, he pandered to Muslim sensibilities by employing Islamic terminology, speaking of "judgement day" and declaring himself a "better" candidate than his opponent because he does not drink alcohol.
This is the same boilerplate recipe that delivered victory for Galloway in 2005 in Bethnal Green and Bow. Much like Bradford West, it is a heavily Muslim dominated constituency where anti-War sentiments were running high.
What does it say now, when the very constituency whose religious sensibilities he is trying to exploit have become bored with him and find it all a bit too much? "I'm now left wondering if Galloway's stunning victory in Bradford West will scar Bradford's memory like the 2001 riots and the 1988 Rushdie book burning," Qureshi said after his disastrous performance there. "This feels like one step forward and two steps back."