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Moazzam Begg’s ‘confessions’ tell the story of an Islamophobic age

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Moazzam Begg knows what it’s like to exist under the War on Terror. In a new documentary he recounts a life that can inspire resistance to racism and repression, writes Talat Ahmed
Issue 2516
Moazzam Begg in The Confession
Moazzam Begg in The Confession

The Confession: Living the War on Terror is a powerful documentary that will make you angry—and immensely proud of every anti-war march you have been on. It charts Moazzam Begg’s journey from a happy Birmingham childhood to being Britain’s most high profile political prisoner.

Its title refers to “confessions” he made under duress, following mental and physical torture. The deeper confession is Moazzam telling his story over an hour and a half with humbling calm and clarity.

Moazzam was detained for three years in 2002 by the US in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay for alleged links to Al-Qaida.

He was released after a sustained campaign, then arrested again in 2014 for alleged terrorist activity over Syria. Again he was released, police admitting he was not guilty.

Each time the charges against him failed to reach the courts—so he missed out on a chance to put the British state in the dock.

Educated at a Jewish school, with a mixed group of mixed friends, Moazzam’s early political awakening was a response to racist violence from the Nazi British National Party in the early 1990s.

In his early twenties Moazzam watched with horror as the US pounded Baghdad in the Gulf War in 1991. Later the Bosnian war brought tales of ethnic cleansing, rapes and massacres.


In both conflicts Moazzam saw most of the world stand by as Muslims were slaughtered. The end of the Cold War brought a new enemy for the West in the form of Islamic extremism. Suddenly not just his skin colour but also his religion marked Moazzam as an “outsider”.

He quit his job, set up an Islamic bookshop and moved from being “partially Islamic to becoming fully Islamic”.

He travelled to Bosnia and met Mujahideen fighters from across the world. Inspired by their spirit to defend Muslims, he planned to go to Chechnya for similar reasons.

Though never involved in fighting he came under the radar of British intelligence. Moazzam’s family faced house searches. He was interrogated about his political views but never charged.

The documentary reveals an MI5 agent who remained a ­constant presence from this moment through to Guantanamo.

This is the backdrop to persistent surveillance when he went to Afghanistan and his arrest in Pakistan. He was shackled and hooded with a gun to his head.

The film intersperses Moazzam’s voice with film footage of war preparations and speeches by politicians such as Tony Blair.

For director Ashish Ghadiali, the War on Terror has made any male with brown skin an object of ­suspicion.

At a Q&A event he told Moazzam, “through telling the story of one person, you are revealing the story of an age”.

The Confession is in some cinemas now. Go to ­­ for screenings

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