The next week I couldn't convince J. to come down. Asif Hanif had become the first British suicide bomber in Israel and I knew Finsbury Park would be hot.
" They are all terrorists.. My cause is environmental. Tuvalu is disappearing into the sea and you want me to film a bunch of terrorists.,” said J over the phone.
He could not be swayed. The idea of money entered my head.
" Maybe we could earn money from this..?"
At this he got angry. I knew he had been a good professional journalist many years previously in New Zealand.
" I don't want money!..I don't want to be your employee! You want money? " He put the phone down.
I was in finsbury Park with no camera. Ah well, I suppose I will just have to watch what happens again. My mobile rang, it was the BBC.
“ I hear you get to speak to Abu Hamza “
“eer..Well..” the idea of a second mainstream media infiltration was suddenly on the cards. How had they got my number? It must have been J.
" Would you film for us? "
“ We’ll have a camera crew there in 10 minutes.”
Another TV station phoned. Channel 5 I think.
“ Would you like to film for us? “
“ Err.. Well I’m filming for the BBC but they haven’t offered me any money?”
“ Oh well we’ll get our stuff from ITN.”
I bumped into Colin Baker who I recognised from ITN.
“ Are you filming for the BBC? “ he asked.
He was with another journalist I recognised from the TV who he made buy me a coffee.
" He's after a favour from me.." Colin confided.
" Sugar? " asked the other TV journalist sourly.
" One please.."
I liked Colin. He gave me loads of encouragement. I thought of the traditional rivalry between BBC and ITV news. Hmm I was up against Colin Baker. That makes me a top bollocks newsman. Rather than rivalling I showed him who Mr. Abdullah was and what I knew of what had been happening. He gave Mr. Abdullah quite a polite and professional grilling. One of the masked guys made sure he was in the background of the camera shot. A cameraman turned up for me with a burly security guard. I wasn't ready for this. I wanted to document how fundamental Islamists felt, not frighten them off. I knew the question I would get paid for but was in no way sure how to get to it with Hamza.
I asked Mr. Abdullah if he knew Asif Hanif. I could tell straight away that with a BBC camera he viewed me as having changed sides for money. When Abu Hamza preached I noticed he spoke very specifically from the Koran against suicide and against killing innocents. At the end I watched Colin in full ITN “ do you refute these allegations” mode. I think someone punched him in the guts, which looked quite funny. I went forward with huge stupid woolly microphone, South African cameraman and a burly BBC security dude in tow. I started asking if there was a truth and reconciliation council set up would he join it.
" Err between who and who? " said Hamza.
"Err..." I wasn't ready for this.
NO COMMENT shouted the short guy. He was annoying. I repeated the question, louder. He started to move from me. I suppose this was unfair journalism. No one but me had suggested the idea of a truth and reconciliation council and here I was asking him to comment on it. For the BBC. He started to walk. The last thing I wanted was to be just another media person chasing after Hamza with a camera but that was exactly what was happening. Afterwards I discussed with Colin the fundamentalists view that they broadcast what the government told them and asked him if he had ever been censored.
" I can honestly put my hand on my heart.." he started. I made him do this before he carried on.
" I can put my hand on my heart and say that I've always had complete editorial control over what I do"
He advised me against journalistic training, saying most people he knew in TV had none and to the others it was often a detriment. I didn't see his report but got the impression he thought Hamza was a terrorist. I knew a lot of my video activist friends would have thought Colin Baker was part of the establishment, but I had become bored with the moral superiority of the underground media " Us and them" attitude and wanted to find out for myself. I was determined to keep an open mind about everyone I met on this bizarre journey, Abu Hamza included.
The next week I turned up and no one wanted to talk to me especially Mr. Abdullah. I could see they felt that when I had my own camera I asked one sort of question, yet when I joined what they viewed as the opposition I had taken their line. They did not believe in a free press, but thought the press worked directly for the government. The question I had asked was genuinely mine but maybe I had been coloured by the idea of earning some money. I had no idea what would happen being more malung than professional journalist. It had gone wrong but didn’t put me off the story. I don’t think the BBC showed any of it. My second attempt at mainstream media infiltration had failed and I didn’t hear from the BBC again.
With successes and failures I had become intrigued as to who British fundamental Islamists actually were as people. I was struck by that surprise glimmer of national pride I had felt with the reality of the situation at Finsbury Park. I got the feeling that London must be one of the most successfully racially integrated places on the face of the planet and that was something to celebrate with a film, rather than making a dogmatic film complaining about Police or government.
Given the situation, it seemed to me that Britain and London in particular was actually the best place in the world to actively seek a solution to this problem and I was angry that no one in government was doing so. It seemed bizarre how the media had focused so much energy around one person, and how much Hamza was up for it, more or less giving them what they wanted. The idea of documenting the war on terror as it unfolded from the perspective of Finsbury Park mosque intrigued me.
I got a surprise call from J. Tom Hurndall; a young British Student Journalist who had been shot by Israeli troops in Palestine was being flown back to a Hampstead hospital. His parents who were flying with him were giving a press conference. I ran from my house across Hampstead heath to find lots of TV cameras in the foyer of the hospital. J. was there apparently wearing pyjama trousers and an Army Jacket with nervous security guards trying to convince him to leave. The press liaison officer of the hospital came out and invited all with press cards to the hospital conference room. We went in with everyone else.
The nervous security tried to throw J. out. The press liaison officer walked in and announced that the conference was for those with journalist cards only. We sat tight. She came back and asked me personally to leave. Not wanting to stress out Tom's parents in such conditions I tried to persuade J. to leave with me. He told me to fuck off. As he sat there I couldn't tell if he was going to cry or go ballistic. I apologised to the organisers.
The security said I should get my mate out or they would throw him out. I told them how he had been close filming battles with Riot police for 30 years and if they wanted to get him out they should get six of their friends just in case. They looked at each other nervously. The press liaison lady was really nice. I explained that I didn't want to cause trouble. I thought Tom, being a student journalist himself would have approved of us being there. Christopher Peacock from ITN was there smiling. He seemed to shine with a beatific glow. Gillian Joseph was there again. She spoke to the press liaison lady for us, which she didn't have to do; I thought it was really nice of her, she is very beautiful.
She came back in and told me everything was OK and the conference was going ahead. I didn't ask many questions of Tom's parents, the previous events having put me off my stride, but it was good to hear about the realities of Palestine from normal, Hampstead Londoners with no axe to grind no flag to fly, just a natural parents concern for a child. I got a feeling-, which I still have, that they will have an important further part to play in the story of the Palestine/Israeli conflict.
The next week Abu Hamza was still about. I found out that Blunkett had sunk himself with the wording of the very law designed to rid us all of the troublesome Hamza. As far as I could tell, you could throw someone out of the country if they had a country to go to but not if they would be stateless. When Hamza had become a British citizen he had given up his Egyptian citizenship and therefore had no country to go to and would be stateless. I wondered how David Blunkett had found himself in such a ridiculous position.
The whole thing seemed absurd to me. The Sun and the world’s media was here accusing, yet no police were arresting. I had read about Hamza's 16-year-old son being arrested for trying to break back into the mosque. Apparently he broke someone’s jaw when they came to arrest him. I had an idea to edit the stuff we had of the kids protest into a film and thought it would be great to have an interview with Abu Hamzas son in it.
I tried to ask Hamza. I was without a camera in the media scrum but he kept turning his face away from me, trying to ignore me, obviously still angry about my BBC ventures before, which I was also frantically trying to explain. Journalists were shouting at me to fuck off. As he was turning his face this way and that I didn't notice two police had joined in until they had the short angry guy with his arms up behind his back. All the supposedly dangerous guys with masks stepped back. Not thinking twice and used to speaking to Police in a lot more heated situations on Mayday demos I jumped in to reason with them. They eventually let go and the Finsbury crew moved off. It was at this point I sort of decided to give up with Hamza. He just seemed to egotistical for me and too into his media image.
I didn't agree with a lot of what Mr Abdullah said, but got the gut feeling that he was speaking from his heart. His whole demeanour was just totally unterrorist like. And he stood next to Hamza. I decided to concentrate more on him if he would speak to me. I remembered my all time favourite documentary Nick Broomfield had made about Eugene Terrablanche in South Africa where he had gone after Terrablanche but ended up making a film with his chauffeur. I wondered if I was in a similar situation.
I managed to befriend a younger Muslim guy who had been watching my antics with amusement. We went to an Internet cafe where he showed me his website which had animated gifs of flamethrowers burning U.S, U.N and Israeli flags. He didn't seem like a terrorist or likely to blow himself up at any point in the near future but he knew what he believed and why.
Like a lot of young Muslims he is fiercely intelligent, but he had a laid back demeanour and could listen to my criticisms and come back with well thought out measured answers. I learnt a lot from him about how young British Islamists felt. Unfortunately he would not appear on camera, a situation I was to encounter all too often with young fundamental Islamists. He spoke to me about Taliban trucks driving through Karachi recruiting youngsters for the war in Afghanistan. Apparently a lot of kids jumped in without telling their parents where they were going.
He said that Abu Hamza had advised young Muslims in Finsbury Park to go to Afghanistan just to know what it felt like to live under real Islamic law. He told me that Taliban just meant " student." I asked him whether they were teaching each other to use Kalashnikovs in the Mosque before it closed. He said he had never seen a gun in the mosque and that surely if they were going to do that, hiding in a safe house would be less blatant than testing out guns in a mosque. He thought the story laughable. I asked him if he or his friends had ever fired a Kalashnikov.
" No have you? " he asked
I had to admit that I had. A lot of travelers in Asia told of a place in Pakistan called Dara where they made Kalashnikovs and other handguns with machine tools. Apparently kids made bullets in the street by hand. As I was in Peshawar I thought what the hell. I had befriended a German guy. I don't usually get on with Germans, yet when you find one with a sense of humor they usually have a wickedly dry sense of humor. He was that sort of German. Dara was in tribal territory officially off limits to foreigners but we thought we'd give it a go. The bus, as usual for Pakistan, was stuffed full of men with no women anywhere. One of the other passengers turned round.
" Where are you going? "
" Dara. " we answered.
" What for? "
" We need weapons!" I announced dramatically.
" You can't go to Dara! Dara is tribal territory!"
" My friend is tribal from England and I am tribal from Germany." my new German friend answered.
" Oh..." I watched the guy explain this to the person sitting next to him in Urdu and nodded seriously and aggressively in the right places.
" Oh..." said the other guy seriously. He had obviously not heard of tribal wars in the UK and was having trouble picturing tattooed and pierced warriors fighting tribal wars against... err...beefeaters?
We carried this on in Dara where as promised we saw kids making bullets in the street. We were offered an Arnie style pump action shotgun to fire or a Kalashnikov and went for the later. We tried to order 400 of each for our tribal wars back home. The vendor helpfully offered us pen guns, which were more concealable. They were the size of a pen but much heavier. He fired one into a wall, which made me jump back.
" Fucking hell, you could kill someone with that! "
On the way home we were pulled off the bus at a Police roadblock. They gave us a full on search asking us if we had bought pen guns. Unfortunately they found a lump of hash in my pocket. The guy in charge who seemed very camp made a big deal of having to arrest me. I offered them money.
" Maybe you want to say that a little slower for him." my German friend said helpfully.
" Do you want money?" I asked again. He reached into my pocket and grabbed my money.
" Yes this is your money!" he answered and put it back.
I got a sinking feeling. I was composing a letter in my head to my mum.
“ Don't pay any baksheesh, just leave me here. I am really sorry.. “
but my German friend carried on talking to them calmly. The guy in charge was still saying how he was going to arrest me and take me to jail as he flagged down another bus, put us on it and waved goodbye. It was at that point that I realized they were all stoned. I waved goodbye smiling. They were all in fits of laughter and were probably pleased to have another lump of hash to smoke.
Not knowing what to do I transferred all we had on tape from the kids and Finsbury Park to my computer and looked through it all. I decided to have a go at editing the kids stuff into a film. At the beginning, to put it all in a strange context I put Mr. Abdullah in shouting
" And you accept Bush and Blair to say that this was done in the name of Jesus? Jesus, peace be upon him said Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall inherit the earth. Is this peace? Is this what Jesus was talking about? "
My first attempt at editing was really obsessive. I hardly slept for ten days and was constantly stoned. As I put music to film I was totally re-awed by what the kids had actually done. I put Hamza's comments about the kids running the country at the end and Mr. Abdullah:
" If you got a kind little furry animal, it doesn't do anyone any harm and you push it into a corner and its being prodded and poked, eventually that animal will turn round and bite you. This is what is happening in the Muslim world today."
I had no idea what had happened in the mosque before, but what Mr. Abdullah had told me that day, four days into the war I thought was worth reporting.
It was decided that concrete blocks be put up around parliament to deter suicide bombers. Now before the Iraq war there were no concrete blocks. Apparently Iraq had been attacked for our safety, and after the event concrete blocks go up. Hmmm...Something about this made me wonder if someone inside government had the feeling that attacking Iraq had made London less safe. With these blocks being the only physical thing we could see of the expense the government had gone to on taxpayers behalf I wondered if these weren't the most expensive concrete blocks in the world.
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