May 14, 2004


And what of Abu Hamza? We haven't seen anyone so vilified since Johnny Rotten. I still had no idea who the fuck he was. I just had the feeling that if he was who the Sun said he was, someone more sinister than Mr. Abdullah would be standing next to him. The masked men looked sinister enough on TV, but just seemed like fashion victims close up.

What if Hamza was a terrorist? Britain had negotiated with terrorists before; loads of them had come in from out of the cold and were sitting in Parliament in Northern Ireland. Last time we were at risk from terrorism even a Tory like John Major was negotiating behind the scenes. The situation seemed ludicrous. The governments of Britain and America make allegations outside of court and journalists come to local little Finsbury Park to put them to the Finsbury Park debating society on the pavement.

For a long while I couldn't take anyone seriously. Did he have any connection to anyone who was threatening the UK? Could he be considered a serious spokesman? It didn't seem so at first from close up. It seemed like most of the Finsbury Park guys, he just liked the attention. It made him feel important.

Although I didn't see this government as being serious, about terrorism or about the safety of London, I wondered would Abu Hamza be the sort of person a serious government could negotiate with? Considering how he had been portrayed in the media I knew no one would think so. In some ways he was ridiculed, in others it was implied that he was dangerous. Yet he was one of the only people in the west who stood up and said

" Yes I am a Fundamental Islamist".

And as such all the woes and ills of this international argument had a lone sounding board, with every journalist who thought they had repute queuing up to talk to him. It takes a resilient character to be that sounding board week in, week out, yet Hamza, being Hamza was well up for it. From first impressions I found someone who seemed not to care less what people thought of him but as the weeks went on things started to change.

After my initial approaches I didn't really want to talk to him so much. I was happy just documenting. It was no doubt true that he had considerably revised what he was saying, and the manner in which he said it outside the mosque from what he had said inside. As the weeks went on, and the west's secular journalists were here pitting themselves against the west's only representative of Fundamental Islam it seemed to me that we were actually getting somewhere. From the perspective of peace, it seemed good for both sides of this very serious argument that at least some debate was occurring. It certainly seemed good for Hamza.

The constant justification of his words to non-believers seemed, surprisingly to be turning him into a serious representative of Fundamental Islam, whatever he had previously said. After a few weeks he sat down, the ego softened. For a year now I have watched him say continually that the European people should not be a target, because the majority of them were in the same boat, being anti-war and powerless to do anything about it. I wondered what Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams used to say and do, and how they had trod the road to political respectability- whatever that meant. Could the same road be traveled by Abu Hamza? Looking at the press the idea seemed totally ludicrous. Muslim representatives in the press said he was a nothing. They hated him getting so much attention and said he just gave them a bad name. Yet the BBC, ITV and all the worlds’ media took him seriously enough. Some Islamists on the Internet even said that Hamza was doing such a good job focusing media attention on the ills of Islamists that he must be working for MI-5 himself.

Again I wondered to myself where else on the face of the planet this would be occurring. Elsewhere in the UK I could imagine Islamists in separate groups speaking of their hatred of George Bush, and secular middle class British people wondering when we were going to sling out captain hook. Here at the border of free speech the two sides met under the supervision of the Police. It takes a unique country for this sort of debate to be tolerated in and as such, with the only other choice for this country being to have a faceless, wordless threat I was pleased Hamza was still around, and pleased to be in "Londonistan".

As the weeks went on the scuffles in the media scrum died down. Everyone had their role they felt they should play. As people got used to me being around, I still had the same problem with the same people who felt that it was their job to obstruct my camera, and still had the same friendly debates with some of the brighter and younger of Finsbury Parks Muslim community. Hamza seemed to have done nothing for which the Police wanted to charge him. I wondered what wrong he had done? Maybe The Sun had him all wrong and he was actually just one of those great British eccentrics. I had no way of telling, but I was really pleased that I had this unique document of the reality of British freedom of speech in my camera and totally bemused that I was, for the first time in many long years, now proud of being British.

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