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Ex-Guantanamo Guard and Prisoner Roadtrip Across UK

Sarah Mirk | 22.01.2009 14:53 | Iraq | Terror War | Birmingham | Liverpool

Former Guantanamo guard Chris Arendt and former prisoner Moazzam Begg are traveling across the UK together on a speaking tour. But the most interesting conversations aren't happening onstage -- they're happening between the two former foes in the back of the minivan. Follow along with their trip.

Friday night in Birmingham turns out the biggest audience Moazzam, Chris and Jarallah have seen on the tour. Nine hundred people, mostly Muslim, fill up every seat in a vast, crimson conference room on Conventry Road, the main thoroughfare of Birmingham’s dense Islamic neighborhood.

This is where Moazzam grew up, where he attended Jewish primary school and joined an Arab gang that fought with skinheads. It’s where he learned about Islam and where he returned to with his wife and kids after being released from Guantanamo.

But to Chris it’s very foreign — he had never met a Muslim person before he went to Guantanamo. At 1AM on his third night in England, Chris stumbled back into his hotel room, dog tired from dinner at the house of a new Muslim friend. He flopped on the bed, held up a bag covered in Arabic script and announced, “Moazzam gave me two Korans.” In the five days between then and now, Chris has learned a lot about Islam. In addition to hanging out with a minivan full of pious Muslim ex-detainees for the week, he’s visited a mosque, discussed how faith kept people strong through Guantanamo’s torture and learned the historic background on “the whole beard thing.”

On stage in Birmingham, staring out at the conference room full of men with beards and women with scarves, Moazzam asks Chris what he thinks of Islam now. Is it a religion of violence, terror and repression?

“I see Americans casting judgments of Islam being guilty of the same things America is guilty of,” said Chris, “If we were to say of the Islamic world, ‘You are obsessed with violence’ - how are we not? I was raised with guns and violent video games.”

Outside hours later, after the last audience members finally filter out into the frigid January night, Chris smoked a cigarette and thought outloud about the religion that surrounded him.

“One of the things I’ve felt conflicted about most since I’ve been here is that many of the guys I’ve met are extremely devout, faithful Muslim men. And in the life I live in the US, I break a lot of Muslim law and don’t really think about it, I don’t think about these things being sinful. But since being here, I’ve been thinking about this from a different perspective. Islam and to be a Muslim is something that, in my lifestyle, I haven’t understood. It’s not like I feel like this lifestyle is wrong or my lifestyle is wrong, it’s just two different ways to live… the main things I can see us varying on are the smaller sins. As far as social justice and things obviously we’re on the same line.”

follow along with the rest of Moazzam and Chris's trip at

next places:

22/01 - Liverpool
with Merseyside Stop the War
The Great Hall, at the Cornerstone Theatre, Hope University, 1 Haigh St, near Staples (of Islington & Shaw St), Liverpool City Centre

23/01 - Blackburn
with Woman’s Voice and ExChange
2pm - 3:30pm
Blackburn Cathedral,
Cathedral Close

23/01 - Bolton
5pm - 7:30pm
Bolton Council of Mosques
Conference Suite,
1 Vicarage Street ( off Cannon St)

26/01 - Leeds, with Leeds University Islamic Society

Sarah Mirk
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