THE BLOG

Notes From The Fusion Zone

07/06/2017 17:00
NIKLAS HALLE'N via Getty Images

The torture room in which I was manacled and chained was fully loaded by any standards.

There were harnesses and batons, and a vast assortment of flails, blades, tourniquets, electrical equipment, and syringes filled with murky liquids. Much of the apparatus was covered in dried blood. In the middle of the floor, was a central drain - so the room could be hosed down between sessions.

For the first few of my nightly interrogations there - heaved from a cell in the solitary confinement wing - I had been blindfolded. But, once the military-grade bindings were removed - and I got a first look at the torture room - it wasn't comforting in the least.

When you're really frightened - the kind of fear many people never experience - the scent of your sweat changes. It smells like cat pee - the effect of sweating out adrenalin.

This summer it'll be twelve years since my two Swedish colleagues and I were rounded up on a street in Peshawar, Pakistan, and hauled off to languish for sixteen days and nights in the ultimate hellhole of the Pakistani interrogation machine.

We'd been doing pre-production for a Channel 5 documentary - about my search for the fabled lost treasure of Mughal India... a treasure said to be hidden in caves somewhere in Afghanistan. My family hails partly from that war-torn country. Like so many others of my genetic generation, I've spent my life trying to work out who I am.

I see the East through one eye, and the West through the other, understand them both from the inside out, and feel like a walking cultural crossroads.

So, during the week after the dreaded 7/7 bombings in London, my two colleagues and I were walking down a street in Peshawar. They were filming me, and I was rabbiting on about the treasure we hoped to find.

The next thing we knew, we'd been chained, blindfolded, and were being taken to a secret military unit for a medical exam. At the time we wondered why they would bother checking our health. It was to confirm we could withstand electric shock treatment, and the other goodies on offer at the ultra secure base - known to the guards as 'The Farm'.

The off-the-scale events at London Bridge and the Manchester Arena have brought the days and nights I spent in the Pakistani torture jail back in sharp focus, in a way that I haven't experienced them in recent years.

It's not that I'd forgotten about them.

Because I hadn't.

Every time I put on a freshly-laundered shirt, eat out in a restaurant, or drink a nice glass of wine, I thank providence, and wonder who's trussed up in my solitary confinement cell.

My point here isn't linked to nostalgia or self-pity. Instead, I'm interested how a chain of events rolls out a future that becomes the present. Had the suicide bombers not struck in London on that July morning, I wouldn't ever have been exposed to such a wild rollercoaster of a time. I wasn't there for the bombings, but the ripples created by the explosions caught me in their wake.

As anyone with my ill-fated combination of a Muslim-sounding name and a British passport knows, it's a pain in the backside. However hard I work, it's always there - looming like a storm cloud on the horizon.

I've made documentary films, have more than a million words in print, and all manner of other projects to my name - but I'm the guy who's routinely shaken down at airports, and grilled by immigration officers the world over.

Before that cursed Autumn day in 2001 when New York was hit, I was living the good life - roaming the world, writing, exploring, and having a whole lot of fun. It all changed - like a fresh deck of cards dealt at a casino, in which each one is worse than the last.

I shouldn't complain at being given the third degree more often than I'd like - because these are impossible days for the security services. Almost every terrorist who's attacked Europe since London on 7/7 was the same living cultural crossroads as me. So I guess it would be disturbing if I - and so many thousands like me - were not being checked over as we are.

It's easy to get dragged down and glum by the niche I'm in. But there's a valuable side of being from the Fusion Zone: As a mixture of Occident and Orient, people like me can show one to the other. Not in an obvious clichéd way - but in a way that's deeply profound.

As hybrids of two worlds we have a duty.

A duty to bridge the chasm that so often lies within the cultural crossroads we find ourselves to be.

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