One of the books I read on holiday was by this man- Moazzam Begg. I could not put it down.
Begg, from a fairly affluent secular Muslim background, became something of an adventurer, traveling to Pakistan and Afghanistan as a young man, making sense of his growing faith. He set up a bookshop in Birmingham, and then became active as a supporter of education and water projects in Afghanistan. He appears to have had contacts with people who were radical activists.
As I read the book, I was struck by a similarity between him, and people who may have become involved in Christian radical missionary work. Some of the camps he visited had a para military edge to them, but according to his own account, this was not his world, nor his belief system. I may not share his doctrine or his faith, but many of the principles he appears to hold dear were ones that I honour also…
By what appears to be a combination of his contacts, the places he visited, and a whole set of assumptions, the CIA and perhaps MI5 became convinced he was a terrorist mastermind. So they had him picked up, dragged away from his family, and locked up in various torturous environment, including the infamous Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was manipulated into a spurious confession, but was never charged or convicted of any crime, despite being held in dreadful circumstances for 4 years.
The question that we have to ask, is whether this could ever have happened to a white, middle class Christian male in 21st Century America, or Britain?
There are despotic regimes all over the world- and human rights are perhaps of low priority, but this book asks important questions about the operation about our society, and the misuse of power at this point of our history.
Begg’s style of writing is sometimes difficult to stomach- but the bare facts of his experience, told at a time when there is such political focus on the British governments attempt to extend the length of time that they can hold suspected terror suspects without trial, are compelling.
Christians in the UK have been swift to raise voices of protest against the building of Mosques, or the apparent infringement of our own rights to religious freedom of expression. But perhaps it would be of greater service to Jesus if we would raise our voices to protest injustice and inhumanity against others, rather than ourselves.
Today I read of a planned trial of a 22 year old man, Omar Kadir (a Canadian subject) who has also spent years in Guantanamo. He is charged with war crimes, and the murder of a US soldier during a raid on a suspected al-Quaida camp. Kadir had been sent there by his radical Palestinian father, and was 15 when he was seriously injured and captured. A video of one of his hundreds of interrogations has been released, in which he can be seen sobbing for his mother. He has now spent one quarter of his life in captivity.
International law states that those captured in armed conflict under the age of 18 deserve protection. Child soldiers are weapons that despots have employed often enough. Moazzam Begg in his book makes reference to the incredible vulnerability of this boy.
What should our response be?
Perhaps it might be to understand a little better- perhaps give this book a try.