This sickening atrocity in London is exactly what we are paying the same kind of people to do in Syria
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) May 22, 2013
A member of the U.K. parliament named George Galloway responded to the bizarre machete attack in London, which some reports say killed a British soldier, with a quip on Twitter about U.K. foreign policy. "This sickening atrocity in London is exactly what we are paying the same kind of people to do in Syria," he wrote, provoking immediate controversy.
Galloway, who opposes his country's decision to support some rebel groups in Syria, seems to be arguing that those rebels are akin to the machete attackers. While it's not clear why the two men killed a third in the London neighborhood of Woolwich, one of them later said, with blood still on his hands, "The only reasons we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day. This British soldier is an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth."
Since making his comment, Galloway has been embroiled in a number of arguments on Twitter over the statement. He has dug in, saying that both Syrian rebels and the Woolwich attackers are "Al Qaeda followers. Sickening murderers. The kind we arm and pay for in Syria." When one Twitter user responded, "I don't think we go up to random people, run them over, then behead them," Galloway shot back, "no, we pay Al Qaeda to do so. In Syria."
Western governments have indeed worried that funding intended for moderate Syrian rebel groups might end up in the hands of extremists, such as the al-Qaeda-allied group Jabhat al-Nusra. And some rebels have committed atrocities. Still, it seems a stretch to suggest that the U.K. government is paying Syrian opposition groups specifically to kill civilians or that it is seeking to fund al-Qaeda affiliates.
Galloway has a history of controversial remarks on U.K. foreign policy in the Middle East. In 2003, as the Iraq War divided U.K. politics, Galloway was formally expelled from the Labour Party on charges of "inciting Arabs to fight British troops" (the weird wording of that will be clearer in a moment) and "inciting British troops to defy orders." Galloway made his offending statements on Abu Dhabi TV, when he urged British troops to disobey "illegal orders," which he apparently saw as applying to the entire war, and seemed to suggest that neighboring Middle Eastern states should come to Iraq's defense. "Why don't Arabs do something for the Iraqis?" he asked. "Where are the Arab armies? We wonder when the Arab leaders wake up? When are they going to stand by the Iraqi people?"
He's also referred to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime as "the last castle of Arab dignity."
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, after a recent spat with Galloway, made clear that he will try to unseat him in the next election.