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Yvonne_Ridley

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley (born 1968, Stanley, County Durham, England) is a British journalist and Respect Party politician best known for her capture by the Taliban and subsequent conversion to Islam after release.

Biography

Personal life

Ridley has married four times. Her first husband was Daoud Zaaroura, a former Palestine Liberation Organization officer. Zaaroura was a PLO colonel when Ridley met him in Cyprus, where she was working on an assignment for the Newcastle-based Sunday Sun. They had one daughter called Daisy who was born in 1992. Her third husband was the Iraqi-born Israeli businessman, Ilan Roni Hermosh, to whom she was married until 1999.

Capture by the Taliban, conversion to Islam after release

Ridley came to prominence in September 2001 when she was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan whilst working for the Sunday Express. Repeatedly refused an entrance visa, she decided to follow the example of BBC reporter John Simpson, who had crossed the border anonymously in a burqa. When she was discovered without passport or visa, she was held by the authorities for 11 days. One of her captors asked her to convert; she refused, but gave her word she would read the Qur'an after her release. She was impressed the way she was dealt during her stay in Taliban captivity. She explained Taliban looked after her very well. She said, "I was horrible to my captors. I spat at them and was rude and refused to eat. It wasn't until I was freed that I became interested in Islam.

In freedom, she kept this promise, partly to find out why the Taliban treated women as they do. Reading the Qur'an she says she found no justification for the Taliban's actions, describing the holy book of Islam as a "magna carta for women" . She converted to Islam in the summer of 2003, stating that her new faith has helped put behind her three broken marriages and a reputation as the "Patsy Stone of Fleet Street." BBC News has written that "[i]t has been suggested that [Ridley] is a victim of Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages take the side of the hostage-takers. Ridley rejects this, however, saying "that at no time did anyone try to brainwash her. In 2004, she described her journey of faith for the BBC's religion site (see A Muslim in the Family)

Subsequent career

Ridley's memoir detailing the 11 days she was held captive, In the Hands of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story. Ticket to Paradise (Dandelion Books, LLC 2003), a novel based on the backdrop of 9/11, was written before she converted to Islam; friends say it was never published in the UK because she was too embarrassed by its risque content.

2003 saw Yvonne Ridley employed by the Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera, where, as a senior editor, she helped launch the English language version of their website. On November 12 of that year she was fired because Al Jazeera found her "overly-vocal and argumentative style" was incompatible with the station’s programme. After her departure from Qatar, she published an article about her experiences there. She won her case for unfair dismissal against the organisation, but was asked to return in May 2006 when it lodged an appeal against the Qatari court decision. Ridley won the appeal the judge ordered her original award be doubled. However Al Jazeera once again lodged an appeal with the case going to the Supreme Court for a final hearing. She won that case through lawyers Gebran Majdalany in December 2007 and was awarded undisclosed damages.

Ridley was placed at the top of the Respect coalition's party list at the 2004 European Elections for the North East England region but was not elected. She stood as the Respect candidate at the Leicester South by-election in 2004. She came in fourth, with 12.7% of the vote. However, when she stood again in the May 2005 general election, her share of the vote dropped to 6.4%. In the local government elections in 2006 she unsuccessfully stood for a seat on Westminster Council.

She began presenting The Agenda With Yvonne Ridley, the Islam Channel's politics and current affairs show, in October 2005. However, the show and Ridley were axed from the Saudi-funded channel after she refused to shake the hand of a Saudi prince at a post-Hajj feast. The channel blamed Ofcom for exerting pressure, which that organisation denies. According to several published reports, Saudi pressure was brought to bear upon the channel head over the hand-shaking incident. The Islam Channel maintains that Ridley "has not been sacked and is still working for us. However in April 2008 Ridley won her case for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the Islam Channel as well as the channel. The full damning 30-page report was published on the website Harrys Place.

Ridley now works for Press TV, the Iranian English language 24-hour news channel, hosting many talk shows among them The Agenda being the major one. She also writes a column for the New York-based Daily Muslims and other publications. In May 2008, in an assignment by Press TV, she and the film-maker David Miller shot a documentary based on Guantanamo Bay after being given unprecedented access to the now defunct Camp X-Ray and the operational Camp Delta, by the US military which operates the naval base in Cuba where hundreds of men, defined as enemy combatants, have been detained since January 2002.

Since first August 2008, Yvonne Ridley has joined the Free Gaza Movement in Cyprus as it heads for Gaza to challenge the Israeli siege. Press TV is following the progress of the movement and Yvonne Ridley, who will be on board with Indy film-maker Haq Nawaz, and is publishing her blogs to Press TV's website The SS Free Gaza and the SS Free Liberty both arrived without incident in Gaza on August 23. During their brief stay Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh gave a rare interview to Yvonne Ridley which was later broadcast on Press TV. As the free Gaza Movement activists departed four days later Gaza PM Haniyeh issued genuine Palestinian passports with diplomatic status to the majority describing them as Ambassadors for Palestine.

Her views

Her vocal support for causes involving Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya and Uzbekistan have made her a popular speaker in anti-war circles. At a debate at Imperial College London on 16 February 2006 she outlined a viewpoint that is "pretty much in line with that of Hamas." She described Israel as "that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East" and further that her party, the Respect Party, "is a Zionist-free party...if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists," while both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were "riddled with Zionists."

At the "Muslimer i Dialog" conference in Copenhagen in September 2005, Ridley was asked if she didn't see it as a problem that militant Islamists distribute recruiting videos of Iraqi insurgents killing hostages. She replied that it was necessary for Muslims to have these videos at home as an alternative form of news to what she perceived as the propaganda of Western media. At the same meeting she compared British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Pol Pot. Since then Ridley has said that the Danish record and translation of her speech was incorrect. She returned to Copenhagen in May 2006 to take part in a conference on Islamophobia and was given a standing ovation after urging Muslims not to "kneel before their enemies" or "kiss the hand that slaps them. Along with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and several other speakers including scholars and politicians, the Copenhagen Declaration was formed and signed.

Critics have accused her of defending the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his campaign of violence in Iraq and Jordan, describing the victims of the November 9 2005 Amman bombings in Jordan, which saw 60 persons killed and 115 injured, as Iraqi collaborators, Saudi, Indonesian and Chinese intelligence officers and the upper echelons of society. The outpouring of public outrage manifested in spontaneous demonstration she described as staged and the work of "Jordanian troops out of uniform" and "government lackeys" together with "Christian and Muslim Bedouins" who had all been commandeered or paid to demonstrate by the Jordanian government and the CIA. Al-Zarqawi was denounced by his family after the bombings, a move that Ridley thought "cowardly." She said of al-Zarqawi himself that she would "rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or sell-out for a father, son or grandfather" – a reference to Jordanian royal family. .

At a meeting of the Respect party on 6 June 2006, following a controversial police raid in Forest Gate, East London, on 2 June 2006, Ridley urged all Muslims in Britain to "boycott the police and refuse to co-operate with them in any way, shape or form until the boys are released," including "asking the community copper for directions to passing the time of day with a beat officer." Her comments were labelled as "sheer, undiluted madness" by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, who added that "To not co-operate would be of no benefit to the Muslim community; no benefit to the police; and no benefit to the security of our country." But at the time George Galloway, leader of the RESPECT Coalition to which Ridley belongs also distanced himself from her comments, saying "Our policy is not that we should withdraw co-operation from the police. The two men were subsequently released without charge and an official apology was later issued to the family by the Metropolitan Police Force.

After the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev (architect of the Moscow theater hostage crisis and the Beslan school massacre) was killed, Ridley wrote an obituary stating that Basayev had become a "shaheed", that is, a martyr whose place in Paradise is assured, despite a noted Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad where the deaths of 'enemy' children were denounced, and despite the fact that all children who have yet to reach maturity are considered Muslims in Islam. She went on to refer to Basayev as leader of "an admirable struggle to bring independence to Chechnya". In response to objections that Basayev's actions killed many civilians, Ridley stated that he "resorted to targeting Russian civilians in the latter years of his struggle to try and bring the plight of the Chechen struggle to the wider world," and blamed the majority of civilian casualties on Russian troops sent in to rescue the hostages.

References

External links

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