White jihad

Deeyah Khan has made a film about white supremacists: White Right: Meeting the Enemy.

It focuses on the rise of nationalism in Donald Trump’s America, from the “alt-right” to all-out neo-Nazis. She spent time with various leaders in the movement, going to their meetings, including the August rally in Charlottesville where Heather Heyer, an anti-racist campaigner, was killed. She hung out with the followers of the movement, going out at night in the car with one as he leafleted a Jewish area with hate-filled flyers. She also met former neo-Nazis. “I’m a woman of colour,” she says at the beginning of the film as she sits down to interview Jared Taylor, a well-known 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?”

She felt fear many times while making the film, but she wanted to know what kind of people they are.

In White Right, the men who emerge are strikingly similar to the men in Khan’s previous film, Jihad, which explored what attracted British recruits to the jihadi movement. “Their cause is different, but their motivations and the personality types are the same. You have the guy who just wants violence and wants to find a cause he can dress his violence with. But the vast majority of the people are either lost and looking for a sense of belonging or looking for a sense of purpose. This is true for the jihadis and these guys here. They’re looking for something to contribute to and give to the world – in their opinion – in a positive way.”

Khan has come away from her recent experience, she says, both more afraid and less. “What makes me more afraid is how organised, how galvanised [the white far right] are. They truly believe they are the victims. They feel like they have everything to lose and that’s worth fighting for.” But she also feels less frightened, personally, than she did. “I spent my life hounded by men like this and I left liberated from the fear because I realised they’re people who are just as messed up, in pain, broken or struggling as any of us. They just don’t have either the support or means to deal with some of the things they’re dealing with in a healthy way. I absolutely am not asking for people to feel sympathy for these guys – I don’t feel sympathy for them – but that does not exclude my ability to try to empathise with them. Having experienced racism my whole life, I decided that hating them or being afraid wasn’t enough for me any more.”

White Right: Meeting the Enemy is on ITV on 11 December at 10.40pm

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