How did you come to the project?
I was approached by (producers) Liz Garbus and Rory Kennedy who had been approached by (executive producer) Carie Lemack who wanted to create a project that would focus on the story of survivors of terrorism. I felt it was important to find a compelling character with a sort of forward moving story, someone who had not just survived terrorism but was doing something proactive to combat it. When we came across Ashraf and learned about his efforts to start a conversation about terrorism within the Muslim community we knew we had found our subject.
You really root for Ashraf, especially in light of the fact that he's fighting such an uphill battle.
It's very difficult. But I think what Ashraf is doing is very inspiring, because any important change in the world is difficult to achieve and it often takes one person standing up and trying to do something that seems impossible, and who isn't dissuaded by having the odds stacked against them. And I think that Ashraf is that person.
And the fact that he's Muslim gives him a credibility and access a Westerner simply wouldn't have.
Absolutely. He's not someone who sees the world through Western lens. He sees it through his own lens. I think that Ashraf would agree with many of the critiques of say Western policy, that form the baseline grievances for people all over the world outside of the U.S. which I think many of us here are completely unaware of. He was able to meet people on their own turf. Of course he condemns violence and killing for any reason. But he can understand better than you or I could the sources of anger. Again, it's this idea of starting a conversation, opening a door, taking the first step, and trying to make
significant chips in this wall. And I think that that's what he was able to do.
I think a lot of people in America would not understand why for example the Iraq War is, to any Muslim person, it's like a shiv directly into their stomach. And it creates a lot of animosity towards the United States and the West. And I think in order to start having some of these conversations in a more effective and honest way, we have to open our eyes to some of the ways that they see the world, which is not always as we wish it were.
"I think what Ashraf is doing is very inspiring, because any important change in the world is difficult to achieve and it often takes one person standing up and trying to do something that seems impossible."
What do you hope audiences will take away from the film?
I hope it will let them step into another person's shoes for a moment, and open themselves up to an honest and sometimes painful conversation, and by doing that we can move in a direction of understanding that will help us live in a more peaceful world. And it's not easy, and it's not something that happens overnight. What Ashraf is focused on is not trying to convert hard-core terrorists but to try and open a conversation within that community that will make terrorism less-attractive, and create a less fertile ground for it. And I think that all of us have to participate in that discussion. That requires all of us opening our perspectives and opening our minds to thinking about things in a different way. And from that great things can happen.