Religious Extremism, Suffering, Pain and the Christian Response

This past week I had the privilege of watching two documentaries by film-maker Deeyah Khan. One film was titled: Jihad: A Story of the Others and the other is called: White Right: Meeting the Enemy.

Deeyah Khan

The first was produced in 2015 and included a number of interviews with ex-Muslim extremists. The film is intended to pinpoint what causes people to be drawn into extreme movements linked to violent factions of Islam. While even her friends thought extremists were “just monsters…throwing away comfortable lives in the West and we should just let them go and kill themselves.” Deeyah states, ” I came to understand that radicalization is about pain. It’s the pain of young people facing racism, exclusion from society, isolation from the opposite sex, overwhelming pressure from families and communities, a crisis of identity and feeling powerless and insignificant. Yes many of them have material comforts, but I believe too many of them lead lives of emotional poverty.”

Shortly after this film was released she was interviewed for a news broadcast by the BBC. In this interview she claimed that England would never again be white (though the main focus of the interview was how Muslim extremists target other Muslim groups for acts of violence more than they target westerns). As a result of this interview she received an inordinate amount of “hate mail.” People called her a number of names that I cannot repeat on this blog and they shared with her a number of ways that they wished harm upon her. She could have responded in a vengeful manner but instead decided to film another documentary. This time interviewing people who claimed to be white supremacists. She wanted to understand why the people sending her hate mail felt the way they did.

White Right: Meeting the Enemy

In the documentary, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, Deeyah again recorded a number of interviews. This time instead of meeting with former radicals, she meets with many who currently consider themselves to be white supremacists. She asked them a number of very uncomfortable questions concerning why they hate people of other races, why they think it is appropriate to send hateful messages to Jews, why they would throw bacon on the ground all around a Mosque in their area, why they beat people up just for being other ethnic races, and how they go about recruiting new converts to their ideologies.

As I watched both films, I thought about the people being interviewed as well as the way Deeyah must have felt talking to people who wished harm upon her entire race. From her interviews I concluded that those drawn to extreme Islam were very similar to those drawn to white supremacist groups. Converts in both systems were filled with “emotional poverty” and had experienced deep pain. They all desired a place to belong where they would be accepted for who they are.

It would have been easy for me to be just like Deeyah’s friends and wish harm upon the extremists for their racism and their desire to fight others, but it would not have been the Christian thing to do. In a world where it is easy to hate, Christians are called to love. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. When Jesus was asked who constituted a neighbor, he replied with a story about a person of another ethnicity. A person who would have been hated by Jesus’ own people.

Deeyah works to further human rights by promoting peace and equality. She comes from a Sunni Muslim background, but her message is in line with the teachings of Christ. We must all learn to live together in peace. It is easy to see that extremism is wrong – morally and spiritually, but it is also wrong to neglect praying for their salvation, for their deliverance from these hate-filled ideologies, and for the ability to put their past hurts behind them.

Christians, especially in America could learn a thing or two from Deeyah. We are wrong to dislike other people groups because of their religion or because some are attracted to extreme hate groups. We should strive to be at peace with all people, and we should seek to understand others and treat all people with dignity. Kindness shown towards someone who is different may be what puts that person on a path toward the good and keeps him or her away from a path that leads to hate, violence, and death.

Note: The documentaries include unedited interviews with extremists who use strong language in several places, but both are available for viewing on Netflix.