We discuss and comment on the role agriculture will play in the containment of the CO2 problem and address protocols for terraforming the planet Earth.
A model farm template is imagined as the central methodology. A broad range of timely science news and other topics of interest are commented on.
Thursday, January 24, 2019
This filmmaker spent months interviewing neo-Nazis and jihadists. Here’s what she learned.
You cannot help but become hopeful on reading this report. It is all about community and comm unity denied.
Free young men who do not belong yet to a new natural community after exiting the natural community that nurtured them are vulnerable to these radical appeals. It is also that basic and simple and it is a flaw in our social design that needs to be addressed. Ending poverty with the four hour guaranteed shift would likely end all that.
It also may be just hat easy..
This filmmaker spent months interviewing neo-Nazis and jihadists. Here’s what she learned.
Deeyah Khan, a Muslim woman, met her enemies — and came away more hopeful than ever.
What’s the best way to fight racism and extremism?
The impulse to dismiss extremists as unreachable fanatics
is strong and at times justifiable. But perhaps it’s 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
what’s really motivating them. It’s an attempt to cut through the
rhetoric and the ideological trappings and find out why so many young
men — and yes, it’s primarily young men — are drawn to extremist
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 doesn’t buckle, but Khan’s interactions
with other white supremacists go in surprising directions, and you learn
quite a bit about who these people really are.
I spoke with Khan about her experience making these
films, what she discovered about the nature of extremism, and how her
thinking has evolved after sitting down face to face with her “enemies.”
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
You’ve made a decision to engage, rather than dismiss,
the most extreme characters you can find, people who have insulted and
threatened you. Why?
They want to instill fear in people, and it was important
for me to not succumb to that, to not react in the way they wanted me
to react. I’ve received death threats and rape threats and some of the
most awful things you can imagine from people, but I will not let that
dictate what I say or write or what films I make.
The second reason was that I’ve been an anti-racist
campaigner pretty much most of my life, having experienced racism from
childhood. It’s personal to me, and I’ve responded in all sorts of ways —
being angry at racists, shouting at them, confronting them, protesting
against them, self-righteously shunning them. I’ve done all that, and
I’m not sure what difference it made.
So I wanted to do something I’ve never done before, which
is try to see if I could sit down with people who hold views like that
and see if it is possible for us to move somewhere from that point, from
sitting face to face. Because it’s really, really easy for everybody
involved to hate each other from afar, to judge each other from afar,
but it’s much more difficult to hate up close and personal.
For you, it’s also about not feeding their persecution mania, right?
Absolutely. Part of the reason people subscribe to these
movements is that they feel shunned in their lives, in their personal
lives or in wider society.These movements are deeply
rooted in a sense of victimhood, real or imagined. So if we exclude
them, if we shout at them, if we condemn them, that completely feeds
into that. And then the monster gets bigger, not smaller.
I still see the social utility in stigmatizing racists
and extremists as much as possible, but I also see how taking that too
far, or relying on that alone, can increase the transgressive appeal of
A lot of people misunderstand me when I say that I believe in engagement and dialogue. I’m not saying this is the only way
to counter extremism. What I’m saying is that this has to be an option
on the table if we actually care about reducing extremism. I understand
why people want to get angry or violent — I understand the entire
spectrum of feelings and reactions that people have.
People can decide for themselves how they want to
challenge these things. This is what I’ve chosen to do, and I never in a
million years would dream of telling other people how they should feel
or how they should fight racism and extremism.
And I want to be clear: I don’t think it’s the
responsibility of persecuted people, or abused people, or oppressed
people, to have to “reform” extremists. I don’t think it’s their burden.
I don’t think it’s people of color’s job to have to do that. What I’m
saying is this is something that I wanted to try. I was personally
curious, and I am really surprised and heartened by how it went.
You’ve sat down with both neo-Nazis and jihadists —
you’ve befriended them, gotten to know them, broken bread with them.
What’s motivating them? Where does all this hate come from?
Much of it doesn’t come from hate. It comes from a lot of
other basic human needs that are not being met. To be sure, there are
political and social and economic factors involved on both sides, but if
you dig deep, you find that it’s about much more than that.
I tried to understand the core psychological draw of
these movements. I found that a sense of belonging or purpose was a
major factor. These people join these groups and suddenly they have a
sense of meaning in life, a belief that they matter, that their voice
matters. It’s as though they were once invisible and now they’re seen.
Most of these men get so much attention once they do
something horrible, or once they say something horrible. Before that,
they’re invisible. And I think there is something really powerful in
that, and perhaps that says more about us as a society than it does
about them. But it ought to give us pause when we shower extremist
groups with constant media attention.
That reminds me of something one of the former jihadists
in your film said: “Fighting in defense of Allah was an almost
transcendental emotion.” I thought this was so revealing, because it
speaks to the primal, metaphysical urges driving a lot of these people
on both sides — there’s an almost spiritual need for some higher
purpose, and the ideology itself is just a prop.
[ how about primal blood lust? - arclein ]
In many ways, the ideology is just window dressing. Many
of the jihadists I’ve spoken to, other than the recruiters and the
leadership side of it, are not particularly religious, are not
particularly well versed in their faith at all. For them, it’s about
feeling righteous and believing that they’re doing something important
and meaningful in life.
They also do it because they know it scares you. They put
on this front, take on this image, and suddenly they get all this
attention. They’re on magazine covers and newspapers and on TV, and the
most important leaders in the world have to look at them, have to worry
about them. That’s incredibly intoxicating for these young men.
It’s startling to watch you connect in real time with
some of these white supremacists. They have these cartoonish ideas about
black people or brown people, they hate them in the abstract, and then
by the time they’re done speaking with you, they admit to liking you and
even thinking of you as a friend.
How shocking was that?
I usually have a lot to say about everything, but I’m
still at a loss for words on this. I was touched and confused and put
off at the same time. To be honest with you, as much as I set out to
make the film about engaging with my enemies, I never thought it would
actually prove productive.
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 that’s what happened, and I still
can’t quite believe it. If you would’ve told me that when I started, I
would’ve 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 I’ve ever heard.
Well, he called me up a few months after the film aired
and he said, “I’ve 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 I’m 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
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
doesn’t deserve it. His whole ideology fell apart.
I’ve maintained my friendship with Ken and I’ve connected
him with other former neo-Nazis because I know how hard it is to leave
these groups, whether you’re a white supremacist or a jihadist. These
movements become your identity, your life, your whole network of
friends, and when you leave, you’re completely shunned. So we have to
support people who want to get out.
Absolutely, and I’m grateful that you’re doing this work.
I do, however, think it’s important to restate that empathy has its
limits, and there are many, many people in these movements who cannot be
reached and have to be confronted and, frankly, defeated.
I agree 100 percent. There were several moments in which I
discovered the limits of empathy and was genuinely concerned about my
own safety. I remember traveling to a white supremacist training camp
somewhere in Tennessee and there were two or three ex-military guys
following me around and telling me right to my face, “I’m going to put a
fucking bullet through your camera. I’m going to put a fucking bullet
through your head if you turn that camera toward me.”
There was another guy who wouldn’t talk and just kept
staring at me the whole time, with his gun on his lap, and he just kept
holding on to it. Then he just stares at me and goes, “You know what was
the best part about being in Iraq?” I said, “No, what’s the best part
about being in Iraq?” He said, “Getting paid to shoot ragheads like
I was actually pregnant while shooting the film about
white supremacists, and something they all agree on is that people like
me should not be having children. I wore baggy clothes and tried to hide
it as much as possible. And my child is mixed-race, so that was extra
unnerving for me.
One guy came up to me after Charlottesville, blew
cigarette smoke in my face, got right up to my nose, and said, “Are you
fucking pregnant?” And I just had to look him dead in the eyes and say
as calmly as possible, “No, no, I’m not.”
So as much as I say human connection is important,
engagement is important, I fully understand that the danger a movement
like this presents should not be underestimated.
Watching your two films back to back, it’s so apparent
how complementary these extremisms are, how reciprocal they are. They’re
actually invested in the success of each other. Is that how you see it?
Absolutely. They need each other, and when it comes to
the recruitment of jihadists in the West, for example, you can see this
quite clearly. The more somebody is shunned and pushed away from the
country they live in, the more you are actually pushing them into the
arms of extremists, of people who wish these kids, and the rest of us,
ISIS is quite explicit about this in their recruitment.
They admit that their biggest enemy is actually not white supremacists
or anything like that. Their enemy is people like me, and people who
want to get along, who want our societies and our various communities to
coexist. That’s the gray zone that needs to be destroyed.
They desperately want people to pick a side.
I’d like to know what you think we can do to solve this
problem of extremism. As you put it in your film, what is the way out of
It’s to not become hysterical, it’s to not dance to their
instructions, it’s to not behave how they want us to behave. They want
us to become really afraid; they want us to become divided; they want us
to join their “us and them” thing. On a larger scale, I think we have
to resist that. It’s an argument for celebrating and nurturing our
diversity and nurturing our multicultural society, and our pluralism.
But on a more concrete, practical level, I think we need
to support people who want to leave these groups, because we often
underestimate how many people, once they’re in it, actually want to
leave but find zero support, because everybody is so busy condemning
these guys that nobody really wants to extend a hand to them and let
them get out. I think that’s really, really important.
Are you more or less optimistic after spending all this time with your “enemies,” as you call them?
I’m optimistic but also afraid because I’ve seen it up
close and personal now. I see that they — the white supremacists and the
jihadists — are becoming very organized, and I see that they are using
the internet and social media very well. So these movements are
spreading faster than they did in the past.
And yet I still feel positive and hopeful, because I do
think change is possible, and I think it’s going to require us not
giving up. All of these extremists want us to give up, to fear each
other and them, to become more divided. And they don’t want us to be
kind, or to show empathy, or to organize, or to vote, or to do any of
So we have to become active citizens and active human
beings, and no matter what happens, we cannot afford to give up on each
other. That means even people that we disagree with and people that we
dislike. In fact, it matters more. It’s easy for me to like you. It’s
easy for me to be nice to you because we probably see the world fairly
similarly. That’s easy. That’s not when our principles really matter.
It matters when you are able to extend
it to somebody who might not deserve it, or who you might not like or
might not agree with. Otherwise, we become just like them — and, in the
process, do their bidding.