Doha Debates Takes Center Stage at SXSW 2019

Doha Debates
March 9, 2019
From right: Amina Amdeen and Joe Weidknecht, featured in Doha Debates' documentary "(Un)divided," in a Q&A at SXSW with Vox publisher Melissa Bell.

Just a few blocks away from where they first met three years ago, Amina and Joe are face to face in Austin again, their unlikely friendship even stronger, this time without violence threatening them, political labels dividing them, or religious assumptions misrepresenting them.

On Saturday, Amina and Joe took center stage at a packed SXSW event to open up about their friendship across political and religious differences — after first meeting in 2016 on opposite sides of a protest that turned violent. They’d found common ground after protesters attacked Joe and ripped off his Trump hat, and Amina stepped in to shield him. They’ve remained close ever since.

Amina and Joe appear in Doha Debates’ short documentary (Un)divided, an intimate reflection on the importance of civil discourse and constructive conversations to bridge divisions — a featured film at SXSW.

The documentary was screened in Austin and simultaneously in Erbil, Iraq; Mexico City; and West Virginia in the U.S., where viewers watched through Portals, the walk-in containers equipped with digital devices to hear and see across the world. More than 40 Portals are stationed globally and open to the public, including in Doha, thanks to Shared_Studios, Doha Debates’ creative partner.

The screening was co-hosted by Doha Debates and Vox Media, whose publisher, Melissa Bell, led an insightful Q&A with Amina and Joe.

“I never thought that anyone who wasn’t aligned with my viewpoint cared,” Joe tells Amina in the documentary. “Before meeting you, I believed that Islam was this violent, hateful religion, that there was no difference between ISIS and the Muslim faith.”

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

The Q&A opened with a question about Amina’s and Joe’s family reactions to the documentary.

“They were proud that I’m upholding the values [of dialogue] that we hold in the family,” Amina said.

“They were relieved,” Joe said of his family. “I was heading down a darker path before meeting Amina, so they were proud that I was looking at the world a different way.”

Joe said he’d felt “more anger” and “more bigotry” before meeting Amina — and Amina said she’d considered the possibility of becoming “radicalized” before meeting Joe.

“Like we both said in the film, three-dimensional people exist,” Amina said. “No matter how monolithic we might view the other side, it makes it easier to be against a group when you think they’re all the same …. There is value to discourse.”

“Both of us want to see this country do the best it can.”

—Amina Amdeen

Strong disagreements are alive between them. It’s hard to miss, with Joe proudly wearing his Trump hat onstage. “We have a few disagreements on gun rights,” Joe said about Amina, with Joe wanting almost everyone to carry guns.

“I strongly disagree with that,” Amina said to audience laughter.

Joe, who was raised with guns in Texas, was asked by the moderator, “Have you ever asked Amina to go shooting?” Joe’s delicate answer: “Easing up there.”

“I come from a war-torn country. It’s the last thing that I would do,” Amina answered.

Joe’s advice for de-escalating conversations globally is to engage political opponents instead of vilifying them.

“I definitely agree,” Amina said. “Have more conversations. Talk to people. The headlines are not exactly accurate. Social media is not exactly accurate.”

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

—Joe Weidknecht

After audience questions, the moderator revealed the event’s plot twist — the Portals, whose participants were standing by and projected into the room, including 21- and 22-year-olds in Iraq.

Portal participants shared the most divisive issues in their communities, and how to tackle them.

After the screening, Amina and Joe stepped into a Portal themselves, connecting with Portals around the world.

Dialogue is at the heart of Doha Debates’ live events and digital storytelling in search of solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. Join the conversation @DohaDebates, and mark your calendars for our next live debate on April 3, 2019. To stay informed on Doha Debates’ events, sign up for our newsletter below.

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