The Confession documents the life of Moazzam Begg a British Muslim who has been detained without trial on terrorism charges in Britain, Pakistan and Cuba. Director Ashish Ghadiali shows his recognition of the power of Moazzam’s testimony though a strikingly simple extended interview form. The Confession sees Moazzam powerfully recount a life that has been so tragically affected by the War on Terror. Through Moazzam’s story, the personal provides a lens with which to comprehend the political. From the voice of a single victim of the Global War on Terror comes a plea for a more compassionate understanding of modern terrorism, one that demands an admission of the West’s instrumental role in its emergence.
For a documentary that is almost exclusively interview The Confession makes for unexpectedly gripping viewing. This is primarily owed to its focus on a life that is truly fascinating. Moazzam’s experiences stretch across the world and seem to touch every recognisable landmark of modern terrorism. Through his testimony we adopt a global perspective and are able to understand the galvanising effects of the conflicts in Kuwait and Bosnia, life under the Taliban in Afghanistan and the chaos of rebel fighting in Syria and Egypt. Moazzam’s persecution and detention is equally as global and takes us to places few have ever been, from Bagram (the famous American Detention Camp in Pakistan) to Guantanamo Bay. His accounts of imprisonment and torture at the hands of allied security forces here are devastating in their detail. And yet The Confession is a film that feels decidedly local, even essentially British. It is rooted in Moazzam’s home of Birmingham, and in an identity that was forged by his experiences of British society. It is this dynamic of the global and the local, the vast and the particular that underpins why I think The Confession is so powerful-it showcases the potential for an individual story to illuminate an entire conflict.
But it is not just Moazzam’s extraordinary experiences that command our attention; it is how they are told. Moazzam is everything you could want in a storyteller. He is intelligent, sensitive and articulate. His memory appears unfailing as his descriptions brim with detail. He even seems to have a certain instinct for the cinematic. I felt I was with Moazzam at each knock at the door in the middle of the night, by his side on a three-day ‘odyssey’ as he trekked through the mountains to cross the border into Pakistan. His recollections also possess a striking emotional literacy. Moazzam is able to pinpoint formative moments from his past and recapture his frame of mind. This quality adds fullness to Moazzam’s memories and also causes The Confession to appear deeply concerned with questions of identity. At several key moments however, Ghadiali challenges Moazzam’s version of events. ‘You’re kind of withholding some critical details, so I’m interested in why you would spin it that way.’ With this one sentence the relationship between viewer and narrator is utterly changed. Our grasp on truth is suddenly more fragile, and our relationship to Moazzam and to the story he is telling becomes infinitely more interesting…
Through Moazzam’s retelling of a life so thoroughly entangled with the War on Terror, and aided by the inclusion of his appearances on countless political talk shows, he begins to craft an argument. Moazzam rejects the supposed innocence of the West in the formation of modern terrorism and instead exposes a broken system. He finds in the disastrous foreign and internal policy that sanctions violence and torture, a driving force for radicalisation. Memorably he cites the fact that 17/25 ISIS leaders were imprisoned at Bagram Detention Camp and ISIS hostages now appear in the same orange jumpsuits the American’s had forced them to wear. Moazzam’s argument is complex, compelling and full of nuance. I hesitate to reduce it to only a few sentences here. Instead I encourage you to watch for yourself a documentary that absolutely defies the popular and reductive view of modern terrorism. You may not agree with his politics but in Moazzam’s words ‘there must always be space for dialogue.’
Where can you find it?
It is available On Demand for a few $$ on all the normal platforms.
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