If you were an adult in 1990, during the First Gulf War, you probably have very solid views on terrorism, Jihad and the role of the UN, the US and the British troops in Muslim countries. It is quite an exercise to come to the screening of The Confession neglecting your pre-conceived ideas on the issue. Not judging is a necessary step to live an immersive art experience. This is the biggest challenge of The Confession: to influence the public opinion regardless of widespread media coverage. The film portrays the testimony of Moazzam Begg, who was imprisoned in Bagram and Guantanamo Bay for an alleged contribution with Al Qaeda. Despite the film title, Begg has never confessed any wrongdoing.
Begg was a Muslim teen living in Birmingham when the War started. Because of his Pakistani background, he encountered racism at key moments when he tried to fit it. In 1998, he quit his job and “became fully Islamic”, as he says. In that same year, 213 people were killed in the Nairobi blast, and Osama Bin Laden became the most-wanted man in the world.
Moazzam Begg had a shop that sold books such as the Koran and some of his friends were facing terror charges. Eventually he too was arrested. Because there was no evidence against him, he was set free. As soon as he saw himself on the streets again, he flew to Afghanistan. Begg declares he “wanted to live under the Taliban”. He also says that it was not true that the Taliban forbid women to go to school.
At this point, it is clear to everyone which side the documentarist is. Audience is able to listen to Ghadial questioning Begg why he kept going back to Kabul, since his family was not there – they were in Pakistan instead at the time. Begg declares he supports Jihad, but has never joined Al Qaeda, or ISIS, because he didn’t agree with killing civilians. The documentarist challenges him, calling the interviewee a hypocrite. Views are left to decide in who to believe.
The intention of the filmmaker is to document a crime confession, but this never materialises, and Begg does not even fall into contradiction.
This is not the first film to interview alleged criminals, but it is singular in many ways. It is different from El Sicario Room 164 (Gianfranco Rosi, 2010), in which a Mexican hitman speaks of his role in the cartel in Ciudad Juarez. He describes, in astounding detail, his life of crime, murder, abduction and torture. On the other hand, in The Confession, the interviewee compares himself to Malcolm X. His resistance, he believes, is a virtue. He was held for three years in Guantanamo, where he was forced to sign two confessions of being a terrorist for Bin Laden. When finally UK authorities intervene in the case, he was sent back to London – only to be interrogated again in a police station in Paddington.
The documentary is very critic of its subject, stressing Begg’s determination to get into trouble. His next steps are related to Egypt insurrection and Benghazi attack in Libya in 2012.
This is a first-hand account of the impossibility of dialogue. There is hate and there are dogmas from both sides, thus understanding is unfeasible. The psychological differences between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners have raised to the point that the Islamophobia turned into an uncontrollable tendency in Europe and in the US. The meaning of Jihad has been corrupted, and it originally meant the noble struggle to build a good Muslim society. This struggle is still a reality, but means have become very violent.
The Confession is showing this week at Sheffield Doc Fest – click here in order to find out more about the event.