British journalist and prominent Muslim convert Yvonne Ridley, pictured above, was in the news a while back leading a convoy of British vehicles containing £1 million in aid to Gaza.
I have some personal experience of this woman. In 2005, whilst I was attending the University of Kent and completing a degree in Politics & International Relations, she came to the campus to deliver a talk on her time in captivity in Afghanistan and her (then) recent conversion to Islam.
The talk was organised by the university's 'Muslim Society', and I decided to attend along with three friends, two male, one female. We were all quite interested in current affairs, and thought we were simply in for a good story.
At the time I knew almost nothing about Islam, at least compared to what I know now. The talk occurred just a few months before British-born Muslim suicide bombers slaughtered commuters during London's morning rush hour on the 7th July 2005.
Like the vast majority of the civilised world, I was distressed and upset by the events of 11th September 2001, but I did not realise the inherent nature of Islam and Jihad at that time; I was more concerned about the lax immigration policies which exist in most Western countries, and which 9/11 highlighted quite mercilessly.
Anyway, my friends and I arrived at the lecture theatre in which Ridley was to speak. Three large Asian men, who wouldn't have looked out of place as nightclub bouncers but for their long beards, stood blocking the door. Next to them stood a long table, upon which were stacked scores of green-bound books, which turned out to be free, English-language copies of the Koran.
We approached the men and explained we wished to hear Ridley's talk. Their stony faced demeanour changed - they smiled and opened the door whilst wishing us As-Salāmu `Alaykum السلام عليكم.
The lecture theatre was fairly full, and I was surprised by the number of Muslims in the audience. There were also some lecturers and other students, but the vast majority of people seemed to be Muslims and Left-wing activists from outside the university staff and student body.
We found four seats next to each other and filed in. However, as we sat down, a bearded Muslim man cleared his throat and explained that 'sex segregation' was in force - women sat to the left of the aisle and men to the right, as in a mosque.
Two of the large men from the door came over, and explained again that my female friend would have to move across the aisle. She didn't particularly want to, so I told them that we were staying put - if we'd chosen to go in a mosque then I would within reason respect any requests they made, but this was a lecture theatre in an English university.
One of the men looked angry and told us we would have to leave, but the other suggested a compromise - that she sit in the aisle seat of the men's side. We agreed to this, and duly shuffled around, but by now I was wondering what on earth was going on.
It got worse, however - we were told by the president of the Muslim Society, a Muslim girl wearing a headscarf, that the car that had been sent to collect Ridley had become stuck in traffic - so to pass the time, we were going to listen to pupils from an Arabic-language Koran 'Sunday school' in Canterbury recite prayers and passages from the Koran.
The menacing bouncers shut the doors, and we resigned ourselves to sitting there and listening to one child after the other take the podium and chant in Arabic. I'm as tolerant and open-minded as the next person, but I found it an unnecessary imposition, in all honesty. I had not gone to a religious event, and even a few of the lecturers and aging Leftists looked a little uncomfortable.
After about 20 minutes of incessant chanting, the doors burst open, and the president urged our applause - Yvonne Ridley was there, wearing a pink headscarf.
She's not an imposing woman to look at or speak to - she has the air of a teacher at a polytechnic, sort of a cross between someone with an academic air of authority, and someone who just wants to be friends and buy you a pint (well, not anymore, obviously).
She sat rather than stood, and spent about an hour and a half telling us about her journalistic career, her determination to get into to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and expose the treatment of women, her subsequent capture by the Taliban and her treatment, and her conversion to Islam after her release.
Something was not quite right, though. Although she admitted she was scared when the Taliban found her wearing a burqa in the back of a taxi, that was as far as it went. She talked of gazing into the green eyes of the bearded maniac who disrobed her at the roadside, as if they were strolling along the Seine together. As it was, she was actually being arrested by one of the most fearsome and misogynistic Islamic regimes the modern world has known.
Foreigners at that time were banned from Afghanistan on pain of death. The idea of an infidel, a woman at that, trying to sneak in to reveal the plight of ordinary Afghans should have been packed with notions of courage and honour - but it simply fell flat.
It fell flat because it was obvious as soon as she opened her mouth that she had some sympathy for the Taliban - and had even before her conversion.
The rest of the story was less James Bond and more Mills and Boon; 'they were so polite, so courteous, they didn't rape me or murder me or force me to convert to Islam...' etc etc etc.
Big of them. It seems she spent some time locked in a palatial room with a Taliban big-wig - the deputy leader, their interior minister or some such. She seemed far more interested in his 'beautiful white clothes and bejewelled turban' than the medieval barbarities he was almost directly responsible for, however.
He asked her to convert to Islam, or as she put it, 'revert to Islam'. She refused, but promised him that when she was released, she would read the Koran, study its message, and make up her own mind. She also promised she would help the Taliban get 'a fair hearing' in the British media.
She kept her promise, liked what she saw, and became perhaps Britain's most famous and prominent Muslim convert. Unfortunately, instead of whiling away her days in purdah reading the Koran, she decided to proselytize and spread Islam's message.
Here's where the talk completely parted company from reality (and, let's be honest, it had been touch and go before); Islam, you'll be surprised to learn, is a religion of peace, truth and beauty. Bush, Israel and the American media distort these simple realities.
Not 9/11, not rape and forced marriage, not forced conversions, honour killings and acid attacks, not suicide bombings, not treating women like cattle, gang rapes and violence. Just Bush, Israel and the US media.
At the time, I felt angry. Not only had I been lured to the talk under false pretences, but she was taking me and every non-Muslim in the room for an idiot, a complete dupe. I gritted my teeth through the rest of it, then left speedily at the end, but not before asking her an awkward question about women's rights and taking a free copy of the Koran.
That night, I sat down and read - and I began to understand. However, the picture I formed was very different to Ridley's. But then, maybe she was always inclined that way. For who is Yvonne Ridley, this woman I am almost indebted to for helping me to discover the truth of Islam?
Please proceed in an orderly fashion to Part Two.