Director: Ashish Ghadiali
Cast: Moazzam Begg
Watch The Confession online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Who is Moazzam Begg? That’s the question The Confession attempts to answer. According to the government, he’s an Islamic extremist with links to the Taliban and the Mujahideen. He’s been detained under suspicion of terrorism and confessed to being in Al Qaeda, but never convicted.
Begg has been asking himself that question ever since he was a teenager, as he grew up in Birmingham, the son of a father who migrated to the UK from Pakistan. It was over time that he became radicalised, as incidents such as 9/11 occurred, and began to see the way Islam was represented in the western media as prejudiced.
Director Ashish Ghadiali lets Begg talk almost uninterrupted for an hour and a half to present his perspective on events, from his time in Guatanamo to his decision to leave the country and live under the Taliban. The result is a 90-minute interview that is more complicated than you might expect. Begg’s comments are full of tiny contradictions, which Ghadiali gently probes.
Does he believe in fighting back to some degree? Yes, but his radicalisation doesn’t extend to civilian targets – he reclaims the meaning of jihad as “rising above” conflict. Is he British? Yes, but he isn’t in favour of the country’s foreign policy and still moved to Afghanistan for a period. Did he confess to being in Al Qaeda? Yes, but neither confession, he says, was genuine, either due to threats of torture or execution.
Ghadiali presents most of this as a one-hander, delivered practically straight to camera – a low-key style that occasionally has the air of a police interrogation room. Like the similar The Fear of 13, The Confession benefits hugely from having such a charismatic subject, with Begg proving cogent, calm and extremely eloquent throughout. How much you agree with him is another matter entirely – “I was not anti-State,” he says at one point, “the state was anti-me.” – but it’s important to bear in mind that he has never been convicted and has plausible explanations for his actions. His Islamic bookshop, which was raided repeatedly by police, he explains, sold books that were also available in Waterstones.
The director uses noise, news footage and black screens to bring Begg’s words to vivid life, but resists any urge to judge his subject, creating an intriguing, uniquely ambiguous take on global issues – one that proves thought-provoking, surprising and gripping. Who is Moazzam Begg? It’s hard to say, but he’s certainly an interesting person to listen to.
The Confession is available on BBC iPlayer until 15th November 2016.