What should we make of Moazzam Begg, a former British detainee at Bagram Internment Facility and later, Guantanamo Bay? The Birmingham-born and raised Pakistani grew up in a middle-class family with a caring dad. He attended a nice Jewish school.
And somewhere along the way, he became a dangerous Islamic radical with shadowy links to global terrorist organisations: the Bosnian Mujahideen, the Chechnya Mujahadeen, and the Afghanistan Taliban.
Or maybe that’s just what the British State want you to believe. After all, Begg has never been convicted of any criminal, let alone a terrorist, act. Indeed, President George W. Bush released Begg from Guantanamo without charge as long ago as January 2005.
Taking cues from Errol Morris’ war-on-terror docs, notably The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure, Ashish Ghadali’s riveting documentary takes the form of an extensive interview. Speaking calmly and quietly, Begg explains his personal history, his complicated allegiances and the events leading up to his forced confession (stating that he was an al-Qaeda member).
He had not, he explains, “seen daylight for more than a year”.
Begg, an articulate, measured man, never sounds anything but perfectly reasonable: he went to Afghanistan to live under the Taliban but not join them. Having fled to Pakistan, he crossed back into Afghanistan as there was nowhere one could buy things.
It’s a complicated story, made all the more circuitous, by Begg’s own views. He believes, simultaneously, in multi-cultural Britain and jihad.
Ashish Ghadiali is prepared to question his subject: “You weren’t just going to Turkey to sit on the beach”, he interjects, during Begg’s account of travelling toward Chechnya.
Yet the filmmaker skilfully avoids any moral pronouncements. Begg may be a stitched-up family man with a passionate interest in global oppression. He may be a fanatic who has been increasingly radicalised by the mistreatment and misunderstanding of Islam in the post-9/11 world. He may even be all of these things.