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Natasha Cull interviews Yvonne Ridley

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    The former Taliban captive spoke out to press about the issues that made her global headlines. Natasha Cull interviews Yvonne Ridley Wednesday, September 28,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 5, 2005
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      The former Taliban captive spoke out to press about the issues that
      made her global headlines.

      Natasha Cull interviews Yvonne Ridley
      Wednesday, September 28, 2005

      Yvonne Ridley

      Yvonne Ridley, a former Sunday Express reporter who was captured by
      the Taleban in Afghanistan and later became a Muslim, spoke to Arab
      News' Review in an exclusive interview in Jeddah. She said that the
      experience of being held in Afghanistan had removed a veil of
      bigotry and prejudice about Islam. Ridley, who covered this year's
      Haj for Islam Channel, answered questions on a range of topics as
      well as on her books, "In the Hands of the Taleban" and "Ticket to

      Q: Do you think you would have become a Muslim if you had not been
      captured by the Taleban?

      A: I very much doubt it. I think that I would have continued to
      cover the Middle East as many journalists do without fully
      understanding Islam. This is too bad since Islam is more a way of
      life than a religion so journalists should make every attempt to
      understand it. Had I not had the experience, I probably would have
      remained a Christian. I have often said that I wore a veil before -
      a veil of bigotry and prejudice concerning Islam and sadly, I guess
      that I would probably still be wearing it had it not been for my

      Q: What do you think about the way the Western media has written
      about your experience?

      A: The Western media is at a total loss as to how to explain my
      conversion to Islam. Most critics point to Stockholm Syndrome and
      say that this is a classic case of that syndrome. But the reality is
      that I did not bond with my captors. I was abusive toward them, spat
      at them, and cursed them. The only people I bonded with were the six
      Christian fundamentalists that I was locked up with in prison in

      Q: You have spoken about zero-tolerance regarding anti-Islamic
      attitudes. Please elaborate.

      A: There should be zero-tolerance for people who are blatantly
      Islamophobic. If someone shouts abuse at Muslims because they are
      Muslims, they should be reported immediately as criminals.
      Unfortunately too many Muslims in Europe are willing to walk away
      because they do not want to make waves or make an issue. But they
      really should, because, I think that people would be shocked by the
      amount of Islamophobia. We keep hearing about the rise in anti-
      Semitism but a study by the Islamic Human Rights Commission recently
      showed that 80 percent of Muslims will at one time or another
      experience some form of Islamophobia in Britain. Converts are
      exposed to higher amounts and it is only if we report every single
      incident that the authorities will take the problem seriously. We
      have to be well equipped to deal with critics and we have to fight
      back logically and systemically.

      Q: Are you planning a movie based on your book "In the Hands of the
      Taleban?" What message would you want to convey?

      A: A Holywood director did express an interest in making a film. I
      had a conversation with him and it became very clear, very quickly,
      that the film would be total fiction and fantasy and would have
      demonized the Taleban. I am not a supporter of the Taleban but I do
      not want to see them being demonized and misunderstood .

      Q: Where does the project stand now?

      A: It is still being talked about but until I see some papers to
      sign, I am not taking it too seriously. I would like a faithful
      portrayal of the events and a faithful portrayal of my treatment
      which was nothing like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. Let's face it:
      Hollywood is not going to put a glossy image on my captivity. They
      would hijack the story and turn into nonsense.

      Q: What about your other book, "Ticket to Paradise?"

      A: It is a fictional thriller. It is based on the events of 9/11 and
      the characters are fictional. It opens in New York and takes the
      reader on a journey through London and the Middle East with a soul-
      searching look at the whole issue of martyrdom operations. It
      features a Hamas fighter on the front cover and the dedication
      inside is to the people of Jenin and their martyrs. It has been
      banned in Israel. I often call for a boycott of Israeli goods so I
      guess the Israelis are just getting their own back.

      Q: Do you think Afghanistan is better off now than before?

      A: America has proved that it is not a nation-builder. You have to
      look at Afghanistan. It is fractured, lawless and unsafe. Even last
      year there were kidnappings in the capital and attacks by the
      resistance. Hamid Karzai cannot even trust his own people to protect
      him. He has to have American bodyguards. There might be a few bits
      of hope in the capital, but the rest of the country is a mess. I
      have been back four or five times and wherever I have gone, women
      and men have said that they long for the security they had under the
      Taleban. The first time I went back, the prison cell where I was
      held in Kabul was packed with young girls aged 12-16 whose only
      crime was that they had run away from home because they didn't want
      to be second and third wives for men twice their ages. The Taleban
      stamped out the practice of child brides but it has obviously come
      back. The country is still in crisis. The only success story
      concerns the opium fields that have made Afghanistan the number one
      producer of opium in the world. This translates into heroin on the
      streets of the West. The pornography industry is thriving -
      pornography that one would expect to find sold under the counter is
      now on display in Jalalabad and Kabul. The Americans have given the
      Afghans liberation in the form of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

      Q: How do you think the events unleashed by 9/11 will end? Or will
      they ever end?

      A: I don't think 9/11 was the start of anything; it was the
      continuation. I wish that the American people had stood back and
      asked why 9/11 happened. I fear 9/11 is an indication of things to
      come. Unless American foreign policy changes dramatically, I think
      that there will unfortunately be more catastrophes. It is a never-
      ending war.

      Q: How has 9/11 changed the world media, especially in the West?

      A: The American media has become hysterical. The great days of
      American investigative journalism have all but vanished. With the
      exception of people such as Seymour Hersh, the American media is
      gutless. It is not giving the American people the truth. Thankfully,
      the European media has not yet sunk so low but there are signs that
      it could happen .

      Q: What about the Muslim media?

      A: The Arab world has got to begin accepting journalism as a noble
      profession. There are many heroic journalists in the Arab world. In
      fact, I have been pleasantly surprised by the reporting in Saudi
      Arabia since I arrived. The newspapers seem fairly free, open and
      robust in their reporting of events.

      Q: You performed Haj very soon after accepting Islam. Why?

      A: My present job is with the Islam Channel, a European and African
      satellite TV station based in London with global ambitions. We sent
      a team of journalists and presenters to cover Haj and I was lucky
      enough to be among them. I managed to perform Haj as well as do a
      job. Haj itself was a very moving experience simply because of the
      huge number of Muslims involved. It is incredible. Anyone who hasn't
      been on Haj should do so. It makes you aware of your roots as a
      Muslim. The experience was absolutely unforgettable and deeply
      moving for me.

      One day I was running late for prayer and was going down the winding
      streets toward the Haram. There were tens of thousands of pilgrims
      in the streets. It was totally chaotic - everybody was pushing and
      jostling and bumping in order to get to the Haram on time. Suddenly
      there was the call to prayer and everybody stopped and out of the
      chaos, people snapped into little lines straightaway. I thought
      there wasn't a single army in the world that could have stood to
      attention so quickly. And I just thought of Allah's army and that I
      am a part of it. My eyes fill with tears when I think of what I

      It made me very proud to belong to this huge family. There we all
      were, many different languages, nationalities and skin colors. One
      prayer call and we all understood and we were all united. Out of the
      chaos, a beautiful uniformity. It also made me very sad, because I
      thought if we could be as strong as that in only a few seconds, then
      why can't we do the same after prayers as well.

      Q: Tell us something about the Islam Channel.

      A: It was launched only a few months ago and is very exciting
      English-language 24-hours-a-day television with a global vision. It
      covers Europe and West Africa at the moment but it has a global
      vision and plans to cover the entire world. Its main aim is
      religious propagation and we have scholars who assist us in
      producing live English language programs. We also plan to have
      international television news coverage. Basically we are beating Al-
      Jazeera at their own game because they have been talking about
      launching their own English service for a long time. Well, we are
      doing it. We are not just talking about it. We are also looking at
      making documentaries and current affairs programs. We have only been
      up and running a few months and we have already had a stunning
      success. Just before we left for Haj, we had an Irish woman call us
      during a live discussion. She was so inspired by the Qur'an, she
      actually made the shahada - profession of faith - on the telephone;
      it has been described as the world's first hi-tech shahada. By happy
      coincidence we had a Muslim religious scholar in the studio and he
      agreed that it was perfectly acceptable for her to make her shahada
      by phone. I said to her, "If you are still out there listening, pick
      up the telephone and do it.' She did. It was an incredibly moving
      experience. I get quite emotional when I see people making their
      shahada because it reminds me of when I made mine on June 30, 2003 ;
      that was a very emotional experience for me.

      Q: You have a daughter. How old is she?

      A: She is 12, at boarding school and she is interested in Islam.
      That would be my greatest achievement next to becoming a Muslim - to
      see my daughter become a Muslim. She is being brought up by Muslim
      values. It is very difficult because I have only been a Muslim for
      18 months. That means it is very difficult for me to teach her when
      I still have so much to learn.



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