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Published: Sunday, 8/19/2007

Beliefs to die, or kill, for: CNN series looks at religious extremism

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Davoud Abdolhadi was 13 years old when the Iranian army sent him to the front lines to fight Iraq.

He came home alive and today, more than two decades later, he remains disappointed by his survival.

Martyrdom was my greatest wish, but for me it was not meant to be, Abdolhadi says.

Yehuda Etzion of Israeli spent seven years in prison for plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, an act that likely would have triggered a Jewish-Islamic bloodbath. The mosque, Islam s third-holiest shrine, sits atop the ruins of Judaism s Second Temple, and Etzion asserts that the Messiah cannot appear until the temple is rebuilt.

Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania Ministries, says virtue terrorists are raping virgin teenage Americans on the sidewalk and everybody is walking by and acting like everything is OK. It s not OK.

These examples of religious extremism have become increasingly common over the last three decades, but most of the time the media report the news without exploring the underlying factors that breed radicalism and terrorism.

God s Warriors, a three-part television series to be broadcast Tuesday through Thursday at 9 p.m. on CNN, Buckeye CableSystem Channel 2, looks at the reasons why people of faith are willing to kill or be killed for their beliefs.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN s chief international correspondent, spent eight months traveling the globe, interviewing dozens of religious leaders, scholars, and politicians for the program that will be broadcast in three two-hour segments God s Jewish Warriors, God s Muslim Warriors, and God s Christian Warriors.

For those who follow the news closely, there will be few major revelations in this series. Most of God s Warriors centers on pivotal events of recent history that have religious connections from the 1967 Six-Day War to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in 1995 to the London subway bombings of 2005 to the appointment of Justice Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Around this historical framework, however, Amanpour and her crew expand on the events by interviewing extremists and their families and getting insights from political, cultural, and religious experts, seeking to understand the reasons behind the headlines.

Some actions, of course, defy logic a teenager who goes on a killing spree, a zealot who whips his own back with metal chains but Amanpour s interviews with zealots and their families, and the scholars who specialize in these areas, give perspective to the intensity of the emotions and the devotion involved.

The correspondent commendably does not paint any of these three major religions as monolithic.

In the first program, God s Jewish Warriors, for example, Amanpour interviews two Israelis who fought the Arab armies in the Six-Day War but from completely different perspectives.

Hanan Porat considered Israel s victory the fulfillment of God s prophecies for Jews. Yakov Barnea, on the other hand, saw the war as strictly a political and military matter.

After the victory, Porat said he and other Jews felt it was time to seize the moment, and began building settlements in the disputed areas that have become flashpoints for so much violence today.

While international law forbids settlements in occupied territory, the Jews sidestepped the legalities by saying they were establishing military posts.

Former President Jimmy Carter tells Amanpour, as he wrote in his controversial book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, that the Jewish settlers and Israel s treatment of Palestinians is a key source of Mideast troubles today. And despite the injustice, Carter repudiated any violent retaliations.

The second installment in the series, God s Muslim Warriors, again weaves anecdotes and expert commentaries together in examining the factors that lead to extremism.

What s behind the hate? What s behind the veil? Amanpour asks. How does religion become the fuel for terrorism?

She cites the writings of Syed Qutb, a 20th century Egyptian author who wrote of his disgust at American decadence and its empty materialistic culture, and said Qutb s book, Milestones, influenced Osama bin Laden and a generation of radicals with its admonition to replace secular government with an authentic Islamic state.

Among the most chilling scenes are Amanpour s interviews with the family of a young Arab, Yousef Swatat, who shot to death four Israelis and wounded scores more before being gunned down by police.

I am proud. He went to God, his mother says. I am not sad. I am not sorry.

Amanpour asks: Do you think he is going to heaven?

Yes. The Qur an tells us so, his mother responds.

Amanpour also visits Iran, the country where she grew up, and shows how Shiites today are inspired by the martyrdom of Imam Hussein in 680 A.D. This reverence for martyrs inspired young Iranian soldiers to clear minefields by running across them, losing their limbs or even their lives, she said. When Shiite Muslims whip and beat themselves, they tell her, they are honoring the pain and suffering of Imam Hussein.

In the United States, Rehan Seyam, a young American from Islip, N.Y., said she decided to wear a hijab, or head scarf, because Islam is not just a religion, it s a way of life.

Instead of aspiring for better, bigger, and nicer cars, houses, or purses, she said the Muslims should seek humility.

The final episode, God s Christian Warriors, focuses on two prominent people, Jerry Falwell and Ron Luce, and their efforts to change society.

Amanpour said her interview with Falwell in May was the last one he gave before his death from a heart attack at age 73.

Falwell s strategy was to change the culture from within over the long term, he explains, and to never, never give up. The Moral Majority, a politically active group that he founded in 1979, and Liberty University in 1971, a private Christian institution with 10,000 students and a new law school, were two key components of his effort to promote conservative values through political and cultural engagement.

Fallwell called the appointment of Justice Alito in 2006 the culmination of 35 years of work.

America s cultural divide comes to the front lines in San Francisco when Amanpour follows Luce, the 46-year-old founder of the Texas-based Teen Mania Ministries, at a Battlecry youth rally, attended by 22,000 people.

The two-day event, described as a cross between a rock concert and a religious revival, brings out scores of protesters, who shout through bullhorns that Luce is turning kids into zombies and that our country is not your church.

When Amanpour asks Luce why he preaches such a divisive message, Luce responds, The message of Jesus was divisive: Either you re with me or you re not with me. So much of our culture has become gray there s really not a right, there s really not a wrong. That s not the message of the Bible. Wrong things will hurt you and destroy you.

Amanpour generally lets all sides have their say, with just a few moments of indignation or heated questions tipping off her personal views.

She wraps up her months of world-traveling reporting with this concise and valid observation: There are millions of people around the world who feel their faith is being ignored, pushed aside, and who are certain they know how to make the world right, she says. We cannot and should not ignore them.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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