by Laura Maia
“I am a Muslim, not a terrorist. If you trust me, give me a hug.” Open arms, blindfolded, and with this message written on a poster, Danish Youtuber Arian Kashef received dozens of hugs from strangers in the streets of Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. Today, the video is being shared worldwide.
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Although it was recorded nearly a year ago as part of an experiment, it went viral last week and reached more than 50 million views in just five days through Facebook shares. Before that it had ‘only’ 380,000 views on Youtube.
Kashef, who is only 21 years old, is still surprised by the reemergence of the video. However, he believes it is not a mere coincidence that it has achieved this number of viewers immediately after Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election in the United States. During the campaign, Trump consistently promised to ban all Muslims from entering the US, especially after the attack in Paris in November 2015, when more than 130 people were killed in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks.
While Trump talked about closing the borders of the most powerful country in the world, Kashef, a young Danish actor and son of Iranian refugees, was opening his arms to hug people in a city with a population of about 300,000. He never imagined that his video could reach an international audience, and certainly not a whole year after its publication online. To give an idea of its outreach, the number of views is almost 10 times the Danish population (5.7 million people).
Intrigued by how suddenly the video went viral, we interviewed Kashef to ask him some questions.
Do you believe there is any relation between the video’s sudden audience and Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections?
Yes, I don’t believe it has just been coincidence. Trump has shown a strong position against minorities. So, after he won the elections, messages like that one in the video were strengthened. People want to show that they are against this wave of hate. I am glad that the video is going around the world now; it is the perfect time.
The ‘Blind Muslim Experiment’ has been made in different countries before (the US, France and India to name a few). Why did you decide to also make this video in Denmark?
I have been creating these kind of ‘social experiment’ videos for a while. About racism, violence against women, and so on. After the Paris attack (November 2015), I saw that words such as Islam or Muslim were extremely connected to negative things, also here in Denmark. For this reason, I wanted to show that hate is not about religion or nationality and that, actually, my religion teaches me to love people, not to hate or kill them. In the end, the result was really nice. I didn’t expect so many hugs.
Have you ever suffered any kind of discrimination for being a Muslim in Denmark?
Not really, but you can notice some kind of discrimination in daily life because of the way I look. For example, it’s easy to see that in Danish television and in Danish movies, the drug dealers or the gangsters always look like me. It’s always a guy from the Middle East, with dark skin. As an actor, I can feel that in castings as well. Another situation can be in nightclubs. Although they do not say, they usually have a percentage of minorities that they can let in. So as I have dark skin, they sometimes argue that I am not well dressed or something like this, to justify why my friends and I cannot enter.
Were those situations part of the reason why you decided to make videos with social experiences?
I started to act as a Youtuber about three years ago, firstly with some funny videos in high school. But then, when I got a big audience I decided to make videos about social issues that I noticed in daily life, such as violence against women. It worked well – people liked it. My idea is to put this kind of problem in the people’s face. The message is that we have to love each other as human beings. Religion, nationality, etc. doesn’t matter.
Did you expect this kind of audience one year later?
Not really. Many people are calling and texting me to talk about the video. Also many journalists from different countries. It’s crazy! Even famous people were sharing the video. I saw a couple of days ago that American actress Zendaya shared it on her twitter, for example. But this is why I love to act, and what I love about art. It never dies. This video and the message that it has will be on the internet even after I die. Now it’s famous again, and I think in a very important scenario. I will definitely keep on doing it.
Arian Kashef is 21 years old and was born and raised in Copenhagen. His parents were refugees in the 90s, flying away from Iran to Denmark. Since 2015 he has been studying as an actor at The Danish School of Performing Arts and has been living in Aarhus for about two years now. You can watch his video via this link and his Facebook page.