May 14, 2004


A few days later David Blunkett obviously conscious of media pressure issued a timely law designed to get rid of Abu Hamza. As war fever gripped us all we got a timely reminder of the enemy within. I had been following the story the same way as everyone else. From the front page of The Sun and the scuffles on the early evening news. With hooks as hand and a glass eye Hamza made a great bad guy. I typed his name into google and saw the infamous " Looting and shooting " speech he had made from inside the mosque on He was also saying something like

" If a kaffir (godless person) is caught in a Moslem land and you can’t sell him as a slave in the market place then you kill him."

I had been called a kafir in Pakistan. I had been called " kaffir, infidel, heretic " but mostly a word I had never heard before " Malung. " Everywhere I went it was " malung, malung, malung. " Sometimes with hatred, mostly with surprise,

" You are malung? "

" Err. Yes. What’s a malung?"

A few people even shook my hand. In Pakistan if you dress the way everyone else does you are greeted really warmly. The guest is god. I met westerners with beards dressed in the native shalwar kamieze who literally paid for nothing and went from house to house as warmly invited guests. If you have 3 inch bones through your ears and a ring through your nose you are called a "malung " which was variously described to me as someone who was dirty, laughs and smoked dope all day and had no god. Muslims everywhere hated me. After having to resist being forcibly dragged off with the mullah by an angry crowd on my first day in Peshawar I realized that if I conformed it would all be different. I tried on a shalwar kamieze. I hadn't worn a smart collar since my schooldays and I just couldn't get the hang of it.

It certainly gave me a sense of identity going round Pakistan as a malung. It was worth it just for the expressions on people’s faces. I thought I was doing my moral duty fazing their heads. Eventually I took refuge with a pagan tribe right up on the Afghan border that as luck would have it were just starting their annual fertility festival. I got the idea that in the UK things would be different, as I had lived in a Muslim community in Birmingham with no problem. I knew there would be a whole load of Muslims totally used to British culture and expressing themselves within it and looked forward to trying to engage with them, and whatever reaction the way I looked provoked.

Abu Hamza and Finsbury Park were quite close so I thought I would go down without a camera to check out the story for myself. Sure enough there were lots of serious TV cameras, and eventually some Muslims, a few whom were masked gathered. A big, angry looking guy, started preaching. He had been one of the first to arrive and stood out from the others because of his size and beard. He seemed like a classic image of what you would think Fundamental Islam to be. An angry man with a beard preaching against the west. But he wasn't Abu Hamza. He was younger, white and had a London accent.

While he was preaching Abu Hamza arrived photographers swarming around him like he is a rock star. A microphone was pinned on him, the sun shinned on him. He was totally confident and seemed to relish being badass No. 1. He started to preach. He spoke first in Arabic, making media people and I fidget. Then he spoke in English. All his words are against Bush, Blair and Saddam.He angrily accused them of hypocrisy in their dealings with Palestine and Israel and attributed the invasion of Iraq to the business as usual attitude of a tiny minority of American Oil men. He believes that most Arab nations are ruled by apostates who sell their countries wealth to the west whilst the poor starve. I wondered how many British citizens would actually agree with this.

He said that he did not fear deportation because the whole planet belongs to Allah and Allah does not recognise borders. He praises the work of peacemakers who are not Islamic. As he finished preaching every Muslim faced east to pray whilst the gathered media bunched up at the front of the barriers ready to pounce. Muslims surrounded Hamza; the biggest guy who was preaching earlier stuck right beside him. He seemed like a bouncer. I wondered if Abu Hamza had known him from his reported days as a bouncer. T.V. cameras, pundits and journalists swooped and the Muslims literally pushed their way through, pulling leads from cameras and blocking lenses. The police wisely stood back and let them all get on with it. Very little was said. Someone asked a question, I overheard Hamza's answer " Lies and more lies " scary looking Islamists with masks entangled themselves with camera people. Eventually Hamza and the bouncer character were able to walk away freely down the road. No police, no secret looking MI-5 people hiding in trees, just the two guys walking off into the sunshine.

I wondered to myself what on earth I would do the next week, what questions I might try to ask Hamza and how I would get an opportunity to do so. I had really enjoyed interviewing the kids in Parliament Square and was well up for my first media scrum. Being anti war certainly didn't make me pro-Hamza. He had not caught the sympathy of the protest movement and few Muslims seemed to have a good word to say about him. When I called the Muslim Association of Great Britain they wouldn't speak to me about Hamza. They called me a sensationalist, and seemed convinced I was working for the Sun. I was fascinated by the theatrical nature of the interplay between Muslims and media and there was something laughably British about the way the police refereed.

I had no idea what was going on really but thought if I was really intending to have fun during this war, joining in the game these strangers chose to play with each other seemed like the best course of action. The Government and the press vs. the mosque in the street seemed like a unique opportunity. I decided straight away that I didn't want to bust in on these guys place of worship any more than I would bust in with a camera and a pile of questions to any mosque or church. I would only disturb their gathering if big cameras were already doing so or if I was invited. Yet this was not only a mosque. Theatrically it was tense, spontaneous high drama every bit as fascinating as the kids protest at the start of the war for totally different reasons. The staring character was a cartoon character cartooned beyond cartoonism. And he was real. God and everybody’s concept of God was involved.

The last time I had got involved in any religious ceremony was in India where I experimented with desert Hinduism in Rhajistan. I was also experimenting with a drug called ketamine which Indian chemists do good business selling to British malungs. For me this seemed to amplify the god consciousness of it all. There are strains of conservative Hinduism amongst middle class families in India and the west, but in the desert celebration is much more frantic. No one minded my sniffing of powders or my staggering dancing, a few babas (holy men) joined in with both. In the UK in the mid nineties like most people my age I had got turned on to dance music and the drugs which went with it like it was a religion. There was no doubt about it, being out of my face made me feel closer to god and my fellow man. Crossing the border into Pakistan sobered me up abruptly. Everywhere I went people asked the same questions. It became like a ritual.

" What is this? " they would ask pointing at my nose ring.

" Gold! " I would answer.

" But what is this?" they would say worriedly, their hand going to their ear.

" Bone! " I would say triumphantly.

" But what is this? " they would say pointing at my neck.

" Seeds!"- I had a necklace made out of rodrugs (Shiva seeds)

" And what is this?" their hands going to their wrists.

" Copper!" I had heavy copper bracelets on.

" But what does it all mean? " they would say.

" Jewelry!" I would answer.

The question of religion always came up. People would ask if I was a Muslim, then if I was a Christian. If I answered in the negative to both they would invariably get angry. Not having a god made me the enemy of god and to be the enemy of god was a very big deal. Yet deep in the smugglers bazaar of Peshawar I found Muslims smoking the best hashish I have ever found, and using it as an aid to worship. I got high with them and was warmly welcome to sit while they prayed facing a wall covered with beautiful Islamic writing. A withered old guy turned to me

" So what do you think of these poor unfortunate souls who have no god?" he asked me in perfect Queens English.

" Terrible.." I said as the blood rushed to my head and my ears started to zing.

At the only protest mosque in British history I wondered if I would get the same reaction I got in Pakistan? How would a malung be treated at Finsbury Park mosque? I didn't think it a good idea to turn up with any ketamine as this form of worship required you to sit still in one place and there was definitely no dancing. The first time I ever noticed Finsbury Park mosque was 10 years ago. I was stuck in traffic on a motorbike, I heard the call to prayer looked up and saw the now infamous building. I looked round to see a fat English guy in a string vest lean out of his window and shout

" Shaaad aaap!!"

I laughed at this wonderful picture of Britain. I bet this guy did this every Friday and loved doing it. I would never have dreamt of going into the mosque whilst it was opened, but with its occupants taking to the street in protest I was fascinated to at least have a go at documenting what these people really believed about the world we live in. Knowing it would be coloured so much by the way I looked made me feel like I was bound to a chaos element which would provoke a reflection of a totally different type of Britain for whatever shaky camera I could find to record on. I wanted to go into the news business.

That weekend there was another big London protest, ending in another round of speeches in Hyde Park. This time I managed to slip through backstage and watched Ken Livingstone telling everyone how much he supported the kid’s action. I stopped him as he came off backstage and told him how worried I was for the kids as they were completely on their own, taking on the police. Would he be able to go down there, as he supported them? He sort of took huge steps away from me. He didn't actually run, just moved quickly, leaving me with someone who gave me a card with Mayor of London written on it. I roached it for a spliff later.

The unseasonable sun continued as war fever gripped us all through the T.V. The next Friday, I managed to convince a veteran protest journalist in his fifties called J. to join me at Finsbury Park. Even though he had been close filming in riots for 30 years he was terrified and thought he was surrounded by terrorists. I thought we were surrounded by local Finsbury Park Muslims wearing masks as a fashion statement. I thought to myself that if I managed to talk to the big guy and make clear that I was separate to the gathered journalists and camera people, I might get a chance to talk to Abu Hamza, although I still had no idea what to ask him. If I was going to approach the big guy with a camera I thought I had better do so very, very carefully.

Pretty soon he arrived and we approached him camera rolling before I could loose my nerve. I told him how we had previously filmed the kid’s protest in Parliament Square. Considering how I had seen him preach the week before I was surprised to find the guy, whose name was Abu Abdullah very approachable. He told me of his belief that Freemasons and Zionists run the world. He also told me that he believed George Bush, Ronald Regan and Donald Runsfeld sacrificed children to a 40 foot owl god in a place called Bohemian Grove in the U.S.A. He said he believed that the people who run the world would have to eradicate Islam because Islamists would not submit to man made laws.

" Many people are ignorant about what’s happening in Chechnya right now, pregnant women’s stomachs are being opened up by Russian soldiers and the contents is being thrown across the floor. Young children are being raped by gangs of Russian soldiers. "

He believed the September 11th attacks to be the work of the C.I.A and Mossad. It was a small price to pay to take over the world. He denied that Muslims were a threat to the British people and said that the killing of innocents was totally against Islamic law. I felt that we had quite a polite British conversation. I was surprised that he had a lot of faith in the theories of David Ike. My activist friend was pleased with my efforts.

" Excellent you've got us right in the middle of everything, the trouble is you've got me in the middle of all this as well. There's BBC and ITV and everyone down here and I haven't got my mask..."

" Yeah you know The Sun and all that try to portray these people.... " I tried to answer.

" Yeah, but I haven't got my don't understand...I'm serious, If I'm going to be on national T.V. I've got to have my mask on "

" Don't worry about your mask. "

" You don't understand I'm a super-hero..."

As Mr. Abdullah preached, still sounding scary as anything, I looked at him in a different light. As a British fundamental Islamist he was a bit of an enigma. I was really glad we spoke; it was worth it to get my stereotyping faculties blown for a bit. He was deadly serious, but didn't seem dangerous or hateful and this was apparently supposed to be an international terrorists second in command. He preached against Homosexuality, Bart Simpson and people walking around naked. He raged against George Bush and those Freemasons who sacrifice to an owl god in Bohemian Grove. As the war was on, and war fever gripped me it felt great to be there hearing this Blair and Bush slamming from the streets.

" Cow-lin Powell? It’s Colin Powell! He can't even read his own name. " He ranted.

I suppose I could have confronted him with the things I disagreed with Islam about and had a much shorter conversation. With war on, I thought it really important to try and reach across the divide between our cultures and strangely enough British politeness seemed to be the bridge. While I fully accepted that most British people probably thought Abu Hamza had overstepped the mark of freedom of speech, it dawned on me that outside Finsbury Park mosque had actually become the border of free speech in this country. I had no idea who was right or wrong, but for the first time in years, all this was giving me the feeling that I was bemusedly proud of being British. I looked around me at this strange scene. I wondered which other country in the world this would be allowed to happen in.

As a person more used to talking to people over loud trance music, talking to Mr. Abdullah, Abu Hamza's apparent second in command in his mosque was one of the strangest things I have ever done in my life. He seemed like an eccentric Londoner, not someone who would be involved in terrorist outrages or someone who would associate with anyone who was. Again, Hamza arrived while he was preaching, looking quite cool for a Fundamental Islamist in his sunglasses. He looked like he thought he was a rock star. As he preached, he gave his run down on the war so far, paying special attention to how the media people in Iraq had been shelled, he believed, to control the story.

He said ordinary people were fighting for the benefit of multinationals whist the rich elite hid in bunkers. He said it was the duty of Muslims to sacrifice, and that they would be called to account for this by God. He said that being anti Zionist was not anti Jewish and that Zionists were just a rich elite who’s only concern was money. As he preached I bit my fingernails wondering what question to ask in the inevitable scrum that would follow. With war on, the atmosphere was really tense. Muslims prayed, media surged forward this time with J. and I, worriedly discussing tactics.

" Don't forget. Be polite.." J. Said nervously. Masked Muslims surrounded Hamza.

" Shall we hang back? " I asked.

" But I got to stick with you, his bouncer is your friend..remember that.."

The media pounced like the beast with many heads from the revelations. I was in the middle of it feeling like a rebellious head. The BBC asked if he was appealing against Blunketts decision. His Muslim friends fought them all off. A short angry guy seemed to be in charge of media relations and was manoeuvring them all onward as cameramen tried to get a clear shot. I pushed in and asked whether he had a message for the mass of British kids who had protested the war.

“ They are great - they should be ruling the country.”

I'd lost J. and swore because I didn't think he had it on camera. I made a fuss as if having a go at J. but I was just trying to locate him. The masked Muslims had heard my question and the same guy who tried to push J. out made way for us. Hamza continued...

" Everybody… even Bin Laden is encouraged. They became the source of security in this country, rather than this billions of pounds spent on MI5 and Scotland Yard because once Muslims and Islamists see the children… the people of this country opposing the war, trying to save their blood, this is what we want. We want to live together. I think they should be ruling the country."

I asked if he thought poor Muslim children of the east would become more militant as a result of this war. He said

“ I think everyone, even women will become militant, can you see women who have lost their children see the aggressors who killed their child? Even women will become martyrdom.”

There was loads of jostling and professional media questions. Then I asked him if he was a threat to Britain. I think he said

“ I’ve been here 25 years and I’ve never threatened anyone. “

The Muslims went beyond a barrier and told the media people to stay back. I spoke a bit longer to Mr Abdullah who told me of a website, where he said it was reported that 8 million Christians recognised that the American government belonged to the occult. I felt pretty good about what we had on camera. In the back of my mind I was worried that maybe I might be just giving easy questions to a terrorist. The kids certainly didn't need his support, yet at the time with war raging I couldn't agree more with his answer. Seeing the ineffectualness of the British protest movement in stopping wars, and the way the British government chose to run them I felt like I wouldn't trust anyone over the age of 16 to run anything. Hamza seemed very arrogant and I remembered his kaffir killing comments from the Internet. If I hadn't got such an honest vibe from Mr. Abdullah I wouldn't have gone back. Overall I had no idea what was going on but I had fun.

I went to a Stop the War meeting In Belsize Park the day Saddam's statue came down. Someone got up and said that everyone should be celebrating. I pretty much agreed but was the only one to clap. One of the school protests organizers was there; I asked her if she thought Tony Blair’s citizenship lessons had backfired on him and whether their action was a campaign for a lowering of the voting age. She thought Tony Blair should be doing a humanities G.C.S.E.

The next Friday Hamza was preaching about Jesus in the temple turning over the tables of the money lenders. I asked him about usury and whether his message was anti-capitalist.

" Its not anti-capitalist its anti wrong. You shouldn't earn your money from immoral means. "

Gillian Joseph from BBC London was there; looking even more gorgeous than she does on T.V. she asked him if he was appealing his conviction. The short guy shouted

" No Comment..." he was good at this and deflected further questions as they all did a runner.

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