Confronting Anti-Semitism the Focus of New Film ‘Never Again’
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The year 2020 has been terribly discouraging and troubling for a host of reasons: the coronavirus pandemic, social and civil unrest across the nation, and a presidential election cycle that has resulted in high theater for all the wrong reasons. Not to be forgotten, 2020 has also brought a dramatic rise in antisemitism’s prevalence and brutality.
Seeking to shine a light on this unfortunate circumstance, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has released a new Fathom movie event called Never Again. Premiering on more than 400 movie screens in the United States, the new documentary will be available to audiences October 13th and 15th.
I recently spoke with Kasim Hafeez, a principle subject of Never Again about how he was freed from a life of radicalized antisemitism, what is important for audiences to know about it, and how they can change the racist systems and patterns the Jewish community endures on a daily basis.
What was the inspiration or the catalyst for making the film Never Again?
It’s kind of the most unfortunate catalyst you could hope for with all the statistics, all the reports, antisemitic attacks, harassment and violence. These are at the highest level they have ever been in the United States since the statistics have been recorded. And we felt at Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that we really had to do something which would go beyond just the regular things we do day to day. We do events all over the country. We have multiple events almost every day, now we're doing it via zooms,. We wanted to reach a much broader audience. Also, there are a lot of people who may not read a book but may go and see a movie. So, we felt that this could be impactful and really open a lot of people's eyes to the situation who may have been indifferent or just unaware.
You are one of the central people in the film. If you don’t mind, could you please give a personal thumbnail sketch of yourself and how you were freed from the life of a radicalized anti-Semite?
I grew up in the United Kingdom to Pakistani Muslim immigrants. I grew up in a predominantly Muslim Pakistani community. I think that is a fairly consistent pattern with new immigrant communities. It wasn't extreme or radical. Unfortunately, today, we have huge issues with radicalization in Muslim communities all over the world. But the community I grew up in wasn't a community like that. But there were certain issues, with antisemitism being one of the more prominent ones, where we had no interaction or contact with anybody Jewish or any Jewish community. There was just this very casual antisemitism in day to day conversation when Israel or the Jews were mentioned in the news. That was just the baseline. So, for me, the idea that Jews are evil and controlling was just part of my everyday life. And by proxy, when you hear it from a young age over and over again, that becomes your reality.
For the younger generation who were born in the UK, you had the search for identity. And that search for many was essentially answered by radical Islamist groups who saw something to exploit. So, I grew up in that environment which had laid the groundwork for it unintentionally. Then these extremist groups fed that narrative even more. As I grew older, this wealth of false information was creating more anger and hatred. By the time I left college, I was a full on extremist, wanting to connect with terror groups to commit terrorism because through the whole process, Israel and the Jews were kind of seen as the primary evil. They were my main target.
I understand that you flew to the Holy Land (Israel) to confirm your hate, but something happened to you there. What can you tell me about that?
I came across a book when I was at my most radical. It questioned a lot of my beliefs. But I didn't read this book. Just to be very honest, this wasn't some sort of journey of intellectual curiosity. This was just me looking to confirm my own bigotry. After reading this book, because I'd been in such an echo chamber, it questioned a lot of what I believed. But rather than accept it, when you got to a point in your life where you hate a group of people so much that you're considering murder, but also justifying murder, you don't read a single book and go, oh, okay. I was wrong. It doesn't quite work like that. So, after a couple of years of obsessively researching, or at least trying to validate my own previous perspective, I felt going to Israel would give me some closure where I'd see the evil first-hand. But what I discovered was this was all propaganda.
It was seeing it firsthand. Seeing Israel’s reality, all of these myths and lies about apartheid, genocide and all these things were completely debunked from just speaking to everyday Israelis, Christians, and Muslims. I was confronted face to face with the reality which was completely at odds with the falsifications I'd grown up with. I was confronted with a choice. I can either ignore this. I can either go back and be silent or I can simply just share my experiences because for a long time I'd been responsible personally to spreading this hatred and poison to people who were just ignorant and didn't know it.
What is important for the viewer to learn about antisemitism in relation to your personal story?
I think what is key and what sometimes gets too off is when we think about antisemitism or even things like extremism, we think about it either in the past or it being somewhere else. When we think extremist, we think of a guy with an AK-47 riding in the back of a Toyota pickup truck somewhere in the Middle East. And that's simply not the reality. People are getting radicalized. Extremism is sadly a reality in the world today, wherever you live. People are carrying a lot of lies, which are becoming their reality. So, there has to be this acknowledgement of what is happening, the danger of it, and the fact that it is rising up. We have to commit to challenging it both as Christians and Americans. We have a responsibility to stand up to the sacred.
What can people do to change the racist systems and patterns the Jewish community endures and say, “Never again”?
I think that is it's multifaceted. As a Christian, prayer is the most powerful weapon God has given us. We have to utilize that, but we need to put action to our prayers. On a very human level, we have to speak out when we see and hear antisemitism. That's one of the more difficult things because it's very easy. It's not easy, but you can sign a petition. You can go to a protest, but you don't want to be the person who calls out your uncle at Thanksgiving when he makes an antisemitic joke or comment. But that's where it starts. You've got to have the courage to go, look, this is wrong. We need to start seeing this as the hatred and bigotry that it is and deal with it at every level. It isn't acceptable in conversation for families and the workplace. We have also got to hold people by that same standard. But one day, if they're in a position of influence and say something antisemitic, which sadly has become way too common, they need to be held accountable for that. This is unacceptable. We need to really reemphasize this point that this is not okay because unfortunately there's a tolerance to antisemitism that there isn't for any other form of bigotry.
Was it difficult for you to open your life up and allow this film to discuss some of the not so nice moments of your life?
It was really unexpectedly challenging. I've spoken about my past and my journey many times, but making the movie forced me to confront elements from my past that while I've maybe spoken about them, I never really confronted. There's always been a disconnect between who I was and who I am now. And ultimately, they are the same person. It was incredibly difficult, but overall it was a positive experience in terms of the closure, forgiveness, and real clarity on my past that I was able to gain from. I hope that comes across in the documentary because it was very real and very raw at times.
What can people do specifically to make positive change for the battle against antisemitism?
I think we have to really reach out to the Jewish community and make those positive connections. We need to build bridges because there has been a very complicated history between Christians and Jews. We have to play a part in creating these human connections. And when antisemitic incidents happen in our towns or cities, we have to be on the front line of pushing back. We have to ensure that our Jewish community, our fellow citizens, our fellow Americans, or our neighbors know that they are not alone because throughout history, when the Jewish people have been attacked, they have stood alone. We have to really make a concerted effort to go, ‘You're not alone. And this time it's more than words. We will stand with you.’ On top of that, I think getting educated, understanding the issues, and of course reach out to help others understand.
Watch a Trailer for Never Again:
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