Showing Respect for Women’s Voices

Last week, George Galloway, a darling of the English Left, made some pretty unacceptable comments. The general creepy aura that surrounds him when you meet him in person spilled over into the pages of the news paper and he held court on his views around “sexual ettiquette” and requests for “insertion”, making it clear that the law on sexual violence did not accord with his own views. George, it would appear, does not consider that which UK law defines as rape to actually be rape, and believes that other people don’t either. Feminists are often accused of considering that all men are rapists, but actually, the demographic that is most likely to consider that all men are rapists is  …rapists. It would appear old Georgie boy is in some pretty unpleasant company.

A number of people on hearing these comments coming from an elected politician contacted the leader of his party, Respect, to demand clarification. While Galloway was spouting his mouth off, Yaqoob, the leader of his party was engaged as a birth partner to her sister. The following day she put out a statement explaining why it hadnt come earlier, and describing his comments as “deeply disappointing and worrying”, Galloway, always the demagogue,
just couldnt let it lie – in tweets he asserted that

Oddly, I’ve just been reading text messages from woman A in which she said she was “half asleep” not “asleep”nor “unconscious”…

Did you know she had several dates with Assange AFTER the alleged “rape” You useful idiots!

He did not have sex with a woman asleep in a hotel room next door or anyone’s sleeping mother…

He had sex with someone who was half asleep in her own words three hours after having consensual sex with her, her words…

Compounding his assertion that the acts of which Assange is charged and his lawyer has admitted to do not comprise rape.  A UK judge disagrees.  Galloway, is of course, Sheridan’s mate. Another left dinosaur that has a bit of a problem with women and never considers that actually he may be wrong – for these great men are never wrong of course, but like Assange merely brought down by jealous harridans, golddiggers and CIA assets.

Earlier in the week, I had gone to see “I, Tommy” at the Edinburgh Fringe. The plot itself was familiar, but history was translated into farce as the sidesplittingly funny dramatisation made clear his fall from grace.  The portrayal of the women of Sheridan’s family is particularly of note. The ambiguity of his wife’s position is beautifully played, unclear what she knows and when, the gallus lass lends her power in support of Sheridan, rather than with her feminist sisters.  Alice, Sheridan’s mother, a veteran of feminist struggles and a devout Catholic, is shown not only to be dazzled by him, but to continually hold him up as a beacon of her highest achievement.

The SSP, one of the most successful socialist parties in Europe at the turn of the century was destroyed, by the challenges that women brought to bear on its leader.  His refusal to accept that women comrades were not there for his amusement and to be used as political tools in wider fights led to the loss of all MSPs, a massively shrunken membership and six years of bitter left infighting. Yet the left is stronger for it. It is now recognised within almost all sections of the left in Glasgow that socialism cannot be achieved unless women’s voices are heard.

Yaqoob in this statement has shown that within the Respect family, women are starting to reseize power. It would have been far easier for her to put out a neutral statement, to gloss over his witterings, and pour oil on troubled waters. Then like women needing an abortion and homosexual men faced with the death penalty in Iran, Galloway’s statement would have gone into folklore as something that only mental feminists and queers got upset over, while everyone else nodded sagely quietly recognising that Galloway spoke for the common man. Yaqoob – as leader of a party with parliamentary representation has significant amounts of power. Public disagreements, especially between a party leader and its sole elected MP tend to reflect badly on parties, no matter what the issue.

In putting out this statement, Yaqoob has very probably damaged the electoral chances of Respect, the only parliamentary party in the UK which self-identifies as socialist. But in putting out this statement, Yaqoob has strengthened the cause of socialism in the UK. As Cat Boyd points out you cannot be anti-imperialist unless you also challenge misogyny, for it is women who bear the worst of its effects, the mass rape used as a weapon of war; the higher rates of domestic violence within military families; the money that could be used to fund healthcare and education instead squandered of weapons which kill.   To compromise on women’s rights in the interests of the left gaining more power, is to damage the left – it draws it rightwards and sells it out.

Yaqoob’s name came up the other day as well in a chat I had with an Asian SNP activist, who was explaining to me that Scots Asian women didnt really get involved in politics that much, and Yaqoob was one of only two prominent female Asian politicans in the UK. When I asked her why that was she mentioned that in Pakistan and in the Pakistani diaspora, culturally women were not encouraged to become involved in politics as it was seen as a topic for men. My knowledge of Pakistan politics is rather limited, but I did remember that Pakistan used to have a female head of state in Benazir Bhutto. Ah yes, she said, but she was assassinated. Dimly recalling the event, I asked her for the background to her assassination and she explained that she was most probably killed on the orders of her husband who took over her position after her death, but an inadequate investigation followed and no charges were ever brought.  I see how that would put women off politics you know, political assassination for becoming too uppity is a fairly big disincentive.

In making this statement, Yaqoob has set a clear demarker that she is not prepared simply to gloss over the Galloway’s misogyny in the interests of clinging onto political power at the expense of women. There will no doubt be murmurings within Respect, a party which has primarily become an electoral vehicle for George Galloway, over her statement. To take such a collision course with its sole MP, although a necessary move may well not prove a popular one. It is a test for Respect and the English left in general to what extent they are willing to listen to women even where it compromises their own power. For power is always  most easily attained by trying to hang on the coat-tails of those who already have it. Galloway’s comments will have struck a chord among men who consider  that they have a right of sexual access to a women once they have slept with her, and within the Muslim community in which he has a base, appeal to men who consider their female family members their property to use and dispose of as they please.

Yet as the SNP activist I was talking to pointed out, in the time of Mohammad, women held political influence and power and the Prophet was clear that it was right and appropriate for women to do so. The misogyny displayed by men, who hog the political limelight and seek to shape society for their benefit, is not only contrary to socialist ideals, but to Islamic ones as well – an issue that the Muslim community of Bradford, which has been very supportive of Galloway in the past, might do well to consider while reflecting on whether they regard Galloway still fit to be their MP.

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