How an Unlikely Friendship Can Teach Us to Bridge the Political Divide

Doha Debates
February 22, 2019

Amina Amdeen is an Iraqi-American refugee and Muslim. Joseph Weidknecht is a Trump supporter who was afraid of Muslims in America — until he met Amina.

They met at a rally in Austin after Trump’s election. When the rally turned violent and antifa protesters attacked Joe for wearing a Trump hat, Amina jumped to his defense, stepping in between antifa and Joe to protect him. Remembering the traumatic moments in her life when people tried to rip off her headscarf, Amina says, “something snapped inside me.” She shielded Joe and demanded they back off.

Amina and Joe have remained close ever since.

“I never thought that anyone who wasn’t aligned with my viewpoint cared,” Joe tells Amina at a kitchen table in Doha Debates’ short documentary (Un)divided, an intimate reflection on the importance of civil discourse across political and religious differences.

Joseph Weidknecht and Amina Amdeen in Doha Debates' documentary "Un(divided)."

The widening political divide and polarization of our world have become so personal, and so volatile, that the very idea of civil, open-minded conversation can seem unreachable at times, and solutions scarce — until you meet Amina and Joe. Their unlikely friendship is the clearest example of how best to listen and collaborate across political divides.

The documentary is part of Doha Debates’ first season of digital videos, live debates, podcasts and interactive works, including our first debate on the global refugee crisis with speakers Muzoon Almellehan, Marc Lamont Hill and Douglas Murray, broadcast exclusively on Twitter @DohaDebates on Feb. 26, 2019, at 10 a.m. EST.

“One of the things I liked about Trump was his hard-line stance on immigration,” Joe tells Amina in (Un)divided. “Before meeting you, I believed that Islam was this violent, hateful religion, that there was no difference between ISIS and the Muslim faith.”

After Joe started seeing neo-Nazis marching alongside him, he reevaluated his alliances: “Am I associated with these people? I was disgusted with myself. Obviously there was some kind of connection between my beliefs and their beliefs. So I had to change something.”

“I never thought that anyone who wasn’t aligned with my viewpoint cared.”

“Both of us want to see this country do the best it can,” Amina says. “A big thing we have in common is that we realize it’s important to talk to other people, and it’s more valuable to talk to people who disagree with you, who aren’t going to confirm everything you already believe.”

Confirmation bias is growing globally, but the temptation to limit ourselves to news, views or friendships that only reinforce our beliefs is creating more caricatures, not common ground.

“I’m saddened by the polarization and lack of discourse,” Joe says. “Yeah, I voted for Trump, but I don’t see myself as the typical conservative monolith. I’m pro-choice, pro-legalization of marijuana, and I’m not very religious. It took a lot of self-reflection to realize the other side can be as three-dimensional as I am.”

“To a lot of people, Trump represents racism, bigotry, xenophobia,” he says, “but I support Trump because of his economic policy, strong border and gun rights. So if someone’s gonna judge me for what hat I’m wearing, what chance do we have for discourse?”

Discourse is at the heart of Doha Debates, which invites everyone to join our live debate on Feb. 26 at 10 a.m. EST (6 p.m. Doha) to help solve the refugee crisis by following @DohaDebates.

Want advice on how to have tough conversations? Watch these thoughtful tips from a conflict resolution expert:

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