Director: Ashish Ghadiali
With: Moazzam Begg, James Rogan, Keidrych Wasley
96min | UK | Documentary
Variously identifying as a British Muslim and a jihadist, one time Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, who is of Pakistani ancestry, purports to be an inquisitive traveller – a global adventurer even – who would rather make up his own mind about the world, than accept the views of the mainstream majority. Fair enough. But the authorities have considered him a questionable Islamic radical who has forged links to a range of Mujahideen Bosnians and even joined the Taliban in Afghanistan, taking his family to live in Lograr while he moved backwards and forwards from Kabul ‘on business’. And although he has never been convicted of a crime, the thrust of his premise is that the West is not only responsible for radical Islam’s jihad against it, but also for the violence that has gone on between Muslims and their fellow brethren in the Middle East – yet public hangings, mutilations and executions have always gone on across the region and have been since the beginning time, regarded as the kind of entertainment to which one business associate might invite another.
Throughout Ashish Ghadiali’s absorbing documentary debut, commissioned by the BFI and BBC Storyline, the focus is on Begg as he is interviewed by an unseen Police inquisitor in much the same style as in the recent Fear of 13. He comes across as a quietly spoken but rather wilful subversive – not unlike Julian Assange in his conviction and self absorption – whose views shift constantly between the plausible and the somewhat outlandish, as he remains calm, composed and rational throughout his confession’, which is colourfully fleshed out by archive footage and numerous photographs and the occasional appearance from his father, a Pakistani banker who settled in Brimingham as a young man.
Born in Birmingham, we discover how Begg grew up in the close-knit Muslim community and was educated in a Jewish school. After debating his future in his early twenties, he decided to make Islam the central focus of his life, travelling to Bosnia to join the jihad and then to Chechnya and Afghanistan. No mention is made about how he funds his perpetually peripatetic lifestyle and supports a wife and children other than from his modest Islamic bookshop back in the UK, whose stock, he claims, is no more radical than that of Waterstones.
Begg is either cunningly clever in manipulating his right to free speech and movement, or fantastically naive in thinking that his activities were unlikely to provoke attention, and Ghadiali is clearly on his side, although he tries to present an impartial take. At one point Begg was arrested by the British authorities but claimed: “I wasn’t anti-State. The State was anti-me.” But then he candidly reveals his time as a prisoner, trussed up and naked in Guantanamo, as this was an entirely quotidian affair and routine affair, and there is no shred of bitterness or upset in his manner, leading us to ponder whether he is a narcissist or even a fantasist.
That said, Begg appears highly articulate although at time contradictory, talking of his hope for a united multicultural Britain but, in the same breath, believing in and supporting the jihad, and his white-skinned is wife is pictured wearing a hijab. Ghadiali’s intelligent film certainly provides food for thought but whether this food is just a little ‘rich’ is for you to decide. MT
ON RELEASE FROM 12 AUGUST 2016