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Finding Hope for a Lost Generation; The Act of Killing; Imagine a World

Aired February 21, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN HOST: Good evening, everyone, I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour. And welcome to a special weekend edition of the program.

This week, the world's most famous student, Malala Yousafzai, traveled to the Zaatari refugee camp on the Syrian-Jordanian border. The Pakistani girl, who made a miraculous recovery after being shot in the head by the Taliban, met with some of the youngest victims of Syria's grinding civil war.


GORANI (voice-over): They are known as a lost generation, a million school-aged kids, driven from their homes and deprived of an education. I spoke with Malala, together with Shiza Shahid, CEO of The Malala Fund, and I asked them about the risks we all face if we ignore the future of these children.


GORANI: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.

Malala, I want to start with you. You're visiting Syrian refugees in Jordan.

How has your visit been going today?

MALALA YOUSAFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST: Well, today I visited the camp of Syrian refugees and I saw so many children. And I also went to the Jordanian-Syrian border. And I also saw so many women. They are now homeless; so many children, they can't go to school. They cannot get education.

And here I discovered another thing. And that is that those boys who are here as Syrian refugees, they are doing child labor. And because they want to earn money, their families are poor. So it's also the thing that we all should focus on, because we do not want -- we do not want to lose this generation because this is very important.

And to see a bright future, it is necessary that we protect every person in this world.

GORANI: Shiza, how will The Malala Fund be involved in trying to help these Syrian refugees, specifically the children?

SHIZA SHAHID, CEO, THE MALALA FUND: Well, we're starting now by really trying to bring attention to the fact that this is a huge crisis and a global responsibility. Every day you have hundreds of refugees crossing the border into Jordan, into Lebanon, into Turkey, into Iraq. And many more are displaced inside Syria. And children are out of school and traumatized.

Through The Malala Fund, with Malala and the team, is hoping to raise a voice of these children and urge the global community to invest in protecting, rehabilitating and educating each child.

GORANI: And Malala, who -- if you've spoken to people in the camps, to children, to adults as well, to men and women, who has struck the most of those people you've been able to speak to over the last few days?

YOUSAFZAI: Well, I met so many children and they were brilliant. They were amazing. I met a girl; she's 16 years old and her name is Annam (ph). And she was studying in Syria but for two years she could not study any more. And she had to migrate to Jordan because of the Syrian conflict.

And I asked her, are you studying now?

She said, no, I'm not studying; but rather I'm doing child labor and I'm going to (INAUDIBLE) and I earn 90 cents per hour. And I work for 15 hours a day. And it totally struck me, I was just totally amazed at what is happening here. This 16-year-old girl, it is her age to study, to explore her talents. And in this day, she's just doing a child labor.

And that's why I thought that we should speak up for her. And we should speak for every child who is suffering here, not only for -- from who they are -- cannot only get education, but like they're also involved in domestic child labor.

So we need to protect them.

GORANI: Shiza, are people telling you and Malala, in these camps, specifically in Jordan, that they feel forgotten by the world? Is that something you've been hearing?

SHAHID: Yes, we have. And the crisis is really growing every day. And I don't think the international community and ordinary people are really understanding the scale of what's happening and the fact that there are people suffering and children traumatized and seeing unspeakable things.

So it's part of our responsibility to raise our voice and to talk about this issue, because it's the only way we're going to resolve it.

GORANI: You know, I asked, because, Malala, so many kids look up to you and it just so happens that one of my colleagues has a daughter who is 11. Her name is Ruby (ph). And I said to her, you know, I'm going to be speaking with Malala tomorrow. She got so excited, she actually sent me a list of questions for you.

She said, do you think that it is risky to go to Jordan to help the refugees? She's asking that question of you.

Do you have concern with trips like this?

YOUSAFZAI: First of all, I would like to thank her and I also want to thank every child and every girl and every boy who has sent me good wishes and they have sent me teddy bears and postcards and everything. And I so much thankful to everyone.

Her question that was it a risk to go to Jordan? I think it was not a risk for me. But it's a risk to the lives of these refugees. It's a risk to the life of these children, that we ignore them.

So we should not ignore them. And it's a risk to all of us if we ignore them, because it is -- you won't stop terrorism if you do not think of the future of these children. Then the risk will spread and the whole world can get affected by it.

So we should not think that we are far away from this country and we are safe. We should not think like that because this can spread. And when children are treated with such violence and when they see such a trauma, they see war, then they become violated themselves. And this is the way that they choose their future.

So if we want a bright future, if we want to think of their peace and our peace, then we should protect them. And that's why I chose to come to Jordan to help the Syrian refugees.

GORANI: And, Malala, you've been through so much and as I mentioned before -- and it bears mentioning again -- such a hero to so many people.

But people tend to forget, and sometimes I do, that you're just 16 years old.

I could barely tie my shoelaces when I was 16 years old.

Is it a lot to take on for you, that this workload, these serious issues?

YOUSAFZAI: I have been through such a situation that I could not go to school and schools are not in our area. And I also became a refugee myself for three months in starting 2009. And I thought that I need someone to speak for me. And the people are in so need for someone to speak for them.

And at that time, we spoke for ourselves. But now when I think of these children, I can see what they will be feeling now and what they are suffering through. So that's why I think that it's our responsibility to protect these children.

And I think I am 16, but I still am not -- quite like a 16-year-old girl at home. So I like fighting with brothers, like using the normal kind of tricks with brothers, having fun with them and talking to them and fighting with them, of course.

And I also listen to music sometimes. So I am 16 years old in some ways. But I think doing work for the Syrian refugees or other children who are deprived of education, I just think of it as my responsibility and I want to continue it.

GORANI: Well, you're an inspiration to us all, Malala Yousafzai, and Shiza Shahid, who's the head of The Malala Fund and one of your friends. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us. And best of luck on your -- on your future ventures, helping others.

Thanks so much for taking the time.

YOUSAFZAI: Thank you.

SHAHID: Thank you.

YOUSAFZAI: Thank you.


GORANI: Many of the young refugees Malala met will no doubt be scarred by the violence which has driven them from their homes.

After a break, we look back half a century to a time of even more extreme violence, this time in Indonesia. A new Oscar-nominated documentary brings the era of the death squad to light by going to its source, the murderers themselves. "The Act of Killing," when we come back.




GORANI: Welcome back to the weekend edition of our program; I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane.

How do we really know what is in the mind of a mass murderer or a death squad leader?

How about getting them to reenact their own crimes?

Few people outside of Indonesia have heard of the death squads operating there in 1965 and 1966. But human rights groups say they killed between 500,000 and 1 million accused Communists and opponents.

Documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer constructed a unique and strange narrative about this period in his new film, "The Act of Killing."

Oppenheimer found several men in Northern Sumatra who, decades later, were so proud of what they had done that they agreed to make a film about their acts, making a movie within a documentary and they reenacted their killings in the process.

Anwar Congo was rumored to have killed as many as 1,000 people during the purges. And here for the camera he boasts of how he killed, delighting in his ingenuity.


ANWAR CONGO, INDONESIAN DEATH SQUAD LEADER (from captions): At first, we beat them to death. But there was too much blood. There was so much blood here. So when we cleaned it up, it smelled awful. To avoid the blood, I used this system. Can I show you?

This is how to do it without too much blood.


GORANI: Remarkable documentary there.

Well, I spoke to Joshua Oppenheimer a day after his film won the Best Documentary award at the BAFTAs in London.


GORANI: Joshua Oppenheimer, the director of "The Act of Killing," first of all, congratulations on your BAFTA. And I know you're very much an Oscar contender as well.

This film has been -- has just made waves and headlines around the world. And we described what it was about, about having these death squad leaders, these executioners from a little-known period in Indonesian history in the '60s reenact some of their crimes.

And I -- one of the questions I had was what did you learn about what makes a human being do things like this to other human beings?

JOSHUA OPPENHEIMER, DOCUMENTARY FILM DIRECTOR: I think the thing that I found from every perpetrator I filmed -- and Anwar Congo, the main character in the film, was, in fact, the 41st perpetrator whom I filmed. Every perpetrator I filmed a scene to kill actually for power, from -- often for money and for the chance to eliminate his or her competitors.

Oh, in fact, always his, his competitors.

And -- or enemies.

And interestingly, afterwards, the -- when you ask a killer initially just why did you kill these people, they will answer with ideology. They'll say, oh, we were opposed to them because they were Communists or because they were Marxists or because they -- they'll answer with an ideological excuse.

But it's seemed on further excavation that always the ideology was always an excuse they told themselves afterwards to justify their crimes. And I think if you go all the way up the chain of command to Indonesian General Suharto, who took power and became dictator for decades through this genocide, he actually also killed for power, for money, for the chance to eliminate his enemies.

GORANI: But what was so strange and bewildering and disturbing about this as well is that these men weren't hiding what they did. They weren't rewriting history after the fact to try to make it seem like, you know, it was no big deal and they were merciful. They are boasting about having been cruel and sadistic.


OPPENHEIMER: Well, I think normally when we hear from perpetrators in documentary, they've already been removed from power. Otherwise, they're called heroes. They're generals or politicians.

When they're identified as perpetrators from the outside, they've been removed from power and therefore forced to acknowledge that what they've done was wrong. But these men have never been forced to acknowledge what they've done was wrong because they've remained in power.

And, moreover, they know that the rest of the world, the United States, the U.K. -- those are two countries which I'd citizen -- a citizen, they know that those countries supported what they did at the time of the killings.

And so -- and to -- and so rather than admit what they've done is wrong, which would -- which would entail having to wake up every morning for the rest of their lives, look in the mirror and be confronted with a mass murderer, rather than admit what they've done is wrong and open themselves to the tormenting effects of guilt, I think they've clung to a victor's history that they've written, celebrating what they've done as glorious.

GORANI: But what do we learn from the reenactment that maybe we wouldn't learn from just a recounting of what happened all those decades ago, do you think?

OPPENHEIMER: I think we learn, first of all, that every perpetrator - - and I think this is true of every perpetrator I've filmed and we see it in the film through the person of Anwar Congo, the main character, every perpetrator knows what they've done was wrong.

It's tempting, too, when I first met these perpetrators and heard them boasting about what they'd done, it's tempting to look at them through the lens of sort of fiction storytelling, where you have good guys and bad guys, good guys and then cackling villains, sort of cartoonish villains, and we then would imagine, OK, they're boasting about what they've done because they're evil, because that's kind of the -- that's the kind of convention of storytelling.

But actually when you're a non-fiction filmmaker, you have to look at the real people you meet. And it makes sense that actually these people know what they've -- that, of course, these people are human beings and therefore being human, they know what they've done is wrong. They're desperately trying to deny it.

Now the other thing we discovered through this process, though, is that somehow their very humanity is involved in the mechanism of evil because once they've won and tell themselves a lie, justifying their actions and cling to that lie, maintaining that lie, maintaining that excuse, that victor's history, inevitably leads to further evil.

The killers, if, after they've killed and then justified what they've done, if the army asks them to kill again, in a way, they have to do it because if they refuse the second time, if the army --

GORANI: It's admitting, right.

OPPENHEIMER: -- (INAUDIBLE). It's admitting it was wrong the first time.

GORANI: One of the things that makes the film so -- I suppose you could say surreal, bizarre, is some of the reenactments, where you have one of the ex-death squad guys in drag and you have bizarre dances under waterfalls and you have them all wearing 1940s gangster suits, you know, playing the role of perpetrator and victim.

Now the main character, Anwar Congo, at one point, there is, it seems, a moral arc to all of this.


GORANI: At some point seems to express remorse.

Were any of them truly sorry for what they did?

OPPENHEIMER: I think that particularly Anwar, gradually comes to physically experience the full horror of what he's done. And --

GORANI: Because he played a victim in the film.

OPPENHEIMER: He plays a victim and I think in some ways the reason he's participating in the film is because he's somehow trying to run away from the horror of what he's done by making a movie about it. It's as though if he can make, as he says at one point in the film, if I can make a beautiful family movie about what I've done, I can -- it's as though he's feeling he can put it right for himself.

And of course he can't.

But somehow through the process of making the film, he comes to physically experience the meaning, the horror of what he's --


GORANI: So is he sorry? Is he sorry?

Is he sorry that he -- that he killed and tortured and, you know, forever altered the lives of millions of people through their families all these innocent people?

OPPENHEIMER: I don't think at the end of the film Anwar's redeemed at all. I don't think Anwar has come to a self-conscious place of remorse. Knowing Anwar, I don't think he has the capacity or the courage to day in and day out say to himself look what I did was wrong and to acknowledge the consequences of it.

But I think that -- I think that Anwar regrets what he's done and by the end of the film has a physical experience of the horror of what he's done.

GORANI: And lastly, this is also an exercise in, I suppose, and it -- testing all of our humanity and how close anybody is to being able to do this to their fellow humans, right? I mean, how -- look at Syria, look at the Central African Republic. These things are happening on our watch today, not in 1965. How close are we all as humans to doing this?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, while I was making the film, I never would make the leap from saying Anwar Congo has done something monstrous to Anwar Congo is a monster, because I recognized in doing that, first of all, I'm simply reassuring myself that I could never do what he did.

And while I would hope, if I grew up in his family in 1950s Indonesia that, come 1965, come the genocide, I would make different decisions, I know that I'm extremely lucky never to have to find out.

And because these things of which we've said again and again never again, because they keep happening again, we have to deal with the reality directly, the unpleasant reality, the frightening reality that it is human beings who do these things to each other. And unless we look directly at that frightening fact, we have no chance of preventing these things from occurring in the future.

GORANI: Joshua Oppenheimer, thank you so much. Congratulations on all the awards your film has already received and good luck for the Oscars.

OPPENHEIMER: Thank you so much.


GORANI: After the break, another act of violence, but this one directed against a work of art created by famed Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei. Art meets anarchy and vice versa when we come back.





GORANI: A final thought tonight, imagine a world where an act of vandalism against a work of art could also be a work of art. Consider the latest installation by the renowned Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei. It's aptly named "Colored Vases," and is currently on display at the Perez Art Museum in Miami, Florida.

On Sunday, as this amateur video shows, a man identified as Maximo Caminero picks up one of the vases and tosses it to the floor, smashing it to pieces. There it is again in slo-mo. Mr. Caminero, a local artist, said he was protesting the museum's choice of international artists over homegrown talent. Some estimates -- and some estimates the value of the broken vase at $1 million.

But beyond the price tag, here is where art meets anarchy. Mr. Caminero claims he was inspired by the artist himself, whose triptych, "Dropping a Hang Dynasty Urn," hangs above his priceless pots. They show Ai Weiwei smashing an ancient Chinese vase, shattering traditional culture -- cultural values and challenging authority.

But is it destruction of any work of art just plain vandalism? Back in 1972, Michelangelo's masterpiece, the " Pieta," was in its usual spot in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome when a young man named Laszlo Toth attacked it with a hammer, claiming he was Jesus Christ. He shattered the left arm of the Virgin Mary, broke her nose and chipped one of her eyelids.

Fortunately the "Pieta" was restored. But ever since, it has been shielded from the public by bulletproof glass. You can't be too careful.

As for Laszlo Toth, he spent two years in an insane asylum and briefly became a cultural icon himself, embraced by radicals as a kind of anti- sculptor, turning vandalism into -- you guessed it -- art.

That's going to do it for tonight's program. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, and check me out on Twitter @HalaGorani. Thanks for watching, everyone, and goodbye from the CNN Center.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and check me out on Twitter @HalaGorani. Thanks for watching, everyone, and goodbye from the CNN Center.