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Extreme listening are two words that don't usually go together, but there is no other way to describe what Daken does.
She made a documentary called White Right Meeting the Enemy, where she, as a Muslim woman, goes and spends time with white supremacists trying to understand what makes them tick. And the way she gets through to them is by listening. If we all learn to listen like this, it is absolutely remarkable the breakthroughs we will all be able to make. This is a bit of optimism. Dear, I can't tell you what a treat this is for me, I saw your documentary White, Right?
Yeah, when it first came out.
Oh, well, it struck me so hard how you were able to explore that human beings are basically human beings.
Yeah. What I loved about it was you went for a dark subject and you found light. We should probably say for people who haven't seen it, you decided to go and spend time with white supremacists. Yes. And you were actually, I won't say marching with but walking with those white supremacists in Charlottesville when all of that went down.
Yes. Which was insane. I mean, I had no idea at the time when this white supremacist group said, we're going to this rally, it's going to be in this place called Charlottesville. And I was like, OK, because I had gone to some of the Klan rallies before that. And it would be like in a four to six people there. And I was like, OK, will be nine people at this one. Yeah, I'll come along fine.
Great. I just get to spend more time with one of the guys I was very interested in. That's fine. And then of course, early in the morning, I remember they all gathered in this parking lot and it was so many people and there were so many weapons and there were so many military uniforms. And of course, the only non-white person there and I've got a camera. So that's sort of two strikes against me. And I had people come up to me going, know who they're for, you and what are you doing here and who are you with?
So, yeah, great morning. And then they get to the actual parking lot that they were all sort of getting themselves all ramped up before they marched into Charlottesville. And there they had their shields, they had the batons, they have their weapons and they're all chanting blood and soil, blood and soil. And something about starting the deportations that that will happen soon, basically. And I just remember just feeling absolutely terrified walking into the streets with these guys.
And then, of course, you've got antiracist lining the streets, shouting and screaming and everybody's throwing stuff. And I got pepper sprayed. And it was it was all very, very intense because the violence broke out very quickly. And of course, I'm looking at some of the antiracist going in with you. Don't throw something. I'm just filming. But going back to what you were saying earlier in terms of finding late, when I think about the films that I make and the topics that I find myself drawn to, I've often wondered, you know, is there something really messed up in my head, the fact that I'm drawn to such sort of ugliness and ugly behavior, the dark side of human beings.
But, you know, every film that I do, every dark subject that I touch, I'm always looking for the hope. I'm actually always looking for the light. I'm actually always looking for the love. I'm looking for the cracks where some level of humanity might reside. So the whole entire process of making the films is trying to understand the darkness. But in search of there's got to be more there and there always is.
I think that by very definition of hope and optimism, it requires you going to the tunnel. It requires you going to the dark to find the light. And in this case of this one film, when you go looking at white supremacist, not to say aren't they horrible people, because we know that.
We already know that. We know their behavior as a part. We don't need a documentary for that. No, no.
But to go and say what is it that we don't understand that we're not doing? Yeah. And the thing that I found absolutely astonishing. Was that this one gift that you have, this one skill that you have of listening, that these white supremacists weren't going to change their stripes by being screamed at and yelled at? If anything, they're going to dig in even deeper or being told that they're abhorrent, but rather that very human experience of feeling heard.
All of a sudden, the narrative, their narrative started to unravel. Yeah. And to watch them struggle with wanting to hate you because of what they've been taught, but actually liking you and trusting you because of how you make them feel.
Heard I was just an amazing thing to watch. And I think is so relevant to so much of what we're going through today. Yeah. In this unbelievably polarized nation that we're living in and the failure of both sides is the failure to listen.
Yeah, I agree. People always talk about Trump this and Trump that. I get it and I agree with it. But the one thing that Trump has done is that he has made a segment of the population feel herbed, feel as if they matter. Somebody calls you deplorable and somebody says you are forgotten no more. Who do you think touches your heart? Who do you think you will sign up with even if everything else he stands for is irrelevant and might even be against your own needs and your own rights.
But you just go, that's it. And when people look at our societies and we look at our politics and we look at all the different challenges that we have in some ways, and I don't actually think this is oversimplifying it. It is just about human relationships. All of this is about human relationships. All of this is about connection or a disconnect, a fracturing between people. All of this is about people and the same way of listening and same way of being there with each other.
In those rooms that I found myself with some of these guys is the same gestures that we would make towards somebody in our own life. But the difference is we care about the person in our own life because we've chosen to be in a relationship with them. But the reality is we are all different kinds of people sort of shoved together in all all these communities and countries and expected just to make it work. And it doesn't work like that. It requires effort.
Even the relationships we want to be in require effort. And even relationships we want to be in are difficult. And our relationships, we don't want to be from time to time. But there is a commitment there that we're going to get through this, we're going to make it work because we're in this together. So we will fix it, will make it. But on a societal level, we haven't done that to each other. We have made that commitment to each other that it doesn't matter whatever convulsions we might go through as a society, but we're going to make it.
And our leaders certainly are unable to articulate that for some reason and instead are exploiting the fractures between us. But I think if we don't find a way to make this work, the alternative to dialogue is violence. And you're seeing it and you're going to see it more. So we have no choice in a way.
Where does that violence come from? Is it just pent up frustration? Do you get a sense of why it came out in violence as opposed to civil discourse or debate or uncomfortable discussions? What led it to violence? Is it that these people are predisposed to violence or did the opposing point of view contribute in some way, shape or form to push them towards violence?
I think it is pent up frustration, but I think violence is also easy. Having a conversation and reflecting and being willing to really be there when somebody else is difficult, because you might hear things and feel things that you don't want to feel. And it's about the other person, but it's also about yourself when you sit with each other. You also learn things about yourself you might not want to face. That's difficult. So in some ways, I think it's easier to lash out in violence in our society.
I also feel like men in particular have also been sort of socialized and trained to understand violence or aggression and anger as sort of the only ways that you're allowed to express any kind of hurt, any kind of suffering, any kind of brokenness. So I think for some men, that's just what you do. And it's a legitimate way of expressing whatever feelings and fears that you have. Also, I think a lot of people feel that that's a show of strength, that, you know, people who feel broken or people who feel inadequate or people who feel like they don't matter once you act out in violence, because I've also done films about jihadis and I found the same sort of traits with them, is that the brutality?
A lot of it came from wanting to sort of mask their insecurities and their inadequacies and their lack of respect for themselves and not feeling like they're good enough and not feeling like they're even worthy of respect. So they'll settle for being fair. Because being feared and being respected, sometimes that's a very similar feeling. It's a fine line for a fuzzy line at the very minimum.
Yeah, and do we contribute to the triggering of the violence? I do think that when there is nothing but walls everywhere, when everyone is hardened, everyone's heart is hardened and there's no possibility. There's no space, there's no oxygen for anything else, then in a way, it also makes sense that that's the step that people move towards because they go, well, this is the only thing we have and this is the only thing the other side also expects from me.
There's such a great irony in all of this, isn't there? Because both sides accuse the other of being judgmental, completely missing the fact how much they judge?
Yeah, well, you know, what's really interesting to me is with very few exceptions in our minds, everyone's the good guy. Everyone's the sort of a hero in their own head. And most people who do awful things in their minds don't think that they're doing awful things. They think they're actually doing the right thing. They actually think they're doing the righteous thing. They are somehow defending something that is under attack. So they are on the side of right.
Not I'm the villain of the story. Very few people do reside in that, too, and take great pleasure in it. But that's very few people.
Remember the movie Inglourious Basterds? Yes, I know the film. I haven't seen it.
Unfortunately, Christoph Waltz, an Austrian actor, plays the head Nazi. I mean, he's scarily good and he goes on an interview on David Letterman. And Letterman says to him, how were you able to play evil incarnate so well?
What did you have to do to prepare for that part? And Christoph Waltz doesn't understand the question, he says, but he's not evil.
Oh, my goodness. Yeah.
And Letterman says, but where inside yourself did you have to go to be able to play this character so effectively? And you see the two of them completely not being able to understand each other because Christoph Waltz did so well, is he played the character believing he was on the side of. Right. Yeah, because evil is what the other person calls you. Yes.
No one Nazis didn't think they were evil.
No, we thought that they were evil. And what made him so scary is he wasn't an actor playing an evil guy. He was an actor pretending that he was on the side of. Right. And that's what made it horrific to watch. Wow. And you should now go watch the film.
I will. I that gives me goose bumps. Yes. And to your point, evil is a judgment. Yeah. Everyone thinks they're on the side of good. Yeah. Empathetic listening.
We don't have even go so far. Is it to say empathy. You don't have to have empathy, but empathetic listening is to show up not accusing the other person of being evil, but rather to try and understand where they're coming from.
Exactly. And that was the whole purpose of making the film was exactly that. I wanted to try and understand. I don't need to know what a neo-Nazi thinks. I don't need to know what a Klansman thinks. We already know that there's no news in that. There's nothing I can really grapple with in that. So for me, it's more why do they think the things that they do? Why do they do the things that they do? Why do people behave like this and feel the things that they feel and find it within them to treat others like that?
So I wanted to understand that I did an interview with the BBC and I got so many death threats from white supremacists because I defended multicultural societies and that this is a fact than reality. And this is just what we're going to have to live with. And the interview went viral and I ended up on various very violent racist websites, especially in the US. And the actually the police ended up having to be involved because of the BBC. I sort of laughed it off at the beginning.
This is just stupid. I've had this before from the jihadi side and the threats are the same, that everything they're saying is exactly the same. Just a little icons are different. And so I just laughed it off and the police were like, no, really, you need to take this seriously. You know, stay away from windows, do this, do that, whatever. And at the moment I remember thinking, so here it is again.
So I can either be afraid, which I've been afraid of people like this my whole life, or I can try to do something different, which is try and seek them out, try and see if it's possible to sit with them and can I recognise their humanity and can they recognise mine? Is that doable when you sit in person? And can I find a way of understanding them as human beings behind the rhetoric, behind the chest beating and the ideology and all of that and behind the threats.
So that's what I wanted to do.
And I also was quite conscious about how I was wanting to go for these conversations to go. I did not want it to be, I'll tell you all my politics and all my views and I'll pat myself on the back for having all the correct views. Then you get to shout your. Stuff, and then we all sort of wipe our hands and we all go off and I can get to be the great antiracist, you get to be the great Nazi, and you get to sort of speak to your audience and recruit more people.
So it's very conscious of the fact that I didn't want the conversation to go there. And I also didn't want them to sort of set the table for how this was going to go. So I knew that they were going to try to provoke me. I knew that they were going to try to make me afraid and all of that. And I was not going to fall for it. I'm not going to let them push my buttons, even if they did.
And that I just wanted to listen. I'm just going to listen and I'm going to wait until the human being starts coming out. And the very first neo-Nazi that I met with is the leader of the National Socialist Movement is the largest and one of the oldest neo-Nazi organization, white supremacist organizations in America. And he said he's one of the first people that actually agreed to meet with me because most of them didn't even want to meet with me. And he said, look, you come to the specific motel, you get one hour and then you basically you need to disappear.
And I said, OK, at least he said yes. So yes, fine. I show up there and then, of course, I suddenly start realizing this is going to happen. This guy is going to walk through these doors. What if he has weapons? What if he has people with him? What if they rob us and it's just me and one other person that do all the filming, the I don't have security or anything like that.
And he comes in and he sits down. And this is the first guy that you see in the film. And we talk for five hours. And at the end of those five hours, he's the one that said we're going to this rally in this place called Charlottesville and you're welcome to join us. And I remember asking him, I said, look, why did you let me talk to you for longer, first of all? And secondly, why are you willing to spend more time with me?
And he said, look, I disagree with everything you say, everything you stand for. And he said, in the end, the world view and the picture of the future that you're speaking about, he said, I actively will continue to work against that because I don't like it, but I respect your sincerity. He said you are very clearly, very sincerely committed to your view. But he said, I've never been asked some of the questions that you've asked.
And he said, and I've never had a conversation like this. He said, I've done so many interviews and he gets to be the big, bad Nazi in all of those interviews, which are considered very successful interviews for him. And he said typically they go two ways. One is either I get to sort of dominate the interviewer and so I win or the interviewer basically puts me in a corner. And so then I get to continue with my victim story.
So I went either way, I win. And he said this went somewhere else. And he said nobody's been willing to listen and nobody's shared with me how they feel. He said, I don't quite know why, but I would like to continue talking. And so we have spent a lot of time since and this wasn't in the film because it hadn't happened yet. But last year or earlier this year lost all perspective of time. But he's left.
He is completely set up the way he publicly speaks for peace and the opposite of what he used to be.
I think the the hard thing for people to reconcile with your strategy is it's unpredictable in time. Yeah, it's a process, yes, you know, which is we want results and we want results now. Yeah, you know, we want Black Lives Matter, we want police reform and we want it now. And we want to completely change the way cultures have evolved over decades, if not centuries now.
And the reality is violence. Is the only way to force a revolution, is the only way to for something to happen immediately, but for the fact that there's always a counter-revolution and it's incredibly unpredictable and unstable and no guarantee that whatever we change is going to last.
Yeah, and so this process of chipping away and unraveling way more stable, way more sticky. Yeah, but unpredictable in time.
Could take a year, could take three years, could take five years.
If we stick with the process it's going to work. It's going to work. I just don't know how long.
And the fact that here we have the head of a white supremacist, the oldest white supremacist organization in the nation.
Volunteering to step down, not because of public pressure, not because of scandal, not because of law. No, but by choice. Happened over how many years from when you first met him? So it would have been three years, the very last day I film with him, I was stuck in a car with him for nine hours. I went to meet him in Detroit and then he drove from Detroit to Charlottesville. And after a lot of time filming together, we sort of got to the point where he would tolerate a lot of annoying poking from me.
And I also realized that I can get away with more and more and basically started saying that I'm like an annoying little sister for him and, you know, ha ha, that's fine.
And whatever. And the very, very last day he goes to his car, I was about to pack up some of our equipment and I ran over to him and I said, look, is it OK to give you a hug? And I want to thank you and I really appreciate how willing you've been to just speak and listen. And he said, yeah. And then he hugged me and I said, you know, I'm sorry for being an annoying little sister to you.
And he says, you have a brother now. And at that moment, I knew and I couldn't say this when the film came out because he was still the leader of this thing. But I knew in that moment he's this isn't going to last. He's going to leave. He might leave in 10 years, just like you said. He might be even ten years. He might leave in ten days. I don't know. But he is going to leave.
He cannot keep this up. And I also remember the morning after Charlottesville, he had a couple of young people around him who were just so horrible, the things that they said and the just so aggressive and awful, awful, awful to you, to me and to other people. And I had it out with one of them. And Jeff was there. And I remember looking at him going, why are you with these people? I said, you know better than this.
You're not like this. I said, you're a decent person. I said, I know you believe in all kinds of garbage, but I said, you're a decent person. I know it. I can see it. Why are you doing this, why are you a part of this? And he never said anything, he just stood there with sort of just his jaw on the floor and just couldn't say anything, I was right. He couldn't keep breathing and being part of that.
But you also appreciated the stubbornness. Yes. Which is I've spent so many years building up a persona position, a point of view, a reputation that to simply say I'm out now, there's a process.
It's not unlike being in any relationship where you're in a romantic relationship with someone that you've spent a lot of time investing in, that there's lots of feelings. They have feelings towards you and you realize this is untenable. Yeah. And rarely do we just wake up one morning and just break up. Yeah. Depending on the length of relationships it can take months or years to. Extricate ourselves from these relationships because there's so much there's common friends and there's family, and these decisions to completely pull ourselves out of established relationships are not simple.
And so when the quote unquote opposition demands extrication because we say so on our timetable.
Yeah. It fails to appreciate just the humanity and the difficulty of this. Yeah, these guys that are part of these violent groups and part of extremist movements, their entire sense of self, their identity, their everything, their position in life, everything is bound up in that movement, in that ideology. Part of the trick of of extremist movements and any kind of violent gangs is you are separated from your family. You are separated from your sort of original support system and community.
And so that becomes your only brotherhood. It becomes your everything like your say, you know, your relationships are that. Your identity is that I am this feared tough leader, all that stuff. And then suddenly what do you do? And he still to this day struggles and still, you know, him and I are in touch with each other. And before he even came out, he's like, they're going to kill me and they're going to kill me on both sides.
And I was like, look, from the other perspective, which I can also see, you also cannot leave and expect everything to be washed off you instantly. So I said you also have to have patience. And I know it's very difficult and I know sometimes you're tempted. Maybe it's easier just to go back because at least I know that. And you'll say things like, I don't even know what civilian life is like you said, I've been in this for so long, I don't even know.
And he said, like, I know nobody outside me. I have no friends. I have no support outside. Imagine that. Imagine how hard it is to do that. And then you just getting slapped around from every side, you or your former brothers, you want to now assassinate you because you're a race traitor. And then you've got the left saying, I don't believe you. Once a Nazi, always a Nazi, punch a Nazi, you know, all that whole thing.
But to him, I said, I don't know what to tell you, except you're going to have to hang in there and you have to do your time. You don't get to be forgiven in two seconds either, because the things that you did, the things that you inspired and what you stood for has caused a lot of harm. And so just saying I'm done and now hug me is not also a realistic expectation. You have to respect the hurt that you've caused.
So now you do your time. And I said, and look, I'll try to be there for you and others who will try to be there for you. But you're going to have to hang in there somehow. And it's easy to say that. And it's devastatingly difficult to be in his shoes because he really has nothing and nobody. This is the irony of belonging. Yes.
Which is we all desperately seek to feel like we belong to something. And when we are, for whatever reason, marginalized, yeah. We still seek belonging. Exactly. It's so, so true. When I did a film about jihadis, people were so kind of confused and also sort of bothered by me saying some of this. But I said, look, what I've learned from spending a couple of years with these guys. And mind you, I have nothing in common with them.
I have no sympathy for their cause. There's no excusing what any of them believe. Whether it's a white supremacist or that's not the point of trying to understand is not to justify or excuse these beliefs or even to sympathize with that. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. It's just to try and understand it so that we, as the rest of society or as individuals can be more effective in doing something about it. So when I spent these several years with the jihadis, what I came to understand this is when ISIS was just kind of getting really big around whenever it was 2013, something like that, 14, and people were saying, oh, they're driven by hate and oh my goodness, and they're just so evil and they're just these monsters and my goodness.
And this word belonging kept coming back. Also this warmth. I said to people that they're actually not driven by hate, they're actually driven by love. And I know that makes no sense to people when we talk about guys who go and behead journalists. So I get that. But that's still the truth. The majority of them were driven by love, people who didn't have fathers who didn't have love in their own homes, who were rejected by everybody, rejected by other brown people, other black people, other white people, by everybody, by women, by everybody.
And then they find this group that says, hey, you're one of us. They put their arm around you and say, it's OK, you're OK, and I'm with you and it's going to be OK. And so the loyalty, that's why the kind of grooming process or the radicalization process takes quite a while. You know, these groups spent hundreds of hours on recruiting just one kid. How much time do we spend with a kid that's struggling? So we're up against a pretty tough, well machined, very human centric, bizarrely movements.
How good must that make you feel? That somebody takes not much time to talk to you and to try to understand you and to try to be with you in your difficulties and try to talk through whatever struggles you're having in your life. So the sense of loyalty and love that that builds between that recruit and whoever his recruiter is, is unbreakable. If that guy then asks this young person to go blow themselves up or to go do something, many of them, not all of them, but many of them go and do horrible, horrible things for the love of that person.
And I witnessed this. I had a very strange experience myself. I met with this young woman in the UK who was having a very difficult time. And I was just nice to her. And I just listened to her and was supportive to her whenever I was able to. She had a horrible, horrible, horrible, violent upbringing. And I remember we sat on this train back to London at one point and I told her this. I said, you know, me working on this film, you know, these guys do feel this loyalty.
And then they go and they do horrible things and whatever, and they do it for these kind of leaders and whatever. And she looks me dead in the in the face. And she said I would do that for you. And I said, well, what? And she said I would I would go kill or be killed for you. Just because you showed me love, just because you've been nice to me, just because you were there for me when I needed somebody, you know, and I remember when I sat with the jihadis, they would say, you know, I've been discriminated against.
I've been this. I felt like this. I felt like an outsider. I felt broken for a long, long, long laundry list.
And I remember finding myself sitting there going, Yeah, me too. Wow. Yeah, I felt like that. I went through that. I went through, wow, OK. And then I would always be left with a question. Well what is it then, if all our experiences are pretty much the same and then I'm a woman on top of it, so I've had to deal with all of that stuff too. What is it that makes me pick up a camera and you pick up a gun?
What is that? What's the difference then? And the only difference that I can sort of identify is who is it that shows up in your life at your most broken, at your most vulnerable, willing to listen, willing to be there for you?
Who recruited you is the difference. Exactly.
Is it somebody that wishes me well and that wants me to flourish and grow as a human being? Or is it somebody who takes my pain and manipulates that and whines that up towards their own political gain?
That's the difference that we have to point this out, which is a big difference. And these organizations are so good at this. As you said, their survival has been built upon it. Yeah, the al-Qaida recruiting magazine was called Inspire, which is when these young, disaffected children in the slums of Paris or wherever are online talking to somebody. They think they're talking to the same person.
But because it's a machine, it's a team of people who are available at all hours of the night to talk to this kid whenever he or she is ready to talk.
In other words, it's not necessarily somebody who really cares, you know, about somebody who cares.
No. It's a machine of people who are there trying to recruit me. Yes. For political gains. Yes.
If there is quote unquote, evil anywhere, that is if it's at the high levels of these organizations where people with political motives know exactly how to manipulate. Yes, broken. And when I say broken, by the way, I mean all of us. Yes. You know, disaffected. Disenchanted. Yes. How to take that emotion. And it'll have a veneer of helping you. But in reality, you're helping me.
You're helping me. And you're just cannon fodder for my bashing. And that's the evil that is. And that is what I learned, is that the recruits are versus all these young kids that are being recruited. There's a huge difference. You know, the recruiter is being very conniving, being very manipulative and knows exactly what he's doing, knows exactly what he's doing, and very consciously. I mean, they actively, consciously pick people who are struggling. Of course, if there's one commonality between both films are both movements for me, because people seem to think it's so different.
And it really it's it's like I said earlier, too, it's the same guy. It's just a different window dressing, but it's the same guy, different slogans, different flags. It is that these movements cynically and also brilliantly fulfill basic human needs that we all have. But some of us have ways of fulfilling that and finding ways to fill those gaps. And some of these kids just don't.
How is it that they have the patience to recruit for hundreds of hours and for those who claim to care about their fellow human beings, seem not to have the patience. Yeah. To recruit them back or prevent them from ever being recruited in the first place, but rather demand instant change. First of all, is that a fair statement? I think so.
That's the gist of what I've walked away with having done. Both films actually started out very pessimistic and didn't really think it was going to get anywhere. But I was still going to try to see if I can understand any part of this.
But I left both films hopeful, very optimistic. And the reason for that was understanding these sort of systems of recruitment and the fact that it is very, very human, that it is about human needs and filling those. And the reason that gives me hope is that we can do something about I think primarily it has to do with these recruiters. They see that they can gain from it. These people see the potential. They have a lot to gain.
I think we see a lot of things.
But I don't think we truly believe that our society gains and benefits from the brilliance and the creativity of these people and what they really have to offer. So I think their brokenness is justified in the sense that we don't look at them. We don't show up for them when they truly need us. When do these kids matter? When they do something horrible and violent. Right. Did we care about what drove them to that point where we there when he was suffering or struggling or cutting himself or whatever, we weren't there.
So I think just because we see things doesn't mean that we necessarily believe it. These guys don't say it. They do it because they know they stand to gain a lot from this human resource.
So there are two thoughts that strike me in your idea there. One is the unbelievable discomfort of patients. Yeah.
The fact that I have to be patient for something that I find upsetting, abhorrent or is actually upsets the fabric of functional society that I have to wait is an unbelievably uncomfortable thought and the uncertainty of the time frame. The other thing which I find upsetting is that. Though manipulative for political gain, these recruiters are finding those who desperately seek belonging and aren't just trying to help the person, they're actually giving them something to belong to.
Yes, exactly. What do we offer them? Whereas the counters might want to help them out of humanity, quote, unquote.
Yes, but I got nothing for you to join.
No, exactly. I mean, I'll talk about civil society and blah, blah, blah, but I'm actually not inviting you to be a part of anything.
Exactly. So. So it's actually only half a process.
And so until we can offer someone an alternative place to feel like they belong and feel safe, yes.
We're going to lose. Exactly. And they have to feel like they belong in their safe. The one thing that I also noticed this entire spectrum of young people is there's sincerity in really wanting to change the world and really wanting to contribute in really wanting not just to be a part of a community, but part of a community that matters and accomplishes something. And yes, I think the lack of patience is astonishing on our part. But I think I always sort of say that we are so good at articulating what we are against.
Against Nazis, were against charges, against Israel, against it, and very rarely do we articulate what we're actually for. And that goes to the point that you're saying, what is it that we're actually offering other than don't do this and don't do that?
Well, what should you do and be on something generic? Exactly. And there are spiritual needs. There are human needs, emotional needs, connection. How do we plug into that and give our young people a way to contribute and feel fulfilled? And this is not just young people. This is all of us. When you look at all these groups, they offer belonging. They offer a sense of purpose. They offer an identity and something affirmative.
It's not just being against. It's also being for they are only about what they're for, pretty much about what they for. That's the difference. This is another great irony. Right. Which is these extremist groups that we find abhorrent are for something. Yes. But those of us who think we're on the side of quote unquote, good, we're against them.
Against them. So, again, they're setting the table actually, not us. Right, because the white supremacist, their first sort of few lines of what they think or why they're associated. This isn't I hate all of you who are different from me because, again, it's not hate driven as much as it looks like it is. They are doing it because they are preserving a way of life. They are preserving and supporting and working for their people.
They are for that. The jihadis are working to protect and do something about the suffering and struggling Muslims in all different lands.
But you realize you raise a very uncomfortable observation here, which is we're sitting in a Black Lives Matter movement, of which a large part of the definition is anti-racist. It's against. But is it? It's a question I'm raising. It is a question I am an anti-racist. Is that for? Is that against.
OK, so I have spent a lot of time in the last few months, or especially since the killing of George Floyd traveling around America and especially actually in Minneapolis. Bizarrely, the sense that I get from all the Black Lives Matter activists that I've spoken to and been around is not what they're against. It's the impression I get and I suspect it is why hopefully this time this movement is going to make even more strides than it has done in the past, is that it is articulating a picture of the future that actually includes everybody.
It is about dignity. It is about equality. It is about recognizing the full humanity of everybody. So to me, from everything that I have understood, it is about unity and it is about us coming together for something that is better, something that is more just something that is for all of us. So to me, that is something that is for something not just against, you know, language is a tricky thing.
Yes. And words have power. Yeah. And when we have the words of anti war against it reinforces the division rather than promoting the solution. Yeah.
And I do think that that is a trap that a lot of us fall into when it comes to a wide variety of issues that are very important. But just because we sort of miscommunicate the actual essence of it, and it's also why every time I speak about extremism, whether it's the jihadi and or the other end or gang violence for that matter, I do try to keep it as clear and as human as possible because that's actually really all it is.
I find that academics and people that research this and have written hundreds of books about these types of issues for far longer than I've been around, just over complicates it and make it something. It's one of the reasons why I wanted to make both films as I wanted to get to the human beings and not just stay sort of in these abstract theories and these big, big words that makes you feel hopeless. It makes you feel there's nothing there to be done and certainly nothing for you to do in that picture.
And to me, that takes all power, all solution, everything away from all of this, whereas we can actually all do something about it.
I'm reminded of a quote by James Carville, the Democratic operative, who said The difference between Republicans and Democrats is Republicans want to win and Democrats want to be right.
Wow. Yeah. And I'm struck by the way you talk about the gentleman who ran the white supremacist organization talking about it doesn't matter whether he's put in a corner and had a microphone turned off or whether he gets to dominate.
He wins. He thinks about it in binary. Yeah. Yeah, right. Yeah.
Whereas on the left, it's I'm going to prove to you that you're wrong. Yeah. Yeah. So he doesn't actually show up to be right or wrong. He shows up to win. Exactly. Exactly. Which I find very interesting.
Whereas on the left they show up to be right. Yeah.
And it's very interesting how two people are going to now have a productive conversation where one wants to win and one wants to be. Right. Good luck with that.
Yeah. And both walk off with OK, I got my part. We didn't really talk. Right. Not to state my points and my talking points and you get to state your talking points, right, and then we shake hands and we go or we go off in a huff and we both go back to our constituents and say, did it didn't I do great.
Mission accomplished. Did you see me? Exactly. Do you see the points I scored? Exactly. One scores points and one makes points.
Exactly. And so what's accomplished?
Zippo. You know, you are one of the best listeners in the world.
I don't know, OK, for a Muslim woman to go and spend time with jihadis and white supremacists and listen. Yeah, it's not easy.
So tell us some of the things that you've learned that we can actually apply, like how do I listen to someone I have a visceral reaction to? I may have judgment and disgust and anger.
How do I listen to what you first have to figure out, why you're wanting to have that encounter? For me, the reason I listened, the reason that was the choice is I want to understand them so that we can do better at countering them and having fewer of them around. Right. And we can't do that until we can understand what makes them actually tick. So how you listen is uncomfortable. There's no two ways about it. If you're going to sit with somebody that you have a viscerally just a negative reaction to if you're wanting to listen because you're trying to understand.
What I would suggest is the way it's been for me is I sit there and I allow for people to finish. I allow for people to empty whatever the stuff is. And once they've emptied, it's kind of like a rag has been wrong. And finally then you can go, OK, done. Now we can really speak.
It takes time. There's that patience again. Yeah. Unfortunately, patience has to be a part of it. I think you have to know why you're doing it. I mean, you just have to sit in your discomfort. I'm sorry. It was ugly for me. It was very uncomfortable for me. And any time I would start feeling frustrated or annoyed or angry, I would just have to keep that in check because again, if I was to lash out, I felt in my mind anyway at the time that I'm going to hand them what they're looking for.
They want me to come off kind of center. They want me to lose my balance. And the minute I do that, it's back to them again. They get to define how this is going to go. And then the understanding part, we won't get to that because we'll just get frustrated and I've lost it. I think if we don't listen, then we don't understand what makes somebody tick. We don't understand what value they actually can bring to you and what learning they can actually bring to you.
There's no reason somebody else is going to listen to you if you're not willing to listen first. So I think in order to build a relationship of trust and build a relationship that's based on dignity and respect, somebody has to make that gesture first. And it's most likely not going to come from the neo-Nazi first. Right. So somebody has to take that step. And that's called leadership. Yeah, it's not the one who's at the top of the organization, it's the one who goes first.
Yeah, the one who goes first towards the danger. The one who does the uncomfortable thing first.
But that's also the person that stands to gain the most, because the amount of insight that you get from that, the amount of connection that you get from that and the amount of value, if you want to put it in those terms that you gain from that and the trust and the loyalty that you build with somebody making people feel like they matter, making people feel heard and seen and valued. We all want that. It's not just Nazis or jihadis.
We all want that everybody wants to be treated with dignity. And that's the one thing that was conscious for me with all of these guys is just because they dehumanize me, I'm not going to allow them to put me in a corner where I feel forced to dehumanize them or I feel compelled to dehumanize them. Because if I do that, what's the difference and what's the point? It's very easy to dehumanize them. It's very satisfying to also. I'm right.
And just look at them and listen to their horrible horror. It feels great. But what's after that? We have to get to the solutions, we have to coexist, we have to coexist even with people like this. So how do we do that? Are those gestures going to come from them or from everybody else? And I understand, you know, right now a lot of people feel very angry on all sides and very frustrated that people have had enough.
But going to have to have these conversations, going to have to listen, going to have to be there through the discomfort. You have to. Otherwise we don't get past it. Otherwise, the needle just remains stuck here.
And the anger is the indication of the beginning, not the end. Exactly. And it will continue to get more angry and it will continue to get more violent.
The anger is the start of something. And now we have the choice of where we want to go with it. Exactly. And you can actually diffuse the anger fairly easily, but you have to want to and you have to sincerely want to. And that's hard. So it should be one of the sort of strategies that we applied towards the challenges that we're faced with. And then there's all the other systemic shifts that have to happen, the political lobbying that has to happen, the grassroots organizing that has to happen.
So there's a myriad of solutions that have to be deployed in this current environment. And having dialogue and listening is just one and engaging with the other, engaging with your enemy. That's one aspect of it. Then let's also see what we can gather in terms of information from those people who do go out into the trenches and engage. But you learn about yourself. What to me has been extraordinary about all of this is that I thought I'm going to learn about them.
But at the end of it, I learn more about myself actually, and learn more about what kind of human being I want to be.
Here's some of the things that I've learned from talking to you. One, patience is a bitch.
Yes. I mean, like, oh, you know, like I have to keep doing this uncomfy. I do. I have to go after this. When will it end?
I don't know.
I have to just keep doing it, you know, it's like, oh, you know, anything worthwhile is difficult and requires patience, whether it's getting healthy, getting in shape. You know, it's a lot of hard work and it's a lot of patience. And it's more about process. Yes. Than it is about an event. Yes.
But you do all these things because you want to and because you actually care. So you have to care.
Right. And though there may be events, protests, activism, there are moments there, parts of the process.
The other thing that I found really fantastic and astonishing is it's fine and good to listen and offer empathy, but it has to be followed up with giving someone a place to go. Yeah, it's not enough to say, don't worry, your life matters. I have to be willing to let you into my home. I have to give you a safe place to sleep. That belonging is not enough to help someone build their self-confidence. They have to have a place to go.
Yeah, and that's difficult.
Yes. And it doesn't have to be a physical place, I assume, or maybe it is sometimes, but no, not really. It's more what do you replace that gap with the club? It needs a new club. Exactly. Exactly.
So what are you for? So what do you sign up to instead of what takes that place?
And there has to be and I've heard this theme in all of the work that I've done. You pointed to love. Love is the thing.
Yes, it's the only thing. It's the only thing. It really is. And the empathetic listening is less about, quote unquote, what makes them tick.
Yeah, but it's trying to find out what they love.
Yeah. Because only love would make you sacrifice parents sacrifice for their children. We would sacrifice our lives for our children because we love them. We know that we fall in love because we now find ourselves at the point where we would willingly sacrifice our own interests for the good of another human being, even in a romantic relationship that we discover love when we discover the willingness to sacrifice. And I know from my work with the military very few, if any, folks in the armed services rush towards the sound of a gun for God and country.
Yeah, it's person to the left, in person to the right. And it's and it's love. Even if they don't like them. It's love of the people to the left and to the people to the right that they're so willing to sacrifice. And then the honor is bestowed that they helped advance the movement if that happens.
And I find this incredibly hard and such a worthwhile practice that for me to learn true empathetic listening. And you went to the extremes, which is why you're such a good case study of what empathetic listening looks like. You know, this is a skill that we can we can use on a daily basis with other people. But if you've learned to listen to a jihadi or a white supremacist or to toxic masculinity.
Yeah. Not putting aside any of your own feelings or judgments. That's what I find so interesting. You actually are listening sometimes with judgment. Yeah, yeah.
But it's the sincere desire to understand the thing they love and that and as you describe so beautifully, allow the towel to be wrung, allow the the bucket to be emptied and only at the point of the empty bucket when they've had the chance to say it all. Now a conversation can start. Yeah, the listening allows for the platform to begin. There can be no conversation until there is listening. First extreme listening, extreme listening.
And this word love that you're saying. I always say that. And most people roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders a little bit and go, it's not nice and mushy of you to use that word. And it's not nice and mushy. It's very practical. It's very fruitful. It's very strategic. And it is at the center of everything, everything. I know this for a fact now. I used to feel it and felt that that would be true, but I know it for a fact.
I have sat with some of the worst of the worst, quote unquote, people, people who've done horrific things, convicted terrorists, all sorts of people. And really it all always comes back to love. And the second they sense any feeling that even resembles that from you, they are willing to sit there in that discomfort with you. They are willing to sit there and put their entire life in your hands. I mean, I've sat with some of these guys and some of the things that they've shared with me and put in my hands.
Even I've said they're going, shouldn't tell me this. You really shouldn't tell me this, you know, because whatever I don't know. I can't include. So they're like, no, I trust you. And so without love, truly, there is nothing truly it's not hate, it's love.
Did you learn in all of this to love your enemy? Yes. I mean, I've become friends with many of them. I'm in touch with many of them. Many of them will probably stay with me until I take my last breath or they do. Yeah, I have learned to do that. One of them was being kicked out of the university that he went to because they found out what he does. And he also had the swastika and showed the big gun and stuff like that.
And I wrote to them and I said, look, you have to give him a chance. You cannot give up on people. He really needs to be in a place of learning. He really needs this. He's not going to shoot up the school, but he might if he's got nothing less left to live for. We cannot give up on each other. We cannot give up on people. And most of these people have given up on themselves.
Most of these people have given up on us. And so I refuse to do that. I refuse to do it. Doesn't matter how far gone somebody is, doesn't matter how ugly somebody's behavior is. I will try to stick it out for as long as I can bear it, because that's what's needed, you know, and that's what we would need. That's what you and I would need when we break. That's what we need, is that somebody doesn't give up on us.
Somebody doesn't turn their back on us. Right.
Deacon, you are an inspiration. And as you always do in all your work, we entered a dark place and came out to the light and found the light. I'm so grateful. Thank you so, so much.
Thank you. I'm very grateful. Thank you so much. If you enjoyed this podcast and if you'd like to hear more, please subscribe wherever you like to listen to podcasts. Until then, take care of yourself. Take care of each other.