Guantanamo Voices

East Meets West at the Tate
January 11, 2009, 9:23 am
Filed under: conversations | Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday we had a few free hours between interviews and more interviews, so Asim Qureshi took Chris Arendt and Jarallah Al-Marri on a mini tour of central London. A walk up the Thames wound up at the Tate Modern.

Jarallah, who spent six years imprisoned in Guantanamo, did not think much of Jackson Pollock or the other abstract expressionists.  While wandering around the galleries, Chris,  the former Gitmo guard who is a comics nerd with aspirations of starting an art collective for veterans,  asked Jarallah if he makes any art himself. Jarallah shook his head, no,  he was never that interested in art but after living for six years as Captive 334 he is even less engaged by these Western works.

Jarallah and AR Penck's "West" - an abstract depiction of German history

Jarallah and AR Penck's "West" - an abstract depiction of German history

Over lunch in the posh glass-walled restaurant at the top of the Tate, while other diners sipped cocktails and admired the Thames,  our conversation turned to jihad. Asim Qureshi, our host for the day, is a very intelligent and affable guy — the rare international expert on ghost detention who is also quick to smile and tease Chris about his smoking habit and messy mohawk. According to his critics, Asim is also “one of the worst British jihadist nuts” and I was interested to hear how a man educated at one of England’s best schools could argue in support of jihad.


“People ask me my views on jihad all the time,” began Asim, explaining that for non- Muslims the word “jihad” is loaded with immediate connotations of terrorism and suicide bombers, it is a complicated concept with many different, personal definitions among Muslims. Jihad’s meaning is also dependent on social and political context — it can refer to personal internal struggles of faith or external, armed struggles to reform societies. Asim sees most armed jihad taking place in the world today as self defense. He believes all Muslims are justified in fighting against armies occupying the Muslim world — the Russians in Chechnya, Israelis in Palestine.