This filmmaker wanted to help people get over their Islamophobia. So he offered them a free trip to Egypt
Tarek Mounib says his film shows the world is tired of polarized rhetoric
When filmmaker Tarek Mounib became worried about the demonization of Muslims in the U.S., he says he found reassurance at an unlikely source: a pro-Trump rally in Kentucky.
"When … you follow a Trump rally on television it's quite scary, but when you're actually there and you start speaking to people face-to-face, human-to-human, you have a totally different experience of it," said Mounib, a Canadian-Egyptian based in Switzerland.
Mounib went to a 2017 rally to meet people who feared Muslims, and to offer them a chance to take part in a film where they explored that prejudice. He wanted to approach them with "something kind," so he offered them a free trip to Egypt.
While he didn't meet U.S. President Donald Trump, Mounib was invited on stage by a Trump impersonator, who joked that anyone who went to Egypt would be tortured.
"Speaking to some of them ... was very difficult because you felt there was absolutely no access. They were closed-minded; they didn't want to hear anything," Mounib told The Current's guest host Duncan McCue.
However, he said he also met other people who held those same views, but were open to conversation and discussion.
"That actually renewed my faith in humanity," he said.
Mounib successfully recruited one participant from that rally — a former marine named Brian Kopilec — and made up the rest of his cast through appeals online and in the media.
His film, Free Trip to Egypt, features the diverse group that Mounib assembled: a police officer, a former beauty queen, two former marines, a retired couple and a preacher who said he wanted "to spread Jesus's love into the Middle East."
"They all came with their views and so it was very, very interesting," he said.
The participants stayed with families in Egypt and were encouraged to engage and learn from each other.
"The preacher who wanted to baptize Muslims, we paired him up with a very orthodox Muslim family," Mounib said.
"We're really trying to bring very diverse people together and see what can unfold. Will the human connection actually prove to be more powerful than anything else — that was the question.
'So racist now, I can't stand myself'
Retired schoolteacher Ellen Decker said she used to be a very open-minded, tolerant individual, and raised her sons to be the same.
But the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on New York left her afraid, and that fear fuelled prejudice.
During the film, she tells Mounib that over the years she became "so racist now, I can't stand myself."
Decker told McCue that she joined the film to readjust her view of the world, and because she wanted "to get along with my son, who wonders where his mother went."
Along with her husband Terry, she spent time with cinematographer and activist Ahmed Hassan.
"I was instantly drawn to him because he had such passion and he was so young, and I wanted to feel that again," said Decker.
The couple also spent time with a family, with Decker bonding with the mother, who wore a full burka.
"Within about five minutes, it never even occurred to me that she was wearing anything that would impede our conversation."
Decker described it as "one of the major moments that made me realize that that didn't matter … whatever she wore would be like me wearing whatever I wanted to wear."
"We hugged, and we held hands, and we connected."
Mounib said he has been "completely overwhelmed" by the public's reaction to the film, and the conversations started by those who have seen it.
He is also encouraging people to sign up to a "Pledge to Listen" on the film's website, where people can promise they will "not to demonize anyone who holds certain opinions, views or beliefs, but instead will try to understand their reasons and their arguments and express my own views in return."
"I think what what I've realized is across North America what we all share — maybe even across the world — is that we're tired of the polarity," Mounib said.
"The film taught us that we can all still join together, without converting anybody to any religion or political views."
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Jessica Linzey and Samira Mohyeddin.