Like everyone in New Zealand, and many people around the world, I have been reflecting on the terrible event in Christchurch just a few days ago. Just what is it that leads people do perpetuate such horror and how do we respond? I came across a very interesting article today published on a website I guess not many of you will visit, but I will link to the article here because it is so pertinent .
This filmmaker spent months interviewing neo-Nazis and jihadists. Heres what she learned.
Deeyah Khan, a Muslim woman, met her enemies and came away more hopeful than ever.
Whats the best way to fight racism and extremism?
The impulse to dismiss extremists as unreachable fanatics is strong and at times justifiable. But perhaps its not always the most effective means of combating them. Deeyah Khan, a journalist and filmmaker, has decided to engage them directly as human beings.
In two documentary films, White Right: Meeting the Enemy and Jihad: A Story of the Others (both of which are currently streaming on Netflix), Khan sits down with white supremacists and jihadists (respectively) and tries to understand whats really motivating them. Its an attempt to cut through the rhetoric and the ideological trappings and find out why so many young men and yes, its primarily young men are drawn to extremist movements.The results are stunning. At the beginning of White Right, for example, she says to Jared Taylor, a prominent white supremacist, I am the daughter of immigrants. I am a Muslim. I am a feminist. I am a lefty liberal. And what I want to ask you is: Am I your enemy? Taylor is an old hardliner and so he doesnt buckle, but Khans interactions with other white supremacists go in surprising directions, and you learn quite a bit about who these people really are.
I was actually very pessimistic when I began these projects. I just wanted to try something I had never tried before. It was never a consideration or a possibility that what happened would actually happen that any of them would like me and that I would like them, that we would actually get along, that somebody would use the word friend for me.
I never believed I would remain friends with any of these white supremacists, that some of them would walk away from their movement after we interacted. But thats what happened, and I still cant quite believe it. If you wouldve told me that when I started, I wouldve laughed at you, but here we are.
Can you say a bit more about Ken, one of the white supremacists you became friends with during the film?
Sure. Ken Parker was the guy in the film with the swastika on his chest who was posting neo-Nazi flyers in a Jewish neighborhood when I met him. He was saying the most vile things Ive ever heard. He actually marched at Charlottesville as well.
Well, he called me up a few months after the film aired and he said, Ive left. He said he left because he used the word friend to describe me. Now, this was one of the most extreme people I met. But his experience with me opened him up to speaking to other people who are different from him.
So he actually became friends with the pastor of a mostly black church who lived in his apartment complex. The pastor invited him and his fiancée to his church, and Ken basically stood in front of everyone there and said, I used to be in the Klan, now Im in a neo-Nazi organization, these are the views I hold ...
And after he was done, people came up to him and hugged him and said, Look, we detest what you stand for, but it takes a lot of courage for somebody like you to come in here and share what you have shared.
That was the last straw for him, where he realized that the people he hated so deeply are showing him nothing but kindness and compassion and an open heart, and are showing it to him even though he doesnt deserve it. His whole ideology fell apart.
Ive maintained my friendship with Ken and Ive connected him with other former neo-Nazis because I know how hard it is to leave these groups, whether youre a white supremacist or a jihadist. These movements become your identity, your life, your whole network of friends, and when you leave, youre completely shunned. So we have to support people who want to get out.
I think this is exactly how it was with Jesus.
Our message on Sunday last was from Matt 9. The calling of Matthew.
9 Passing along, Jesus saw a man at his work collecting taxes. His name was Matthew. Jesus said, Come along with me. Matthew stood up and followed him.
10-11 Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthews house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus followers. What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and riffraff?
12-13 Jesus, overhearing, shot back, Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: Im after mercy, not religion. Im here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.
By the way - I don't think it would have been a simple "come and follow me" I'm pretty sure he would have sat down with Matthew, and talked to him, as he did with the Samaritan woman at the well.
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