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Interview With Nigerian Writer And "Americanah" Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Interview With "Without Borders" Author Jere Van Dyk; Interview With "The Flagmakers" Director Sharon Liese, Interview With "The Flagmakers" Cynthia Wade. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired February 16, 2023 - 13:00:00   ET




CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. And welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what's coming up.


CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, AUTHOR, "AMERICANAH" AND NIGERIAN WRITER: I do believe that with good leadership, yes, absolutely, things can change.


AMANPOUR: Nigerian youth registering in droves for upcoming election. Could this be the change they need? An inside look with novelist and free

speech crusader, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Then.


JERE VAN DYK, AUTHOR, "WITHOUT BORDER": I consider the Haqqani Network, meaning, headquarter with the Haqqani family to be the most effective, most

powerful jihadist group in the world.


AMANPOUR: From favored guest of the Afghan mujahideen to prisoner of the Taliban, American journalist Jere Van Dyk traces the roots of Afghanistan's

extremist leaders. And, weaving the fabric of America. A documentary film looks at the immigrants, refugees, and locals who make the country's flags.

Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

At a time when global democracy is under pressure, this month's election in Nigeria could prove to be critical. Africa and its largest economy are at a

turning point. The Nigerian population is growing and it's growing younger.

So, the results there could have a major impact globally. Two candidates, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar have the supports of the leading parties

with all the advantages that offers. But with inflation and unemployment surging and poverty widespread, a third candidate, the Labour Party's,

Peter Obi, hopes to harness voters' frustration and galvanize that youth vote to take down the ruling parties.

In Nigeria, as in many nations, fake news, conspiracies, and attacks on democracy are rife. So, free speech is critical. And few people do more to

protect that around the world than Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the brilliant Nigerian storyteller and thought leader. I spoke to her about the prospect

of change in her home country and about having the courage to speak up against censorship on all sides of the political spectrum.


AMANPOUR: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, welcome to the program. Can I start by asking you about very important elections that are going to be taking place

in your country towards the end of this month? Nigeria has such potential, human resources, mineral resources, and yet there's always a worry about

electoral integrity, corruption, fake news, all of that. What will you say is at stake in these elections?

CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE, AUTHOR, "AMERICANAH" AND NIGERIAN WRITER: I think I should probably start by saying that I'm filled with a kind of

cautious optimism about this particular election. And I think something is very different and it's because of one particular candidate, Peter Obi, who

has kind of given rise to this organic, exciting movement of young people who now feel there is hope.

So, apparently, lots and lots of young people have registered to vote because of him. He -- the large crowds everywhere he goes. And I think

what's different now is that people have seen an example of the idea that leadership can be, sort of, as service. You know, the idea of leadership as

service. I think we, for so long, in Nigeria felt that we had leaders who kind of thought they were doing us a favor. And suddenly, here's this man

who's talking to everybody, and going everywhere, and listening to everyone, and saying, hold me accountable.

And so, I think people have -- I think it has changed the political landscape in Nigeria. And I say this, and I think that whether or not he

wins, something has changed in the way that we think of elections in Nigeria. Young people are so determined that this time, you know, that

elections have to be fair because people are invested, you know, with that. You know, I personally find it very exciting but also, I think is

significant, not just for Nigeria, but also for the rest of Africa. Because, you know, despite all of our problems, we are, you know, we're a

big player on the continent.


AMANPOUR: The hugest player in terms of the economy. But let me ask you, why do you think that he has made such a difference, Peter Obi, and he is

mentioned as the frontrunner and the most, sort of, you know, exciting. Because we have seen that, you know, the 2019 election numbers showed a

record low turnout. And yet, as you mentioned, and as the figures point out, a huge number of young Nigerians, especially, have registered to vote.

What do you think has changed in the circumstances, or is it just the personality?

ADICHIE: I think it is largely the personality but I think there's also context. Things are so difficult in Nigeria today. There is, you know, life

is difficult for -- and it cuts across class, I think, for both high and low. There's just so much to be unhappy about. There's so much discontent.

And then into that comes this figure who is unusual. You know, who seems to really be connected to ordinary people, and who cuts across -- which I

think is really important, cuts across ethnicity. I mean, this has never happened, really, since Nigeria became independent in 1960. We've just

never had a political candidate who's had this kind of vision.

AMANPOUR: Chimamanda, can I just ask you whether some of these issues are troubling to you? Obviously, I know that you're publicly endorsed Peter

Obi. I know that the former president, Obasanjo, has as well. And as you say, there's a record turnout and a massive amount of excitement about him.

But it seemed that there are some questions, and I want you to -- I want to know whether you think he can answer them, probably. Plagued with

allegations of failing to publicly declare assets and offshore accounts. Also, accused him of investing state funds into a company he had dealings

with. Can he get over that? Has he answered those questions satisfactorily?

ADICHIE: So, two things I will -- I want to start by saying that it's -- that we -- for Nigeria, in which our political landscape is born in rich --

there's just the kind of -- you know, there's no sense of accountability. These, when you put them in context, no, they do not bother me very much. I

think the first part is he was governor of my state some years ago. And I think from the way that he was governor -- I mean, the way that he was,

sort of, transparent.

So, I think the idea is that we're not looking for perfection. We're not looking for perfect human beings. We're looking for people who we think

have the character, have the possibility of doing things differently. I have not quite been convinced of the -- that allegation that he was, sort

of, you know, something about hiding money, something about the Panama people, or something --

AMANPOUR: I just want to jump in because it's really interesting that you say, in the totality these don't bother me. I mean, we have to put it in

context. So, let me put something in context. And by the way, I'm not comparing Peter Obi to these figures. But there has been, historically,

massive corruption in your country, particularly over, you know, such huge moneymakers as the oil industry.

In 2013, I spoke to your then-Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. And we talked about the corruption that she -- you know, she was in government

then. Around the oil funds. So, let me just -- let me play you what she told me back then.

NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA, FORMER NIGERIAN FINANCE MINISTER: Let me mention two things quickly. The first one is the oil theft, that is 150,000 barrels a

day almost.

AMANPOUR: Which is huge.

OKONJO-IWEALA: Which is huge, yes, I admit that and we cannot afford. Actually, my thesis on corruption is we are still a poor country. We cannot

afford any leakage. That's why we have to fight. We need every NiRA and cobra wheat (ph) to run that country. So, that leakage has to be fought.

AMANPOUR: So, she was very clear on that. Of course, 10 years on, corruption is still huge. So, the question is, can somebody like Peter Obi

or anybody who tries to lead your country out of that scale of corruption, can they be successful?

ADICHIE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. And I just want to say that Peter Obi really is not, in any way, connected to the oil theft.

AMANPOUR: I know that. I said that. I'm just putting it in context --


AMANPOUR: -- because of the huge problems that your country faces. And I might as well add some of these. Look, you've got inflation at 21.5

percent. I know a lot of our countries have the same in the global north. Your unemployment rate, though, stands at 42 and a half percent for young

adults. 40 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. That's daunting for any president.

ADICHIE: It is, but I also think that it's the reason that there is this sense of cautious optimism about him.


And I should also say that he's actually the only candidate who has shown some level of transparency in talking about how he made his money, in

talking about what he owns. And even in talking very, sort of, bluntly about the oil theft. And that's unusual. So, I think, I do believe that

with good leadership, yes, absolutely, things can change.

AMANPOUR: The epidemic of self-censorship, now, this is broader than what we're talking about in politics. But in general, is something you have been

speaking. You used that term, the epidemic of self-censorship. Tell me what you mean by that. Give me the context of what worries you there?

ADICHIE: I think, you know, in conversations about this expression, freedom of speech which even that has become quite politicized in the world

today. Where people talk about -- you know, it seems like a very crude divide between say whatever you want and, you know, think about the effects

of your words.

But I think that in that debate, something has been lost which is that it's not just about the ways in which a government or, you know -- sort of,

recognized social institutions can silence us. What's even more important is the way that if we live in a society that is so -- that believes in a

kind of puritanism, we start to censor ourselves.

I think what's happening now is that people are so worried about saying the wrong thing, that nobody wants to say anything. People are worried about

asking the wrong questions, and so they don't ask questions. And the reason it worries me in particular is because, you know, I think literature is in

danger. And obviously, I'm a writer and as a reader. Literature has been, you know, the love of my life.

And I just think that if we continue as we're do -- as we are going, then the literature that we will produce for the next generation will be false.

Because, you know, we have writers and artists who are now producing in a state of self-censorship. And I think social media has played a major role

in this. I think people are now creating, thinking about who's going to attack them online.


ADICHIE: I think also that -- you know, I think, right now in the world, we don't really -- there's a sense in which good faith and the assumption

of good faith is dead. So, people will generally have the most uncharitable interpretations of what anybody says. And so, what that does is sometimes

without knowing it, we start to silence ourselves.

I think it is human nature to want to, you know, sort of preserve ourselves, you know, self-preservation is very human. And so, it's not

surprising then that people who are, sort of, artistic creators start to hold back, start to censor themselves. And I think it's bad for human

culture, for our societies. It means that we cannot grow and learn. Because if you can't, you know, if we can't have debates, how do you learn? How do

you grow?

AMANPOUR: Has it tempered what you are willing to say or write?

ADICHIE: I like to say that it hasn't because I make myself very much aware of it. And so, I'm determined to stay true to my artistic vision and

to follow, you know, the story wherever the story goes. But, you know, the ways in which it has affected me is that I, you know, I don't read reviews.

I won't follow anything written about my work. So, I do the work and then I sort of step back.

But I know that not many people are able to do that. Examples, there are so many examples. I think we know of so many people who have faced just

immense backlash for saying something that, you know, for some of us just seems absurd and absurdly, sort of, unequal to the backlash that they get.

I talked to a lot of young people and, you know, I think that there's a sense in which young people want to be good people.


ADICHIE: I suppose all of us want to be good people. But I think young people, in particular, want to be good people. And usually what that does

is it can silence you. Because if society is telling you, you know, you ask a question and you're told you're, you know, prejudiced or you're evil or

something. Because you want to be a good person, you are going to silence yourself.


ADICHIE: And sometimes you see things you don't really believe. And sometimes you don't say what you to believe. And all of that, I think, is

because there is a kind of suicidal orthodoxy. And it's both on the left and the right, by the way. I think that on the political left, there is a

kind of, you know -- kind of, sort of condescension that sort of -- that often can be sanctimonious.


And on the right, there is a kind of mean-spiritedness. So, in the U.S., for example, what's happening now is there is a frenzy a book banning.

AMANPOUR: Yes, I mean, your own book was banned, right? "Half of a Yellow Sun" was banned from a high school in Michigan last year.

ADICHIE: Yes, so I'm told. Yes.


ADICHIE: So many other wonderful books have been banned. I don't know. See, this is the thing. There is something very arbitrary about the

bannings, right. So -- and it's often very political. So, now we're looking at literature, not through an artistic lens but through ideological lens.

And I think that's so dangerous.

So, the people on the right who want to censure history, for example. Who say, oh, you know, you cannot teach about, for example, the terrible Jim

Crow laws in this country because it's going to make the white students feel bad, which to me is just absurd. People should know what happened. And

on the left, the people who say, oh, you know, you have to be very careful how you talk about minorities because, you know, you are going to -- I

don't know, hurt their feelings or something.

And my sense is -- I mean, there's a lovely poet from a -- a poem I love by Robert Lowell loyal, and yet why not say what happened? I think we should

be able to say what happened.

AMANPOUR: You know, that's a very important statement you just made. And I was really interested that you also said in your speech, and you've

referred to this briefly, the death of curiosity, the death of learning, and the death of creativity is what's at stake here. And that no human

endeavor requires freedom as much as creativity does.

ADICHIE: No -- yes, absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I am a writer. I know that the process itself requires a kind of -- what I'm going to call a

radical freedom. That you have to be in a place where you're thinking and dreaming and learning, and that's where art comes from. But if you start

off thinking that you cannot go wherever your vision takes you, then it's a problem.


ADICHIE: And I should say that in talking about this, right, in sort of crusading about how important it is for creativity, I don't want to

diminish the importance of, you know, sort of sensitivity or -- and I don't want to suggest that we cannot wound people with words.

So, I personally -- and I think most of us, have been hurt by words. But I think because of that -- that's why we need to protect speech. It has such

power. And maybe what we should be talking about is, you know, let's create a space where we assume that there is good faith. So, if somebody says

something, let's not jump to be most uncharitable interpretation, right.

Let's -- and I know that some people don't have good faith, I know that. I know that there is trolling, but I don't think that we can say that

because, you know, some people are not of good faith. Then that the principle itself of good faith is dead. And I think we just need more

people to speak up. We need more people to show moral courage. We need more people to push back against this kind of encroaching self-censorship that I

think is happening all over the world.

AMANPOUR: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, thank you so much for joining us.

ADICHIE: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And in India, the world's most populous democracy, there are also concerns over press freedom under the Modi regime. Indian tax

officials raided the New Delhi and Mumbai headquarters of the BBC twice this week. They say, they're looking into whether the BBC diverted profits

and avoided paying taxes, which the corporation denies. But many suspect this is just the Indian government trying to strike back at the BBC for

airing a documentary that was critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. CNN's Vedika Sud reports.


VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER (voiceover): India's government does not like what some journalists are saying about it. Last month, the BBC documentary

critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was banned across the country.

On Tuesday, agents from the Indian tax department entered the BBC offices in New Delhi and Mumbai. Employees were not allowed to leave or to enter by

agents who said they were carrying out a survey.

SUD (on camera): Outside the BBC office in New Delhi, the local press cap watches on as the ruling political party issues a new challenge to the

media outlet it considers hostile.

SUD (voiceover): Journalist Siddique Kappan doesn't have the might of an international news organization behind him. Instead, he says, his reporting

of a politically charged rape case under more than two years in prison without a trial. Kappan was charged under an anti-terror law, he says, is

being wielded by the government to silence dissent.


As long as you support the government, publish a press release in newspapers, you're a good journalist. If you raise your voice against the

government, if you highlight their failures, draconian laws will be slapped against you, Kappan tells me. He says, supporters of the Modi government

have threatened him online.

SUD (on camera): Kappan is out on bail but he says he still doesn't feel free. He's been holed up in this tiny two-room apartment with his family,

often too worried to go outside.

SUD (voiceover): India's media landscape is massive. According to Reporters Without Borders, there are over 100,000 newspapers across the

country, and over 350 TV news channels. But despite its size and diversity, the media industry in India is sounding increasingly similar.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN, FOUNDING EDITOR, THE WIRE: If you look at television channels, look at the big papers, you -- what you get is a very

sanitized version of what is happening. And in many cases, the activist puzzle of the government's agenda.

SUD (voiceover): The Wire is an independent news organization. Its founder says the Indian press has been in crisis since the Modi government came to

power in 2014.

VARADARAJAN India's democracy is on -- you know, frankly, is on life support.

SUD (voiceover): The Indian government hinted at irregularities being the reason for raids at BBC's offices. But for critics, the world's largest

democracy has little tolerance for voices of dissent.


AMANPOUR: That was Vedika Sud reporting.

Turning now to Afghanistan, in danger of being forgotten despite its outsized global impact. A brutally harsh winter is making a humanitarian

crisis even worse, particularly for women. For nations looking to support Afghans, the Taliban government, with its anti-women policies presents a

moral dilemma. Send billions to save lives which will strengthen the regime, or withhold aid and condemn Afghanistan's women and children to

further catastrophe.

Few westerners understand the Taliban's rise, fall, and rise again, like the American journalist Jere Van Dyk. In the 1980s, he embedded with the

notorious Haqqani Network, close allies at the time of the U.S. in that war against Soviet occupation. Now, forming the backbone of the Taliban in his

new book, "Without Borders, The Haqqani Network and the Road to Kabul", Van Dyk looks inside what the U.S. calls the most lethal insurgent group in the



AMANPOUR: Jere Van Dyk, welcome to our program.

JERE VAN DYK, AUTHOR, "WITHOUT BORDER": Thank you. Thank you, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Can I start by asking you to reflect on what the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center says about the Haqqanis? "The most lethal and

sophisticated insurgent group fighting against American troops in Afghanistan." You go way back with them and we're going to get into that

but does this current description match what you know?

VAN DYK: Yes, without a doubt. In fact, I would go even further than that and say that I consider the Haqqani Network, meaning, headquarter with the

Haqqani family to be the most effective, most powerful jihadist group in the world. Their reach is throughout, of course, Afghanistan but because of

the success of their father, Jalaluddin, and the success of his eldest son, Sirajuddin, now who is -- was military commander of the Taliban and now has

such an important position in Afghanistan that those two men have a tremendous influence throughout, in my experience, in my work, the Middle


AMANPOUR: OK. So, now, let's break this down. Sirajuddin Haqqani is the most powerful Taliban leader. He has the biggest armed force under his

leadership. He's the interior minister. I have spoken to him. He gave me all these pledges about women's rights, which we know have not yet

happened. And when I pressed him on whether in fact it was the religious fundamentalist leader, the emir, who was mostly in charge, this is what he

told me about the structure.

SIRAJUDDIN HAQQANI, AFGHAN ACTING INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): There is no division in the government to split Kabul from Kandahar. You

may have seen statements from Sheikh Saeed (ph), supreme leader, about how committed he is to women's right.

However, they might be different expectation and ways of thinking. If you look at the other countries too, you can see that there are different

viewpoints. This is a baseless statement that there is a split among the Taliban.


AMANPOUR: And yet, Jere, I have been told by very senior people, including around him, that in fact there is a split. And the Kabul Taliban led by

Sirajuddin want to allow women to work, to study, and all the rest of it. But the Kandahar fundamentalists do not.

VAN DYK: That's correct. The people around Sirajuddin whom you are talking to and those, elsewhere, whom you are in touch with are right. There is

definitely a difference between Kabul and Kandahar, without question.

AMANPOUR: And do you see how this can or will be resolved given your long term experience with this group?

VAN DYK: No, this is -- and to quote Sirajuddin's best friend with whom I'm in touch, "frequently dangerous, very dangerous for Afghanistan".

Because the majority -- according to this man, the majority of the Taliban leadership itself supports girls' education and for women to have greater -

- a greater role in the society.

But it comes down to very few men at the top and frankly the emir himself and some people in -- outside the inner circle will call him the -- a

village Mohla, with -- that was -- that attitude, that tradition, the belief that women have no need of education, they are to be kept at home.

They are to be kept from outsiders so they are not in any way harmed or that their virtue is maintained above all.

So, that division that Sirajuddin talked about, he may have done this for political reasons, is without a doubt not the case. There's a very clear

division between the two and it all comes down to the emir himself.

AMANPOUR: I want to know though, now, going back to the beginning, Jalaluddin is the original founder of the Haqqani Network and he was

incredibly important to the United States in the anti-Soviet communist mujahideen during the 80's. Does this hatred of women, this fundamentalist

medieval version of Islam go back as far as he? Was he like that too?

VAN DYK: With -- all the time I spent with him, not once did we ever talk about women. In my years, over time, over many years in Afghanistan. It --

when I was very young, and I was there in 1973, yes, it was completely open. Completely different world. But once the mujahideen began to rise, we

know that story, the women disappeared. And that is true, I have never met the wife of any Afghan I have dealt with.

AMANPOUR: So, tell me about your first visit, then. Why did you even go?

VAN DYK: I think all travel is escape and pursuit in equal parts. I was a runner at the time. I earned some money a little bit on the international

track and field circuit and then I called my parents and I said, I want to travel across Asia. Because I had heard, at the time, that in Europe, that

you could buy an old car and you could drive it across Asia and sell it for a profit in, say Kathmandu, or even as far as India, and then take that

money and then you fly home.

So, it was a sense of adventure because we knew at that time that so many people were traveling across Asia. The black flag of radical Islam had not

yet descended upon Asia. Iran was run by the shah. It was wide open. And so, it was an adventure.

AMANPOUR: Describe just what women looked like. What were your conversations at that time in 1973?

VAN DYK: Without a doubt, they dressed just like women dressed in the west, whether it was in Europe or in North America. From -- I'd say, at

least, half the women you would see there, especially younger women, certainly were not veiled, did not wear sadri (ph) covering themselves.

Little school girls wore knee socks, short skirts, carry their books in the streets, laughing.

It was a time -- it was so romantic. And that's why -- it was so romantic and it was so isolated, the romance of it and what attracted me was the

long camel caravans that came through the -- the streets, half of them were dirt then, came through the streets. And the only thing that you could hear

in the afternoon -- late afternoon, some would be the tinkling of the bells as the caravan passed through. The women in those caravans were definitely

not veiled. Half of them were bare feet, little girls carried, I'd say a pet goat or a pet, you know, a lamb with them as they walked by. It was a

marvelous time.


AMANPOUR: And then, fast forward again, you went back in the '80s, right after the Soviet invasion. You were a journalist by then, working for the

"New York Times." How did you discover Jalaluddin? Why did you come across him?

VAN DYK: Pure happenstance. I had the romantic sense again of the mujahideen, men with old British rifles fighting against the mighty red

army. So, I was looking for someone who could fit the image I had of an Afghan, if you will, mujahideen warrior, and I couldn't find one. And then,

I came to one place led by -- there was a man named Yunus Halas (ph), long gray beard, bandelier, carrying a pistol, barrel chest, deep voice, sitting

on a hard -- on a wood floor drinking green tea. And a man next to him said, in English, how can we help you? And I knew instinctively these are

the men I wanted to go with.

AMANPOUR: So, when you went to discover the mujahideen, you eventually ended up in a compound, which was headquarters of the Haqqani fighters.

What was Jalaluddin Haqqani like then? He was an ally of the Americans then.

VAN DYK: He was a very close ally. My first experience with him, I came into a small room. He and other men were on the -- sitting on the floor,

looking at a map, heavily bearded. A man handed me a glass of green tea. And then, Jalaluddin came over with a small plate of honey, and he welcomed

me, shook hands, a very strong handshake. He looked to be about six feet, solid.

And he said, in perfect English, welcome. You are our guest. We will talk later. And he went back to his men. And so, for the next month, it was a

little over a month, I lived with him, his younger brother, Ibrahim, and 16 fellow tribesmen, all of the Zadran tribe in that mountain compound. And --

AMANPOUR: And they treated you friendly, right? I mean, you were a friend, a welcome guest?

VAN DYK: Without a doubt.


VAN DYK: I was treated with the utmost respect. What struck me about Jalaluddin was whether it was raining, weather there was sleet, whether it

was snowing, if it snowed a lot later on, five times a day, he would stand on the roof of his small room, on top of this compound, cup his hands

together and called them into prayer.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you then, when you went back several times again, as a journalist after 9/11, things changed. The relationship changed. The

atmosphere on the ground changed. You are even, at one point, captured by these people who essentially were once your friends. Why do you think that


VAN DYK: Correct. When I arrived back after 9/11 as -- working for CBS, I landed at Bagram Airbase. I looked up in the mountains and I imagined the

Taliban up there, and I asked myself, I wonder how different they are from the mujahideen? And a part of me wanted to see them again because I held on

to that past, the fact that they were our allies. They saved my life more than once. How could they change so much?

And then, I realized that I was no longer their friend but their enemy. And -- but at the same time, I held on to the past. Jalaluddin treated me so

well, most vividly taking me through a minefield with camels in front to protect us, and we lost two camels. They stepped on the mines in front of

me. He was willing to risk his own men's life, their lives, to protect me. And now, all of a sudden, we are their enemies? What in the world has


We had -- we our -- in the 1980s, the United States and its Arab allies had invited in a mercenary army of Arabs who we called Arabathgans (ph), out of

which came Al-Qaeda.


VAN DYK: And Al-Qaeda, of course, devastated us in 9/11. So, this alliance existed that was hard for us to grasp, hard for me to grasp. And so, I was

caught in the middle. I wanted to go because I wanted to find Jalaluddin again, because I couldn't hold on -- I couldn't believe that he and his men

had changed so much.

And it was during that time, in 2008, when I was living up along the Afghan-Pakistani border for seven months, crossing and meeting with the

Taliban, who never harmed me until they did. And then, I was captured. I was kidnapped in the tribal areas of Pakistan in February 2008. True.

AMANPOUR: What did that experience tell you about yourself, the last experience, the capture?

VAN DYK: What did that tell me about myself? You went to the heart right there. No one has asked me that question. And I get emotional when I go

back to that.


The hardest part of that time was when they -- it was late at night, close to midnight, and the leader of the Taliban unit that captured me handed me

-- they took everything I had. And I had a small video camera. And he thrusted it at me and he said, how do I make this work? And I said, oh, no.

Oh, no. I'm about to help you. You want me to help you film my own execution.

And the men lined up behind me, just as I had seen on television, the men lineup behind when they murdered Nick Berg (ph) and other foreigners in the

Middle East. And then, they took a (INAUDIBLE) and they pushed it against my temple. And I said to myself, how do I want to die? Do I want to die

with bullets across my chest or do I want to die with -- by being beheaded?

Because what you think about is the alleviation of pain. How quickly this will -- how long will it take. And it took forever. This is why I admire so

much those -- the men who were murdered later on by ISIS, how they kept their heads up. It took me so long to raise my head from down and expose my

neck and looked directly at my killer and say, OK. It's just you and me. Go ahead.

And it was that -- when you are at that point, you have -- all you care about is dying with dignity and alleviating the pain. How quickly it will

take. And so, I thought of my father, my mother had gone, and my brother and my sister and their children. And I looked at him and I said, again,

it's just you and me. Let's go now.

And so, what I learned about myself, and it's the most important thing in the world, which makes that night, that moment the worst and the best at

night the time of my life is that I had the courage to stand up and face my killer.

AMANPOUR: Just amazing.

VAN DYK: I was not a coward.

AMANPOUR: Just amazing. Far from a coward. What an amazing revelation and what a great story. Jere Van Dyk, thank you so much indeed. What a

fascinating book.

VAN DYK: Thank you, Christiane.


AMANPOUR: And now, we look at one of the world's most recognizable symbols, the U.S. flag. It is seen hanging on almost every public building

and from countless American homes. But if you have ever wondered where all those flags come from and who makes them, the answer is to be found in a

new documentary, "The Flagmakers."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When I moved from Serbia, it surprised me a little bit how much Americans love their flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In all our flags, we have pieces of our employees' stories.


AMANPOUR: Directors Sharon Liese and Cynthia Wade meet the factory workers who are stitching stars and stripes for a living. And they join Hari

Sreenivasan to explore that and the relationship they've built with this national emblem.


HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks. Sharon Liese, Cynthia Wade, thank you both for joining us.

Sharon, I want to start with you. How did you find this factory that made flags in the middle of Wisconsin and saw that there is a story here?

SHARON LIESE, DIRECTOR, "THE FLAGMAKERS": Yes. Well, you know, like with every film, it has its own story about how you found it. And Cynthia and I

have worked together for many years and we've been good friends for many years and we always talk about what's going on in the world. And we were

really noticing that anti-immigrant sentiment and wanted to do something in that space.

And I live in Kansas City. And at first, we found this program that taught women how to sew, immigrants. And at the end of this program, they get

jobs. And we found that there was this one woman who got a job at a flag factory. And once we saw that, we were like, this has to be the story and

we could not get access to that one place, the factory in Kansas City. So, we did a nationwide search.

And at that point, we found this place in Milwaukee called Eder Flag and Cynthia was on a shoot, a commercial shoot in Chicago at that time. And I

called her and said, hey, I just found this place. I just talked to them. Can you get there tomorrow? And she did. And then, our film came to be.

SREENIVASAN: Yes. So, Cynthia, describe the first time you walk into this flag factory, probably a place that most people will never get to see the

inside of, but what made you say, I think we have a thing?

CYNTHIA WADE, "THE FLAGMAKERS": It's the most extraordinary thing to walk into this flag factory. It is the largest flag and flagpole manufacture in

the United States. So, there are over 200 employees. The majority of them are immigrants and refugees from around the world.


You hear dozens of languages on the factory floor. And what was so touching to me, which that at every station, a sewer would have just things from

their home country, their home life. Sometimes it would be a flag of their home country, sometimes it might be just a photo of family back home. I

heard radios. So, you hear Moroccan music and Serbian music.

And then, when I walked into the break room and saw the employees eating lunch and I saw these Tupperware's opening up where it was the food of the

world, I thought, wow, this is like a United Nations right here and it's -- in a way, it's a microcosm of the country.

SREENIVASAN: Yes. And what is it, Sharon, you know, when you started diving into this place, these people, how did you figure out which stories

to start focusing on, because if they are refugees or if they have come here looking for a better life, they probably all went through some sort of

hardship to get here?

LIESE: Yes. I mean, it's true that every person -- 200 -- of all the 200 employees, every single story you find is like more compelling than the

next one. So, it was a really tough decision when we chose -- had to choose the people because we had so many stories that actually didn't make it into

the film because the characters have story after story.

And our main person, Radica, who is from Serbia, we started out -- when we first met her, we thought, she is our guide. She's going to take us all the

way through this film. And then, we started working on it because it was -- it took us three years and then, we edited for a year, we kind of looked

away from that idea for a while and started making it just a verite film. And then, we realized that our instincts were right and we went back to

having Radica be our guide throughout the film.

SREENIVASAN: So, while you're filming this, the nation is also going through this national reckoning on race. And you, in the film, introduced

us to an African American employee named Sugar Ray. Tell us a little bit about him and his nuanced relationship with the flag and with the country

and with race in America.

LIESE: Yes. We thought his story was so important to include because he has such a complicated relationship with the American flag and such a

complicated relationship with America. And we don't really feel like there's enough voice to that story and we were really fortunate that he was

willing to share that with us and then, to share it with the world in the film.

Yes, he's -- he -- it's interesting because he grew up in Milwaukee and kind of grew up seeing a little bit of a different America and, you know,

as he says, you love America but it does not always love you back. And then, he sees immigrants, like you said, come in and they are so full of

hope. And so -- and they are coming here to make good on the promise that America supposedly has out there. And Sugar Ray, yes, does give us a dose

of reality and lets us know that not everybody really can get to that promise.

SREENIVASAN: And there's another character named Barb who kind of have an idea maybe that she has more conservative views on things.


BARB, FLAG SEWER: Good morning. Nice people here. Really nice. I'm tired, man. Take a nap in one of these flags. Sorry.

I don't remember all their names. Their names are different than America names. But that's OK. I mean, if you come to the country legally, that's


So many flags. It's kind of in my blood. My ancestors fought for that flag. My grandfather was in service, my father, my brother. And I am just proud

of it. That's my country. Better than a lot of countries, that's all I know.


SREENIVASAN: She's the one who is helping a fellow employee study for maybe a citizenship test or a green card test. I mean, you know, like

brushing up on the constitution.

LIESE: Yes. I mean, what we loved about Barb is that she's not a stereotype of what we would expect. And that, you know, when we sat in

audiences with people and watched them see this film. And when she retires, people have tears rolling down their eyes. And that's what people have an

experienced with her that she is not just one dimensional.


So, you know, we felt like she was so important to the film because she let people see that, you know, she may have certain politics but the connection

and the humanity between people is just so much bigger than that.

SREENIVASAN: Cynthia, there's another character I want to introduce to the audience named Ali who came from Iraq.


ALI, FLAG SEWER (through translator): Between all the papers and procedures, I waited for twelve years with the hopes of coming to America.

In Baghdad, there were lots of murders and death by mortar shells and IEDs. My neighborhood was called "the Dearth Road."

More than once, I survived explosions only 150 meters away from me.


SREENIVASAN: The struggles that he is going through, similar to so many immigrants in America, include, you know, a very difficult conversation

he's having with someone close to him about something that happened to him in a store.

WADE: Yes. I mean, we met Ali, he had been in the United States for less than 90 days when we met him, a man with a young family who fled Iraq. It

took him 12 years to get to the United States. They landed in Milwaukee in the middle of the snow just before, essentially, the pandemic hit.

And he came with such great hope and so much excitement because he was sewing the American flag. And it's interesting in the film because you see

Sugar Ray, he was born and bred in Milwaukee, a black man, say, I understand the pride that the immigrants have towards the American flag.

Like that's a real thing to really want to go after and find the American dream, but there are many stories to the experience of being American.

And Sugar Ray, obviously, just has -- had that lived experience of inequality in this nation. And then, a year and a half into our filming,

Ali gets hit, just walloped by a stranger at a Walmart.


ALI (through translator): As I was holding my daughter, a guy walked up. I thought he wanted to say "hi" to my baby and give her a compliment. I

didn't expect to find myself on the ground. He hit me with something. I don't know if it was his hand, or if he was holding something. The hit was

so hard, I lost consciousness for about half a minute or more.


WADE: And the stranger hit him presumably because he was speaking Arabic and then fled. And suddenly, those dreams of Ali and his wife shatter a

bit, are shaken, because it isn't as simple as what he thought when he came to the country. And that was important for us because that exists too, like

there's a lot of gray area and this country, and it can give you so much hope but it also can break your heart.

SREENIVASAN: Sharon, one of the scenes that we see in the film is Sugar Ray and his son, it looks like, watching scenes of January 6th. And I

wonder how the people that you spoke with or in touch with at the factory kind of saw the -- literally, the very product that they make that is

supposed to be this symbol of freedom was one of the things that people were carrying in as they stormed the capitol?

I mean, it's just was an interesting moment and I wondered kind of what's going through that person's mind who is sewing this flag when they watch

that TV?

LIESE: Yes. It was a very solemn event in time for people in the factory. And I would say that most people we spoke to, because we did actually do a

series of interviews, and it was -- we thought it was also very helpful and cathartic for people to talk about it. But that's not how they -- because

it's not how they -- what they think about or what they are doing when they make the flag.

I mean, they almost -- I could go so far as to say that they -- you know, they do it with love. I mean, they are so careful and so proud of what they

make that it was really more than a slap in the face for them to have that happen and to see that. I mean, it's almost the flag is somewhat sacred to

them in that way because it is their work, and it's the work of many people, because they do it together and not one person just makes each

flag, it's many people that make the flags.


RADICA, SEWING MANAGER: I love America. I know it's not perfect. But that is beauty. You don't love something because it is perfect. You love

something because it is yours. Here she is. I wish all my sewers are here today so they could sese.


SREENIVASAN: What was it like kind of watching that either first or second hand? Because, you know, it's hard for people to imagine that level of

pride that she has in literally her work.

LIESE: Radica did take so much pride in making these flags and in running a department where all these flags are made and took so much pride in being

an American and a Serbian. So, for her, being able to go to the Statue of Liberty and see one of either flags flying there was just a moment of a

lifetime for her.

WADE: It was extraordinary to watch it. She'd never been to New York before. She'd never seen -- I mean, they make flags for, you know,

government buildings all over, for inaugurations, you name it. They make flags. But it was one of the first times that she'd actually traveled

outside of the State of Wisconsin and saw the flag, and that was their flag flying on the Statue of Liberty.

I mean, she uses words like, you know, I believe that the flag has a sole, which really, I think, startled both Sharon and I first when we heard that,

like, wow. And then, during the -- after the January 6th insurrection, she kind of said -- in an interview said, it's not flags fault, which I thought

was such a wonderful statement. Like she really sees the flag as a living, breathing thing and has a very personal relationship to it.

SREENIVASAN: So, a little bit of a spoiler alert, Cynthia, tell us why does Radica make this decision near the end of the film? She makes a pretty

big choice, and what was behind that?

WADE: Yes. I mean, talk about not knowing where a film is going to go, towards the end of our filming. Actually, we thought we were done filming.

Radica told us that she was making the decision to move back to Serbia. That she had given her best to the United States. She felt the United

States had given its best to her. But that, ultimately, you know, Serbia is the place that she wants to spend the rest of her life. And that was so

stunning to us.

That you can -- and again, it's a gray area, right? Issue where you can love this country and also ache for it and also miss where you've come

from, miss where you were born. And Sharon -- kudos to Sharon because, at first, I was like, oh my goodness, we've been editing for a year. I can't

open this back up and now, include that she's moving to Serbia. Like it kind of blew my mind. I thought, I can't do this.

And Sharon was right. She said, no, this makes it much more complex and interesting, that you can love this country, give it your best, have your

best years here and yet, you can still miss home. And so, we decided to follow it. So, she left. She went back to Serbia.

SREENIVASAN: Did it change, Cynthia, how you maybe went into the film thinking about flags versus how you think of them now when you see them out


WADE: Yes, definitely. I mean, I think in part, I was really excited and curious about making this film to start because I could feel in myself this

discomfort with the American flag with just the feeling that you see a flag in front of somebody's home or in the back of somebody's pickup truck or a

sticker on somebody's car and you immediately think, oh, they are telegraphing something. They are telling me what -- sort of like what team

they are on.

And I was feeling, you know, in sort of 2018, 2019 that it really had become weaponized, that the flag had been co-opted by a very narrow

specific group of people and then, it wasn't really my flag. And if I put a flag out in front of my home, I would be saying something that wasn't

exactly how I was feeling because it just felt incredibly narrow.

So, to then go in and spent three years at this large flag factory where immigrants and refugees and born and bred Midwesterners are working

together, now, when I look at a flag I think about the people. I think about the people literally stitching this sort of greatest symbol of our


And I -- my heart aches. I hope our democracy makes it. I think we are in a very fragile state. And I think we are also pretty polarized and it would

be just a wonderful thing if we could all come back and know that this is our flag and we can have differences in opinion, but it is our flag for all

of us.

SREENIVASAN: It was a fantastic film. The film is called "The Flagmakers." Directors Cynthia Wade and Sharon Liese, thank you so much for your work.

And I don't think I will look at a flag the same again.

WADE: Thank you so much.

LIESE: Thank you.



AMANPOUR: That's it for now. Remember, you can always catch us online, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks for watching and goodbye from