Deeyah Khan is the 2020 Schwarzkopf Europe Award Winner

Every year, we award the Schwarzkopf Europe Award to public persons or institutions that have shown particularly strong commitment to a Europe of solidarity. This year’s awardee, Deeyah Khan, works as a filmmaker for the visibility of marginalized people and promotes dialogue between different communities.

“When I was a child, I knew I had superpowers,” says Deeyah Khan about how she felt as a child growing up in two cultures. Born in 1977 in Norway as the daughter of Pashtun-Pakistani parents, she started a career as a musician in the North Indian music style Khyal early on and received her first record deal at the age of 13.

Very soon she had to learn, however, that her parents’ origin, but also her being a woman, was not a “superpower” for everyone. Racist and mysogyne attacks, verbal and physical, had been part of her everyday life since early childhood. Instead of letting herself be muzzled by hatred and violence, she now uses her superpowers to give hope to young people like herself.

In her films Deeyah Khan shows the origins of fundamentalist violence, confronting herself with jihadists, right-wing extremists and perpetrators of violence – and them with her own person. “Am I your enemy?”, for example, she asks a right-wing extremist interview partner.

The impressive thing about Khan’s films is that the extremists, although they are the center of attention, are neither given a stage for propaganda nor are they demonized as monsters. The focus is always on a person, the history of their radicalization, sometimes also the later handling of their own acts of violence and the way out of the radical movement.

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„I did not choose destruction. I chose to pick up a camera instead of a gun, and the reason I did that is because of my superpower. I could see that understanding is the answer instead of violence. Seeing human beings with all their virtues and all their flaws, instead of continuing the cartoons: The „us“ and „them“, the „villains“ and „victims“. […] I stopped feeling like I had to pick a side.“

Deeyah Khan

By asking simple questions, Khaan shows how fragile fundamentalist ideologies are and where our society has to start in the fight against violence and radicalization of young people. Her feminist commitment is also evident in the magazine “Sister-Hood”, which she founded to offer a platform to young Muslim artists.

Deeyah Khan was awarded the Schwarzkopf-Europe Prize 2020 for her commitment to making the experiences of minorities in Europe more visible and for her work towards greater understanding in a pluralistic Europe.