Egyptian Director Mohamed Diab on Facing Racism, Standing With Paris

Paris Attacks Memorial
James Gourley/REX Shutterstock

My name is Mohamed. Where I come from, my name is a source of pride. Everywhere else, it’s a red flag.

As a film school student in L.A., post 9/11, we were asked to sum up the traits of our peers in an acting class, anonymously. My colleagues’ traits ranged from kind and competent, to sexy and smart. As for me, it was unanimously agreed that the adjective most descriptive of my persona was “suspicious.” It was a shock to discover how my friends really perceived me; the secret vote revealed the truth.

My cousin, a U.S. citizen, who also shared my name, now doesn’t. He changed his name to something more generic and benign, “Ed.” Now “Ed” gets more job offers, is no longer picked for random security checks at airports and feels a lot safer.

Fast forward 10 years: today in Cairo, my wife and I constantly debate whether or not we should homeschool our daughter. With the unfolding chaos, and terrorist attacks, which at one point peaked to 50 small explosions in one day this year, we are apprehensive about sending our daughter to school.

We, who struggle with the lack of security in our home countries, understand the most how the French people feel right now.

To wake up every morning and ask yourself whether you’ll make it back home safely is nerve-racking. I know that pain quite well, and it bothers me that the French people will experience this feeling for a period of time, which I sincerely hope will be a short one.

With every similar tragedy, I usually ask myself two questions: Why is this happening? And how can we prevent it from recurring?

The answers to both questions are complex enough, that I felt I could only express them through my latest project, “Clash.”

The film unfolds inside a prisoners transport vehicle, carrying detainees from all walks of life — activists, Islamists and military supporters. In the course of a hellish day, they are forced to see one another beyond the stereotypes and discover each other’s humanity.

In a nutshell, fundamentalism feeds off of dictatorship and vice versa. The result is ISIS, Al Qaeda and their clones; groups that choose to see the world in black and white. They aim to remove any possibility of co-existence, by negating the grey zone. When governments and people retaliate against ISIS atrocities using means that further negate the grey zone, they unknowingly become part of ISIS’s plan.

Pando is a huge expanse of aspen trees, spanning more than 100 hectares, in Colorado. Scientists were surprised to find that Pando trees have 100% identical DNA. They are all inter-connected at the roots, and descend from the same tree, thus rendering them a single organism.

What many do not know, is that humans share 99% of their DNA in common. I believe that, through our journey in life, we must discover the roots that unite us; the missing 1%. Only then can we be one like Pando; anyone’s pain, is everyone’s pain and anyone’s joy is everyone’s joy.

My name is Mohamed, and what happened in France, Beirut, New York and Cairo pains me all the same.

Egyptian director Mohamed Diab is currently shooting “Clash,” which is set inside a police truck packed with both pro-and anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators during turmoil in Cairo.

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