Guantanamo Voices

Talking With Hicham
January 23, 2009, 10:18 am
Filed under: Islam, legal loopholes | Tags: ,
Hicham and Moazzam talk it out

Hicham and Moazzam talk it out

Monday night at Nottingham University, one bizarre legal case met another: Moazzam Begg, who was detained in American prisons for three years after traveling to Afghanistan to build a school, shook hands with Hicham Yezza, a University of Nottingham employee and peace activist who was arrested last April, imprisoned and nearly deported for having a copy of an Al Qaeda training manual. This manual was downloaded off the U.S. Department of Defense website for a student who was writing a research paper about Al Qaeda. As England’s Home Office is pushing to deport Hicham, he has become a symbol in Nottingham of the University administration’s repression of academic freedom and an example nationwide of the sometimes ludicrous enforcement of anti-terror laws.

Hicham is an artistic and soft spoken 30-year-old. For the last eight months, Hicham has not been allowed to hold a job and has been completely supported financially by friend and donations to the FREE HICH group. When we met up Monday night, he was preparing to sell all his books to help pay legal fees.

Why wasn’t this something you and the university couldn’t just talk out?free hich

Because the people who are running this university which is similar to people around the country who run similar institutions are extremely scared and, I’m afraid to say, bigoted, they think it’s will just it’s not worth taking the risk when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Unfortunately, it’s us as people who think do we take a chance on this guy who’s lived here for 15 years, who’s been a very prominent peace activist on campus, who’s done a lot of work for the university. Do we just give him the benefit of the doubt and ask him or do we not take any chances and go to the police directly? Even the government says, do your own inquiry first and then come to us but there was no independent inquiry. Within two hours they called the police, they said, ‘The guy has a funny name, he’s Muslim, let’s let the police deal with him.'”

Do you think that all this marching and protesting for you has actually been effective or are all the decisions being made by out-of-touch bureaucrats at the top who don’t care about all the shouting?

Free Hich March - from The Guardian

Free Hich March - from The Guardian

Let’s just look purely at the concrete achievements of this campaign. Eight months ago, I was locked up in a cell, solitary confinement, with a plane ticket booked me with the direction of the Home Office saying, ‘This guy is getting on that plane. Essentially what we have is a massive campaign, students turning out for demos, succeeded in stopping the deportation, in getting me out and for eight months, paying my bills, my living expenses and my legal expenses. This is a campaign that essentially has more than 70,000 members and this is how they have essentially succeeded in beating a very stubborn, very powerful system.

Moazzam has spoken about the idea that being locked up in Guantanamo Bay was an experience that made some of the detainees more political, more radicalized. How does that compare to your experience? Has this made you more political or has there been a strong incentive to back off?

Well, I’ve always been real political beforehand, which is part of the reason I got into trouble. Essentially when I got arrested, I had these guys questioning everything I did, from the work in theater I did, to my photography, my cartooning, my art, my interests in music, my trips to book festivals, anything that in a normal human you’d treat as a good thing, as a commendable thing, they were treating as suspicious they were for no other reason as far as I could tell than for me being a Muslim. They thought it was strange that a Muslim would go to a book festival. It couldn’t be my interest in books, it must be something more sinister. I didn’t get more political in that sense I knew there was a lot of pressure on me to take a step back but I refused to.