Sir David Amess touched everyone he met with his kindness – and his legacy will be celebrated for the incredible things he achieved, writes his friend and mentee Hossein Abedini
As a survivor of terrorism of Islamic extremism, I dare to think I understand what Sir David felt in his last moments. When he must have looked in that pair of eyes who’ve miserably failed humanity and just thought… why?
It’s ironic that Sir David died while doing what he thought he was born for to do: talking to and working for the people he felt responsible for. He trusted people and he was the most trusted.
When I first met David Amess, he was still a new MP from Basildon. It was during an annual conference of the Conservative Party in 1985 where at the end, he was willing to sign our petition. I had strong feelings about him from the very first moment. His warm character, his unique humour. Even though I never would believe that our own struggle for liberating Iran from dictatorship would take a few decades, I felt that I would be friends with David for a very long time.
Throughout the years, when we reached out to UK parliamentarians, he was one of the most active and helpful people in the lower house. He was the kind of constituency MP who appears to be married to his own people. But not only his own, it was actually all the people.
Every time we wandered into his office, we bypassed his gallery of pictures where well-known faces posed with Sir David’s beautiful smile. You could see him and his family with the Pope and Mother Theresa as well. When reaching his desk, he’d just say “What do you want, Hossein? What can I do for you?” And he almost immediately would ask his secretary to bring the calendar to open a slot for us. He never said no to anybody. Or maybe just to himself.
He played a crucial role alongside Andrew MacKinlay when we were fighting the UK blacklist against our organisation. After Lord Corbet passed away, he became the leader of the British Committee for Iran Freedom (BCFIF). When our brothers and sisters in Camp Ashraf in Iraq were under attack by Iran-backed militiamen, I woke Sir David up at 5am and all I heard was, “How can I help?”
Once, he had a planned surgery in Southend West when we asked him to lead the British delegation in the Free Iran Summit of 2019 in Albania. But he finally managed to get himself a plane and made it to Ashraf 3 by 18.00 CEST, rushed on the stage, and held his arms high with the books of both Houses’ support for the cause of bringing freedom and democracy to Iran.
He always told his family about me and my friends, calling us “the true champions of human rights” and he would say that the things that he was doing for his people are nothing in comparison. We always disagreed and I told him that all I’m doing is for the Iranian “Sir Davids” to run my country. But after what happened to him, I believe he was literally a true champion of human rights and humanity.
When former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow gave a speech at Sir David’s 30th anniversary in the lower chamber, he charmingly pointed out how Sir David has always been the backbencher. That he had been running many important sessions and helped make many important decisions but never claimed credit for anything. He was never seeking a name or driving attention to himself.
It was as if he was in for the “small things”. Even for the sake of explaining, I’m still ashamed to put it that way. These were the most important steps. Sir David did everything to turn Southend into a city. He was a staunch supporter of the Southend football team. When he and Penny Mordaunt helped to get 200 children with learning disabilities to play at the Royal Albert Hall, it was like one of his greatest achievements. Or maybe it actually was.
When we visited his constituency, everyone was crying. An old man told us how much Sir David was loved. He said that he’s got a sick wife and the only person who would care was Sir David. A young man approached us with wet eyes and started to talk about Sir David. When words failed to express feelings, they’d just say: “Amess was Amess.”
At his office, people were in shock and awe. Everyone was crying. People wanted to talk to us as they knew how dear he was to the Iranians. Especially his fellow parliamentarians. Those pictures at the office looked different now. Like all those great men and women were sad too.
The very fact that he was so in love with his work and his people made it very hard for me to ask him for help on issues that were happening thousands of miles away. I felt guilty, as if I was stealing him from his people. But he was the kindest to reach out to and after all, we were his people too. His Ayes& Ears belonged to everyone.
It’s tragic that people’s true value of life is only appreciated after their passing, and I believe we’re just too busy with ourselves that we fail to see and feel others when they’re around. But Sir David proved that politics is all about the “small things” and the “common people” rather than in the higher echelons of power.
He was a kind of a mentor to me and I’m sure to the younger generation who might enter politics. He taught us that politics isn’t just about to be trusted, it’s about to trust. And he paid for it very dearly. Because Amess was Amess and his achievements will live on… far beyond Southend West.
Hossein Abedini is deputy director of NCRI’s London office and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran