911 Nonsense

This is a guest post by Igor

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, writers, politicians and public figures will be competing to have their reminiscences of that day published. Some, like Paul Berman’s essay, will be profound and thought-provoking. But others promise to be so stupid as to be unintentionally comic. You can trust George Galloway to fall into the latter category.

This weeks New Statesman is dedicated to the anniversary, and includes the memories of a range of personalities, including Galloway. While they are not yet online, Galloway’s contribution includes the following claim:

Nor was [9/11] the worst atrocity of our times – the US-backed Israeli government, in which Ariel Sharon was defence minister, facilitated the massacre of even greater numbers of defenceless Palestinian refugees in the Beirut camps of Sabra and Shatila.

Firstly, Galloway is almost certainly wrong about the numbers. Just short of 3,000 people were killed on 9/11. The highest casualty estimate for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre stands at 3,000 – 3,500 killed, and this is significantly higher than any other estimate; most put the number of dead somewhere between 700 and 2,000 (Wikipedia has a good summary of the different estimates and their sources). Robert Fisk, who tends to know about Lebanese history and certainly has no sympathy for Israel, has settled on 1,700.

Secondly, to claim that the Sabra and Shatila massacre, as terrible as it was, was “the worst atrocity of our times”, is absurd. For example (and without even delving into the enormous numbers of people killed in Congo, or Sudan), earlier that very same year, a little over 100 miles north of Beirut, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad had overseen the massacre of between 10,000 and 20,000 people in the town of Hama.

Who on earth could support a country or ruler who did such a thing?

I supported Iran [in their 1980s war against Iraq], as did Syria, the Arab country to which I was then closest. (emphasis added)

(George Galloway, I’m Not the Only One, 2005 page 41).