George Galloway’s views on rape are absolutely clear, as he recently said in response to a demonstration in Bradford: ‘I have said repeatedly that no always means no and that non-consensual sex is rape.”
It is perhaps suprising therefore that Galloway’s views are considered so controversial by some of his ostensible political allies, that Kate Hudson has stepped down from being Respect’s by-election candidate in Manchester. Predictably that empty balloon Sunny Hundal has described this act as “brave”. Sunny of course values above all else intellectual conformity to the smug Guardian reading consensus.
Actually, the remarks by George Galloway on his podcast about the potential charges facing Julian Assange could have been more felicitously worded, but George was raising a substantive political argument.
Firstly, the extraordinary effort being exerted by the Swedish and British governments to pursue Assange over these accusations is a cruel parody of the inaction, complacency and inertia that characterises their normal approach to violence, oppression and exploitation of women. Secondly, Assange’s trial by media has been a travesty of justice, where neither the presumption of innocence, nor the anonymity and dignity of the alleged victims has been respected. No justice for anyone can be achieved in the context of this circus.
Of course the facts of what actually happened in privacy between Assange and the women accusing him is disputed. George may therefore have over stated his case by expressing a judgement in his pod-cast that there was no rape. However, the criminal law is a very blunt and inadequate instrument for resolving the complex issues of trust and consent in real life sexual relationships, mired as they are in game playing, half-truths, social expectations, emotional pressure, feelings of obligation and unequal power relationships.
As I have written before in the context of discussing Canada’s problematic rape laws, some liberal and feminist assumptions about rape can even work against women. The academic Lise Gotell argues the new transactional norms of consent in Canadian sexual assault law actually move away from a recognition of unequal power relationships that complicate messy and real-life conditions of consent; so that sexual assault becomes instead merely a failure of personal responsibility, making the crime individual and depoliticised; and paradoxically discriminating against women who themselves fail to follow social norms of avoiding risk.
We now rightly reject the earlier model of “ideal victim” who due to their modest chastity is regarded as inherently believable; but instead there is a danger of creating a new “ideal victim” who is articulate and has a transactional approach to sexual consent. Assuming that real life sexual encounters take place in a dispassionate context where consent is always explicitly negotiated doesn’t reflect the often opaque muddle of consensual seduction, and non-verbal communication.
Without making any specific judgement about the facts in Julian Assange’s own case, we can see that George Galloway was making a substantive point that once two people have embarked upon a consensual sexual encounter, then a game is in play where both parties may assume a level of continued implied consent unless that consent is unambiguously withdrawn. Of course either party may at any time withdraw consent, and if sex then continues on a non-consensual basis then it is rape. However, all sexually active adults – women and men – will have at some time or another consensually continued with sex when they didn’t really want to, out of feelings of emotional or social obligation; and all sexually active adults – women and men – will have consensually allowed themselves to be seduced, even though they did not originally want sex. There is therefore an ambiguous grey continuum surrounding understandings of consensuality in real world sex; and it is entirely necessary to recognise that there can be breaches of trust, poor sexual etiquette, selfishness and generally boorish behaviour that is reprehensible, even disgraceful, but that are close enough to social norms that it would be unproductive to treat them as criminal.
I might not have expressed myself exactly as George Galloway did, and I may not totally agree with the content of what he said; but in the context of the populist medium of his pod-cast, especially when taken together with his later clarification, then Galloway’s comments were a pertinent contribution to a political debate.
What has subsequently happened though has taken on the character of a witch hunt. There is a danger here that all allegations of rape carry with them an assumption of guilt, and that any critical questioning of what does and does not constitute consent in real world sex is traduced as if it was apologia for rape. Galloway’s remarks have become the centre of a moral panic of the chatterati, being gleefully stoked up by the self-interested spite of his many detractors.
I have to say that I was disappointed that Salma Yaqoob publically distanced herself from George Galloway. It would have been more appropriate for her to have discussed any misgivings privately.
Kate Hudson’s withdrawal from the Manchester by-election is extraordinary.
I have to set some personal context here: as a Labour Party member I will obviously be supporting Labour in the Manchester Central by-election. I think it is important in the broader labour movement’s campaign against this Tory led government for Labour to win here. Lucy Powell is a good candidate, and we can’t afford a by-election upset that would potentially destabilise Ed Miliband’s authority. My own characterisation of Respect is that it is a broadly labourist party that gives expression to anti-war and anti-imperialist sentiment that cannot find electoral expression through the Labour Party, and that therefore Respect’s own interests are complementary to the broad labour movement’s objective of securing a Labour government. I have always therefore argued that Respect were wrong to stand against Labour in Manchester Central.
However, there is another issue, that the Bradford West by-election result created an unrealistic expectation in Respect’s prospects for growth and electoral success. Bradford happened due to a particular constellation of specific circumstances, not least of which was the personality and talent of George Galloway. These could not be reproduced anywhere else. With all due respect to Kate Hudson, notwithstanding her sterling work for CND, she is no Galloway, and the most likely outcome for her in the Manchester Central by-election would have been a bruising lost deposit. The wind of Bradford has gone from Respect’s sales.
The American socialist, James Cannon, once observed that everyone has two reasons for what they do, the good reason and the real reason: whether the real reason is consciously articulated or not. I don’t know what Kate Hudson’s motives for standing down as Respect candidate are, but I observe that they extract her from an election campaign where she would have undoubtedly received a very poor vote, after she had misguidedly talked up her own prospects.
So what of George Galloway? Party politics aside, Galloway has a record of substantial achievement in opposing imperialism and of solidarity with the Palestinian people that is unrivalled. He is an articulate ( if iconoclastic) populariser of socialist politics, with a reach and influence far beyond the normal boundaries of the left.
I don’t agree with everything that George says or does, but I consider him a considerable asset to left politics, and I consider him a good and trustworthy man. Of course George is human, with all the quirks and frailties that implies, but he is also uniquely under scrutiny, with seemingly the whole world waiting for him to mis-speak or slip up.
Frankly, the left should resist the moral panic and stand with George Galloway. It is easier to swim with the stream and join the quacking chorus of detractors, but now is the time for George Galloway’s friends and allies to speak out in his support.