In conjunction with its three night event “God’s Warriors”, yesterday CNN hosted an online session with Christiane Amanpour and members of the blogging community who had submitted questions regarding the documentaries. Due to technical reasons I was not able to participate. However here is the transcript of that chat session…
MELISSA LONG, CNN.COM: Hello and welcome. I’m Melissa Long here at CNN.com, and welcome to our blogger conference. We are focusing on religion, power and politics.
And to do that, we’re turning to Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. We’re delighted to have her with us to focus on her six-hour documentary series, “God’s Warriors.”
Christiane, thanks so much.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: It’s good to be here to talk about this.
LONG: Well, we have so many questions to try to get through, so let’s try to get through them in the next half an hour.
Let’s start with a very basic question about the core of your documentary on the faith, the Jewish faith, the Christian faith, and the Muslim faith.
A question from a blogger at talktube.com is that, “What is the ultimate vision of the three groups?”
AMANPOUR: Well the vision of the segments of the three groups that we have chosen – and when we say three groups, these are the three main monotheistic states, the three main Abrahamic states. They all have the same patriarch. They all have their holy sites in Jerusalem, and their holy books.
What – the vision of these particular people, God’s warriors, is that the word of God, literally, as stated down, either in the Koran, the Torah or the Bible, should not just be consigned to private religious discussion, but should be part of political life, should be brought not just into the various places of worship, but into the seat of power. And that’s the basic glue that they all share.
LONG: OK. Let me ask you a question and break this down a little bit more now. This is from a blogger from CNN Reporter (ph), and this blogger asks, “What did you do to make sure that you get a real view of Christianity worldwide and not just the United States?”
AMANPOUR: Well, we didn’t, because we actually focused on Christianity in the United States as a political force. So, we focused on the religious right, or conservative Christians here in the United States.
Of course, we could have gone all over the world. We could have done the Roman Catholic Church. We could have done some of the spin-off Christian cult movements. We could have – there’s an enormous number of elements that we could have chosen.
But we tried to keep the whole documentary away from being what I would call sort of the freak show, the fringe freak show of weirdoes that just, you know, are fascinating to ogle. We wanted to keep it to reality, to what is a real present impact and influence on all of our cultures today, because that’s what makes it important to our – to our viewers and to the people who are listening and watching, to show how this very significant group within each religion is impacting our daily lives, and I think – and our political lives and our cultures.
I think that – look, in the Western and in the developed world, perhaps here in the 21st century we would have expected secularism and governance and politics to be what governs our daily lives. We would not have expected, and perhaps we still don’t expect, religion to play such a real, present role in our daily lives, politics, and culture. And it does, and it’s also having a resurgence, all three of the religions.
LONG: That was a question about Christianity in the U.S. So, let’s continue to focus on the U.S. with this next question from a blogger at All Things CNN and All Things Anderson. This blogger says, “I greatly enjoyed previewing the ‘God’s Warriors’ series, and my question concerns the Islamic warrior segment.” This blogger says, “You profile a young Muslim American from Long Island. Did you find her truly sincere in her dedication to living a fundamental Islamic lifestyle?”
AMANPOUR: Yes, we found her sincere. And I think that what was interesting is that we profiled this young woman who grew up in the United States, whose parents have come here as immigrants, and who has decided, for her own religious, and perhaps even nationalistic or political reasons, reasons of identity, personal identity, to take the veil and live a strict Islamic life, a traditional Islamic life.
Having said that, she is part of American society and culture. She has a job. She interacts with her friends and does things that many of us, and many of you, would consider totally traditional, normal things. But faith, for her, is central, and we wanted to show that.
We also show the other extreme, of course, which is the violent extreme. But I think what’s important, and what we hope will come across in the Muslim segment, is that the violent Muslims are a tiny fringe of the whole group. And particularly in the United States, Muslim Americans are highly assimilated. They are moderate in their views. They are – have an earning power which matches that of the average American, if not sometimes somewhat higher. And they’re very assimilated in American life.
LONG: Speaking of American life, there’s a blogger who writes for CNN SAN (ph) who cite a definition from Wikipedia about being born again, and then asks, “Historically speaking, and politely asked, when was evangelism founded?”
AMANPOUR: Well, we are looking at not when the whole movement was founded. We’re looking at how it became transcendent in American culture today and in American politics.
And we go back as far as Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority, around that time, because what we found was that, in all three religions, the rise of political religion, if you like, happened sort of around the end of the ‘70s and became a real force to be reckoned with then.
LONG: OK, all right. I want to move on to a little bit of a different topic that we have yet to discuss yet, Christiane, and this is from a blogger at iTWire. This blogger says, “Will you also go into the Palestinian question in depth, specifically the cult of the suicide bomber, and organizations such as Hamas?”
AMANPOUR: The answer is no, not in depth, but yes, we do profile a suicide bomber, or a suicide – somebody who committed a suicide attack. It wasn’t actually a bombing, this one, but it involved guns.
But, no, we don’t, in this case, examine Hamas or the whole Palestinian question because we have done that, and I specifically have done that many, many times before. We actually wanted to broaden it out a bit to show other parts of the Islamic world where Islam, and not violent Islam, is being used in the democratic process and is the way many of these Muslim countries are trying to move forward at the moment.
LONG: OK. There’s another question from a blogger at talktube.com, and that is, “Will the Internet strengthen religious radicalism or lead to its demise?”
AMANPOUR: Well, you know, that’s a very, very good question. Any number of studies show that you can be radicalized by the Internet and by all sorts of video messages, that there is a very sophisticated how-to system and network of radicalization on the Internet, particularly in the Islamic fundamentalism and the Islamic extremism and those groups, the Al-Qaeda kind of groups who espouse violence.
And to me, this is – this is very worrying, because in the Internet age, this kind of ideology spreads like wildfire.
But again, we have to make it clear that there is a difference between the extreme, violent fringe and the vast majority of Muslims who are nonetheless committed Muslims, but, you know, through a completely different method of legitimacy and legality.
LONG: We’re going to talk about that violent fringe in just a few moments, and we have a couple of questions about that, but I want to continue to focus on the Internet and the power of blogging. And this question from a blogger at Muslims for Progressive Values. This blogger asks, Christiane, “What do you think the role and the responsibility of media, including blogs, is in trying to learn for ourselves what the full and the big picture really is?”
AMANPOUR: Well, the responsibility is to really seek the facts and the reality, and I think to be able to discern what is fact, what is real, and what is false prophecy, and what is a twisted version of religion.
It’s difficult. There’s so much volume out there, and it’s not all of high or accurate quality. And, therefore, the responsibility of individuals and of those who seek to do more than just read, but seek to try to provide information, is to make sure we are really getting to the heart of the matter and getting the facts.
LONG: I had mentioned a moment ago that we wanted to talk a little bit about the violence and the volatility, and this question is about that, and this is from a blogger at iamatvjunkie.com. It focuses on the volatility, and the question is this, and I directly quote, “It’s very obvious to those of us who look at these groups from the outside that none of them seem to understand the critical need to coexist.” The question goes on to say, “But do they recognize something that was very evident in each of the previous segments, which is that fundamentalism, no matter what stripe, will always lead to conflict?”
AMANPOUR: Well, let’s take the first – the first bit about coexistence. That person is correct, particularly when you talk about the violent fringe.
Al-Qaeda – let’s focus on Al-Qaeda for the moment, since 9/11 has become the all-encompassing challenge that we all face. Al-Qaeda has decided to go to war against parts of the West, but it’s also now going to war against its own, against Muslims. There is, right now, a civil war within Islam in which Al-Qaeda believes that it is legitimately allowed to go after what it calls infidels – in other words, all those Muslims who don’t believe exactly what they believe.
And this is a – not just a religious struggle, this is a political power play. It’s going after the very heart and the very ability to control and define Islam. And I think that is something that we have to really keep our eyes on right now and see how that plays out, because it is an internal battle as well as one that Al-Qaeda is directing against America, and against Europeans as well.
Fundamentalism doesn’t always lead to conflict, but it can, and unfortunately, we have seen the fact that it does.
LONG: A moment ago you talked about the political power play, and I want to talk about the power of money with this next question, which was from a blogger at CNN Reporter (ph). The question, how great a role does the drive of capitalism play in the growth of extremist religious groups?
AMANPOUR: Well, what we find is that a lot of the extremist groups, a lot of the religious groups, tend to have a sort of a negative feeling towards unbridled capitalism, materialism, and what they feel is just a purely money-valued society.
But, you know, lot of people have that opinion. There are, you know, any number of people who feel that our modern world has become too materialistic. I don’t really think that is what drives them.
LONG: I want to ask a question posted by a blogger on Evangelist Outpost (ph), and this comes from somebody who watched some of your clips from the documentary online and offers a bit of criticism and has a bit of a concern. This blogger says that “The clips of the Jewish and the Muslim warriors both focused on extremists who committed murder, while the Christian warrior clip was of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell. So what was the intent,” this blogger asks, “of the producers when choosing these particular video clips?”
AMANPOUR: All right. You know, he has a – he has a point. I don’t know how those individual clips were chosen and put out, but all I ask is that people look at the totality of each two-hour documentary, because clearly there’s going to be the spectrum from the violent to the legitimate.
I would say that we’re trying not to focus just on violence, because we feel that has been done over and over again in legitimate daily news coverage and many documentaries before. What we’re trying to show is the way religion is experiencing a real surge as a political tool and as a political outlet, and how religion is impacting our cultures in the Islamic, Jewish, and Christian worlds.
LONG: A blogger from Jaywalking and DK blog (ph) is concerned and curious about the moral equivalents in the actions of all of God’s warriors and wonders, do you see that?
AMANPOUR: Well, I don’t know what moral equivalents he’s talking about, because we do not draw a moral equivalence. We don’t address that issue, and we don’t draw it, and nor do we believe that there is a more equivalent, certainly not in the tactics used. All we’re saying is, look at these people. They exist. They are a fact.
We decided to explore all the major Abrahamic faiths, the monotheistic faiths, which have so much in common and so much that overlaps and intertwines. But there is no equivalence drawn in how they react and what they do in their tactics.
LONG: As we talk about the tactics, talk about the violence, there are concerns from a CNN Reporter (ph) blogger who says, “Should the international organizations handle the spread of religious violence – of radical religious violence, or should the nations just take it upon themselves to protect against extremist groups?”
AMANPOUR: I think both. I think each and every nation needs to be vigilant and needs to have a proper political, social, and cultural answer to violence.
I think that it’s also international concern, and therefore, as much help and working together as each country can give to the other in terms of cooperation, whether it be intelligence, or otherwise, is extremely important.
But I do believe that all nations need to be vigilant about the rise of any kind of dogma and any kind of extremism.
LONG: Christiane, with a few of the questions I am able to shorten them a bit, but with this I really need to read the question in its entirety. And this comes from Midwest Christian Outreach Incorporated, and a blogger there.
And this blogger says, “Not having the benefit of seeing the whole production, but only the three short acts,” this blogger says, “there seems to be a moral equivalency,” once again, back to that, “being expressed between radical Islam, who are waging a war by terrorism,” citing 9/11 and in the incident in Britain, “and Liberty University, training their students to know what they believe, and be able to challenge culture with sound reason and argumentation in order to persuade legislation to reflect those views.”
This blogger states that and then goes on to say, “Is it your view, then, wouldn’t it be the case that, for those who press for legalizing abortion, for example, were terrorists?”
AMANPOUR: First and foremost, there is no moral equivalency. I’ll said this before, and I’ll say it again. We did not go out to do that, or we didn’t seek to that.
In terms of the last question, regarding abortion, as you know, there have been terrorists acts directed at abortion clinics back in the ‘80s. A number of people were killed, and it had a very chilling effect on doctors and on women. But that is only a part of what we went out to talk about.
What – the truth of the matter is that we knew there would be controversy about the name “God’s Warriors,” and about the fact that we are doing all three religions. We know also that we didn’t get all the people we wanted to talk to us, precisely because of the concern that that blogger raises. However, I believe I am being honest in saying that, and acknowledging that.
When you see the three acts, you’ll see what we are talking about. We are not drawing equivalencies. We are simply saying, each religion has a fundamental and committed wing that believes in impacting the political and cultural life.
I separate Al-Qaeda from all of this. They are not political actors. They are violent murderers. I separate them from this. We are not focusing on our Al-Qaeda-ism. What we’re focusing on is the committed religious believers who struggle in their own ways to bring religion to the heart and to the center of daily life, politics and power.
LONG: Another question from a CNN blogger, CNN Reporter (ph) blogger, and this person asks, “Do you feel it’s possible that a holy war could break out between Christian and Muslim groups in the Middle East?”
AMANPOUR: There are people who think that there is a clash of cultures and civilizations right now.
Look, there is a definite cultural clash post-9/11 between Islam and the West. Islam, in its Al-Qaeda form, decided to attack the United States. The United States reacted by going to war in Afghanistan, which was entirely legitimate, to get at the base of those terrorist organizations, and to put Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and the Taliban on the run.
Unfortunately, that job has not been completed.
But as this situation persists, more and more people are sitting back and trying to figure out how best to confront and to challenge and to turn back this clash of civilizations, because there are many, many religious people in both the Christian West and the Muslim Middle East who believe in politics, dialogue, tolerance, and that kind of system to move forward. And that’s really what we have to focus on and see whether there’s any light and any hope to be to go in that direction.
LONG: There’s so much to learn in the two hours, actually six-hour documentary series. And this is a question about that. This comes from a blogger at All Things Anderson, and All Things CNN, and the blogger says, “From ‘In the Footsteps of bin Laden’ to ‘The War Within,’ and now your massive documentary ‘God’s Warriors,’ I applaud you for your outstanding investigative reporting.”
After that compliment, this person goes on to say “ ‘God’s Warriors’ is such an extensive look into the current and past religious and political battles and the soldiers who fight them.” So this blogger wants to know, “Does CNN have any plans to bring the documentary into U.S. classrooms?”
AMANPOUR: Good question, and I will ask that question. I know that we have it on DVD, and it will be available on DVD. And it might very well be a really good and useful tool in classrooms.
Certainly, previous programs we have done on other historic challenges and realities have, in some cases, been taught in various classrooms, whether it be in the schools or in the college level. But it’s a good question.
LONG: In that same vein, along with the nature of the stories that you are discussing of the topics that you’re discussing, what age groups do you think would be appropriate for this? At the college level?
AMANPOUR: Perhaps younger. Perhaps at the high school level, I do think. I think that it’s never too early to learn. And I do, unfortunately, believe that not enough serious discussion of serious topics is devoted in the United States. And I think that the press doesn’t often do it, although there are many notable exceptions, and I think we need to do more of it.
And there needs to be more of this kind of thing, I think, taught in schools and throughout the educational process.
LONG: We have a series of questions that are more personal in nature, Christiane, as well, about your research, and about your own personal beliefs. This question from a blogger at All Things Anderson, and All Things CNN, and the blogger says, “I want to know if having a government minder in some locations prohibited you from getting the stories you really wanted?”
AMANPOUR: Not really, and we almost never did, so that’s the short answer to that. In fact, I’m trying to think whether we did at all.
Not really. No.
LONG: OK. All right. And in that same vein, I actually have…
AMANPOUR: Certainly nothing – there was nothing dictated to us, no script seen by anybody, not that kind of surveillance at all.
LONG: In that same vein, I have a question, and then I’ll go back to the blogger questions. You produced a six-hour documentary. You traveled the world. You had an (ph) extensive cruise (ph). And somehow you’ve been able to whittle it down to six hours. I can’t imagine that was easy for you.
AMANPOUR: Difficult. And actually, do you know what? We could start again and do a whole follow-up to all of this. I believe that this is the beginning of trying to explain. There’s so much more depth. There’s so much more to talk about. And I think, most particularly in the Middle East, where there’s so much at stake. But also, you know, here in the United States, where there is so much at stake.
The United States faces a major crossroads right now – how to regain its footing in the international arena, how to regain its credibility, its influence, and the soft power that made it such a strong and important influence around the world. And I think all of these issues bear scrutiny and continued investigation, because it impacts each and every one of us.
LONG: You’ve mentioned this a bit, but I want to talk about it a little bit more, just to focus on the question from a blogger who asks, “Why did you want to make this documentary?”
AMANPOUR: Well, this was a CNN idea, a CNN proposal. It followed on from a very successful two-hour documentary on bin Laden that we did this time last year. And I guess the reason is because so many people are interested and because it is one of the signature issues of our time – this clash of culture, this rise of religion, God and politics.
And it’s everywhere we look. And I think that, you know, we are responsible journalists and we realize that people are really interested in it. There is a lot of fear out there, a lot of misunderstanding, and, I think, a great desire for information and understanding.
LONG: A blogger wants to know about your movie-viewing habits as well, and wants to know if you were inspired by the “Jesus Camp” movie.
AMANPOUR: No. I saw it, but that’s not – I saw it only halfway through our own production. And it was a fascinating look. But that’s not what inspired this.
LONG: OK. Another question I have for you is from a blogger who asks, “Are you a religious person yourself? And if you are, tell me a little bit about your faith.”
AMANPOUR: Well, I don’t go into my own personal faith because I am a journalist, and I have to navigate all cultures, religions, societies, and ethnic groups. And I don’t want to come out and look as if I have a particular agenda, because I don’t. I was raised understanding and knowing about and having a respect for religion.
I come – and this public – my mother is a Catholic, my father is a Muslim. I am married to a Jew. And I have spent my whole professional life navigating and exploring and reporting on ethnic and religious conflicts.
So, I feel that I am very much steeped in these issues, and I come at them with a genuine curiosity, and a genuine desire to explain and increase understanding.
LONG: Using your own words, considering how steeped you are in the issues, in your reporting, and in your investigating, did you learn anything?
AMANPOUR: Yes. But, no matter how religious you are, and no matter how important God is, it cannot trump rational political solutions, because each and every one who is religious feels that they know the truth. And if that was the case, then nothing would get done, if each and everyone’s belief was individually catered to.
And so, I have come away with an increasing view that, rather than division and chauvinism and individual claiming of the truth, that real leadership involves expanding the pool of tolerance and understanding and compromise for the greater good to empower all the people, not just some of the people.
LONG: In the six-hour documentary, you really show just the volatile mix of passion and conviction. How sure are the people of their missions, and just how sure are they of what’s at stake?
AMANPOUR: Very sure. They believe that this is their life struggle, that this is not about interpreting the word of God. It’s about enacting the word of God, whether it be from the Koran, the Torah, or the Bible. And, you know, once you believe that, and once you believe the books are the truth, then it’s very difficult to question, you know, any of the building blocks.
And what I found very interesting in the Christian documentary that we did was that, although Christian – the Christian right, the religious right, has been so powerful in espousing the religious views, and certainly bringing them through the democratic process into legislation, and into power, and into politics, there are many pastors who are now starting to step back and say, look, we’ve got to take a second look. Religion is massively important, but we can no longer fuse it with politics all the time.
For instance, we need to take care of the environment. There is something that man is doing to endanger the environment. We need to take care of that.
We need to look at poverty in the world. That contributes to a lot of what Christians feel is going wrong in the world. So, why not tackle poverty?
All sort of things like that, people are looking at and realizing that there is a whole host of other humanitarian issues that are equally important in a Christian – in a Christian outlook as some of those hot-button, socially conservative issues that are used very deftly in today’s political world here in the U.S.
LONG: And finally, Christiane, since we are just about out of time, my final question will be about how you would like people to approach viewing your six-hour documentary. Of course, people will come with preconceived notions and beliefs. So, how would you like them to sit down as they watch your documentary series?
AMANPOUR: I would like them to trust that we are not here to preach, so to speak, and that we don’t come with an agenda or an ideology. That they should watch this for information purposes, and hopefully go away with an increased knowledge of what’s out there and how powerful an impact it’s having. And maybe to sit back and think a little bit about what all this means, and how we, as a civilization, as a people, as a community, can go forward in a constructive way in the world and the life that we face right now.
LONG: Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to speak with you tonight about your research, and about the documentary. We appreciate it.
And we want to remind everybody as well that the documentary series “God’s Jewish Warriors” will broadcast on Tuesday, the 21st, at 9:00 Eastern, “God’s Muslim Warriors” on Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, and “God’s Christian Warriors” on Thursday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.
AMANPOUR: Thank you very much.
LONG: Thank you, Christiane.