There is a quite amazing row going on between George Galloway and the New Statesman whose interviewer Jemima Khan claims that he converted to Islam in a special ceremony 10 years ago. Galloway says her claims are “categorically untrue” and is demanding a retraction from the Staggers.
But when I asked George’s long time aide Ron McKay just now whether he was a Muslim (and that he may have converted at some other time), he refused to answer saying religion was a private matter.
I’m racking my brains on this, but I’m fairly sure George, when he was MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, used to refer to his Catholicism in his speeches. I’m sure there are readers out there who can help with this.
Anyway, here is George’s denial:
“The opening paragraph of Jemima Khan’s piece in the New Statesman (referring to an alleged conversion ceremony) is totally untrue. Moreover I told her it was fallacious when she put it to me. I have never attended any such ceremony in Kilburn, Karachi or Kathmandu. It is simply and categorically untrue.’
“Apart from the deliberate falsehoods in the article, it is littered with schoolgirl howlers which would earn banishment from a first-year journalism class.
“For instance, she misspells the name of my ‘glossy haired’ secretary, who is not my special assistant. Snidely, she claims that I have a slow and over-enunciated delivery – even then she failed to pick up the facts! – and, absurdly, says that’s because I have a Glasgow accent which would require subtitles for those for whom English isn’t a first language. Putting aside the regional and racial slurs and the cloth ear for accents, I’m from Dundee! Which most of the rest of the world knows, but certainly the entire British press corps. I could go on.”
And here is an extract from the New Statesman piece, which was sent out in this press release:
In this week’s magazine, from an interview between Jemima Khan and George Galloway, the New Statesman exclusively reveals the background to Galloway’s conversion to Islam:
George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, is a Muslim. He converted more than ten years ago in a ceremony at a hotel in Kilburn, north-west London, attended by members of the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Those close to him know this. The rest of the world, including his Muslim constituents, does not.
Over a halal, alcohol-free lunch at a cafe on Bradford’s main high street, Khan tells Galloway “I know someone who attended your shahadah[the Muslim conversion ceremony].”
He stares at me across the table, penetrating blue eyes squinted, pausing for the first time in an hour. His special adviser, a glossy haired Asian Pakistani called Ayesha, looks into her daal while his new bride, Gayatri Pertiwi – a Dutch-born Muslim of Indonesian descent 30 years his junior, seated beside him throughout the interview – smiles at me.
George and Gayatri performed the nikah, the Muslim marriage ceremony, four weeks ago at the Royal Theatre in Amsterdam, the day after his sensational and unexpected victory in Bradford. This means, presumably, that they are unmarried under British law. Galloway has had two previous Muslim marriages (and this marriage to Gayatri is his fourth marriage in total). However, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man under Islamic law – although the other way round is allowed.
Khan and Galloway were scheduled to meet at the local mosque for juma (Friday) prayers, “where Galloway usually meet the community each week, but the plan was cancelled when it transpired that I was coming with a photographer”. Although Galloway denies it was only the Muslim vote that won him the Bradford seat, Khan writes:
Galloway may have successfully out-Muslimed Labour’s Muslim British-Pakistani candidate, Imran Hussain, during the election campaign, with his speeches full of “inshallahs”, his invocations of the Quran – “the people who invaded and destroyed Iraq . . . will burn in the hell-fires of Hell” – and his smattering of Arabic words: “We stand for justice and haq [truth].” Pamphlets were distributed declaring: “God knows who is a Muslim and he knows who is not. Instinctively, so do you . . . I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have.” (Galloway has denied he was responsible for these.)
In the media, Galloway is often referred to as a Catholic. However, as Khan finds, the Muslim constituents of Bradford knew otherwise:
There must have been some white constituents in Bradford, who, although natural Labour supporters, preferred to vote for the white Catholic candidate rather than the brown Muslim one representing Labour. Meanwhile, his Muslim constituents delighted in the hints – “a Muslim is somebody who is not afraid of earthly power but who fears only the Judgement Day. I’m ready for that, I’m working for that and it’s the only thing I fear.” Many favoured a possible or a potential Muslim over a “lapsed” one, such as Labour’s Hussain, who, Galloway claimed in his campaign, was “never out of the pub”.
On local issues, Galloway says his first task is to highlight the “sheer scale and extreme danger of youth unemployment”, then put Bradford on the global stage. Galloway tells Khan he hopes to attract investment to the city from the Gulf, “because those kings in the Gulf would like good relations with me”.
Libelled 20 times (he has won every case, and a total £3m in damages), Galloway tells Khan he is “challenging the prevailing orthodoxy”:
“I’m dangerous to these people because I’m able to persuade people of the correctness of what we’re arguing for . . . One day, maybe I’ll be a national treasure like Tony Benn, but not yet, I hope.”
While he dislikes everything about David Cameron, Khan writes, Galloway is equally contemptuous of Ed Miliband. He tells her:
“I think one of the problems, call it Shakespearian or call it biblical, is that he is marked with the original sin of doing something that is unnatural, doing something against the natural order of things. It is moral turpitude to stand against your older brother and, in doing so, plunge a dagger into his breast. And I think that might, in the end, be a very telling point in what comes next. Because it would be even more Shakespearian if the brother got up out of the grave and murdered the brother that had murdered him . . .”
UPDATE: April 26, 5.50pm:
We now have a New Statesman denial of Galloway’s denial and a Galloway threat of libel against the New Statesman denial. This is a comedy epic. This from PA:
The New Statesman later issued a robust statement in response to Mr Galloway’s denial.A spokeswoman said: “It is notable that Galloway does not deny being a Muslim convert – and he did not deny it when it was put to him at the time of the interview, which is on tape.
“Contrary to his press release, nor did he deny that the ceremony took place when it was put to him during the interview. This is also on tape.
“Furthermore, he failed to clarify how, by his own admission, he had a ‘nikah’ (a Muslim marriage ceremony), despite the fact that a non-Muslim man cannot marry a Muslim woman under Islamic law.”As the row escalated, Mr Galloway responded with a threat of legal action against the magazine.
“The further allegations from the New Statesman in response to my rebuttal moves the issue into the area of defamation,” he said.
“Jemima Khan asked me on tape about this phantom ceremony in Kilburn and I told her that it was a lie and whoever told her it was a liar.
“No trace of this exchange appears in the New Statesman piece, which is predicated upon it.
“Now that they are denying my denial it places the matter in the hands of my solicitor.”