Talking with Members of Parliament
Outside the Houses of Parliament in London, peace protesters keeping vigil with their banners and placards are far outnumbered by the tourists queuing up at the visitor's entrance. Inside the noble gothic building, Members of Parliament who oppose the way the allies are waging war on terror are also in the minority. Still, they take to the floor of Parliament and to media microphones to make themselves heard.
One of those speaking out against the war is George Galloway, a Labor Party MP from Glasgow, Scotland. "It's no act of friendship to follow a friend down a descending staircase to hell. The act of friendship is to try and stop the friend from descending the staircase, " he says.
Galloway is a genial, quotable politician, who holds the un-lit stump of a Cuban cigar as we talk. The hell he envisions is an endless campaign against Middle East terrorism, which he predicts would mean an endless war against Islamic nations. Washington is far too eager to solve problems with bombs, Galloway says.
"America is a giant, " says Galloway. "But its political class often seems to have the mind of a child. And a giant with the mind of a child is very dangerous not only to those amongst whom he roams but to himself."
Harsh, but not unexpected, as George Galloway's been pounding on U.S. foreign policy for years. He's especially critical of U.S. support for Israel, and for sanctions on Iraq. Galloway belongs to a small, but growing cadre of Britons speaking out against what they see as American arrogance and narcissism.
Lord Desai scolds the U.S. for ignoring the needs and lives of the developing world. Photo: London School of Economics and Political Science
Later, I sat on a park bench next to Westminster with Meghnad Desai, a Labor Party Member of the House of Lords and a professor at the London School of Economics. Desai is of east-Indian descent, and he scolds the U.S. for routinely ignoring the needs and lives of the developing world.
"Americans should stop thinking they're the perpetual good guys. There are no good guys; there are no bad guys," says Desai.
He continues, "When Americans die, or people in America die, we all have to stand up and take terrorism very seriously, when lots of other people have died, in terrorism or by wars against terrorism, and it's all right."
Below us on the River Thames, a police boat churns back and forth, guarding against a terrorist strike on Parliament. This was not the first time, Desai said, that London stood on high security alert because of the United States.
"You gave money to the IRA, in Boston, in New York. And they came and bombed on British mainland and in Northern Ireland. How can the Americans say they're against terrorism? Why was Irish terrorism loved by Boston and Muslim terrorism hated?" asked Desai. "Now come on, give us a break. The world is a very nasty place."
Well, there's no doubt that Irish-Americans have sent a lot of money to the IRA, but some Muslim-Americans sent money to al Qaeda. That doesn't mean America supports Osama bin Laden, no more than it does the IRA.
I talked to a lot of people around London. And several reassured me that Americans sometimes can be the good guys. But there was this general sense that beginning with George W. Bush, Americans are almost comically naive about how the world sees us.
For example, in one of his speeches, President Bush said, "I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us. I am, I am, I am, like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are. And we've got to do a better job of making our case."
On the set of Dead Ringers
Actor's Voice: "Mr. President I thought you'd want to know that in the British election, Tony Blair is way ahead in the polls."
Actor playing President George W. Bush: "That's a terrible shame, I'll make sure to send him my commiseratitudes."
First actor: "No, no, Mr. President. That's good news. You see in the British electoral system, the person that gets the most votes is declared the winner."
I dropped by the offices of this hugely popular BBC radio satire program, which specializes in sending up public figures. The Brits call this "taking the mickey" out of someone. It's hard to imagine many mainstream American comedians doing a parody send-up of Tony Blair; much of their audience wouldn't get the joke. But BBC writer Nev Fountain found that taking the mickey out of George W. Bush delighted their listeners. The president is an easy target.
"Well I suppose it is like beating up a kid," says Fountain, "but he is the most important man in the world. And a legitimate point has to be made when a man who has to be leader of this new world order should know something about the world he's leading."
But, in the new season of Dead Ringers impersonator Jon Culshaw says he'll probably steer clear of George W. Bush.
"Certainly at the moment, in the light of events after September 11, I think America has to be supported, it feels kind of strange doing impersonations of President Bush at the moment," explains Culshaw. "Before September 11, you could make him that [impersonating Bush's voice] 'Great big fan of Sesame Street and that whole thing, and inebramatoximicated and whatever' and at the moment I don't feel you can do that at all. You just have to be supportive and let him get his grip."
Next: Talking with Writer Harold Pinter