I was surprised to see MI6’s former counter-terrorism chief, Sir Mark Allen, writing last month in the Catholic Herald about “The saints’ answer to terrorism” in the wake of the priest’s murder in France.
Sir Mark has kept a low profile since 2011 when the press printed his secret fax to Gaddafi’s chief spy, Moussa Koussa. That fax revealed his part in the abduction of me and my pregnant wife Fatima to Gaddafi’s torture chambers in 2004.
By now I know its words almost by heart: how he called me and my wife “air cargo”; how he cheered our arrival to Libya—an arrival he called safe when he knew it was anything but. I felt I should respond to his first public words since then.
I write not only as a man he wronged, but as a Libyan. And I agree with some of what he wrote in the Catholic Herald. Libyans yield to no one in our condemnation of ISIS, and I extend my deepest condolences to Westerners hurt in ISIS’ unspeakable attacks. ISIS spill the blood of Libyans just as they do the blood of innocent Europeans, Christians and Muslims alike. They menace my country, Europe, and humanity as a whole. Libyans paid bitterly retaking Sirte from them—at least 415 of us have been martyred defending our homeland. Three of my family members were wounded in battle. ISIS have declared me an apostate and vowed to kill me. I will do all I can to oppose them.
But I am afraid that, from the author of that fax, his words on the power of faith to see us through bloodshed are too rich to swallow. It is staggering to read such sentiments from a man whose approach to the “war on terror”—best summarized as “the ends justify the means”—helped create the mess we find ourselves in.
Sir Mark wrote for the Catholic Herald, and so it seems fair to ask how he reconciles his actions towards me, and my family, with his faith in God. I stand in solidarity with all people of good will who would join us against ISIS – a solidarity that, yes, even includes Sir Mark.
But solidarity, like forgiveness, can only begin from the truth. And his article was mainly distinguished by what it left out.
It was published on a saint’s day, the day of the Curé D’Ars—a man who, like my family, was forced for a time to hide from his persecutors. But Sir Mark left out the day’s other meaning: when Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that he would face no charge for his own role in delivering people to persecution. No charge, that is, for assisting the abduction of whole families. Another powerful man escaped British justice.
Have a dozen years passed since my first summer in Gaddafi’s Tajoura prison? To me, it feels like moments ago. Surely it cannot have been twelve years since I was hung strappado in Gaddafi’s cells, a technique the Inquisitors might have invented but Libyans perfected. Surely less time since my wife, heavy with child, was turned out of her cell to give birth. Moments since our son, born early, with no more heft than a loaf of bread, clung to his tiny life in the dictator’s shadow.
Sir Mark wrote of sacrifice and I wonder whose sacrifice he meant. I wonder how Fatima’s pain weighed in the balance against his deal with Gaddafi. Perhaps he felt her suffering was a price that had to be paid. The ends justified means measured in innocent human life.
There are moments in a cell when you are alone, truly alone, with God. When my family asked the police to investigate Sir Mark, we did so understanding what it means to enclose a human soul within walls. For him to be prosecuted is not a request we made lightly.
Sir Mark, a devout Catholic, seeks solace in God’s grace, and this I understand. I am a Muslim; he is a man of the book. Both of us worship the God of Abraham. But I wonder: how can Sir Mark speak of strength through faith when he never acknowledged or atoned for the violence he helped do to others? If he imagines his deeds will come out in the wash, somehow, without an accounting, this is exactly the kind of thinking that has spelled disaster for both our societies.
It says in the Bible, “if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.” This is no more and no less than what we have offered. You find the same idea in the holy Qur’an – if you atone, the wronged man should forgive. But can there be forgiveness without repentance?
Perhaps he believes that if you feel regret, or confess it in private, your account is settled with God. Excuse me if I speak plainly: this is wrong and hypocritical. People who want to harm us – harm both our peoples – notice these hypocrisies. It is past time for Western countries to admit their “war on terror” has failed—that kidnaps and renditions as planned by Sir Mark, and the total lack of responsibility for them, only create mistrust and danger worldwide. This is as true of my family’s case as it is, broadly, of our shared struggle against groups which threaten us all.
We cannot show the world that torture is wrong without owning up to our errors. We lack moral authority unless we live by the standards we preach, and admit our mistakes. Without honest recognition of error there is no prospect of beating back evil. It would be better for Western democracies to work with Muslims to solve these problems together. But we must begin with the painful truth.
Fatima and I are ready to forgive. Our offer of forgiveness has always been, and remains, sincere. But he must be prepared to look on us as humans, no different from himself, and say, honestly, what happened and apologise. We trust in his faith to guide him. We are ready. But what about Sir Mark?