On August 23, CNN aired the final episode of its three-part series, "God's Warriors," hosted by Christiane Amanpour. At the end of this segment, devoted to "God's Christian Warriors," Amanpour left viewers with a warning that society cannot ignore the millions of people who feel their faith is being ignored, is being pushed aside and who are certain they know how to make the world right.
Given the huge levels of religiously motivated violence taking place in the world today most of it perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims Amanpour is right. Religious fundamentalism cannot be ignored. Events of recent years have demonstrated that religious belief can be a source of violence on a global scale and can be used to justify depriving people women especially of their human rights.
But if Americans are going to determine how to respond to religious extremism on both an international and societal level, they surely cannot rely on Amanpours coverage of the issue. In her coverage of "Christian Warriors" Amanpour demonstrates a predictable inability to discern the difference between Christians in the U.S. who organize politically to affect public policy and suicide bombers in the Middle East who target civilians in an attempt to intimidate their opponents into submission.
Amanpours inability to discern the difference between believers who play by the rules of democratic pluralism and those who perpetrate violence to create a theocratic state was most evident during her interview with Ron Luce, founder of a ministry called "Tean Mania" headquartered in rural Texas, which has a strict moral code including no secular music, no television, no R-rated movies, no alcohol, no drugs and no dating.
AMANPOUR: When I, you know, read that women have to wear skirts of a certain length and guys arent allowed to, you know, go on the Internet unsupervised, and I think, you know, totalitarian regimes.
LUCE: No. Its about learning to have disciplines that communicate purity. You know? The skirts lengths are to keep guys from you know, any man on the planet can be distracted. And we dont want to unintentionally create distraction.
AMANPOUR: But, Ron, thats what the Taliban said. They kept woman in their house, because men couldnt be trusted around them.
Amanpour draws an outrageous comparison between the leader of a teen ministry that insists that young women wear long skirts and an honor-killing terrorist organization which according to Amanpours own reporting from November 2001, is responsible for driving women in Afghanistan into their homes.
For five years, the religious police known as the Department of the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue issued a series of edicts against women, banning them from wearing makeup, from wearing high heels, from making a noise on the street when they walked, banning them from work, from education, from sitting next to men on busses or in cars.
Amanpour knows full well that Luce, the man standing in front of him during the interview, has nothing in common with the Taliban. An article of hers published in Time in June 2001, makes this perfectly clear:
From the day they marched into Kabul, the Taliban's adherents have sought to eradicate women from public life. In a land where the women have had to work while the men fought, the regime has barred females from taking any job outside the home or even leaving their houses without a male relative to accompany them. Girls have been thrown out of school. Foreign-aid agencies have been forbidden to offer any of their services or assistance directly to females.
Today Afghan women cannot even expect proper medical care. Three weeks ago, the Taliban decreed that female patients could no longer be treated at any of the main hospitals in Kabul and would be completely separated from male patients and medical personnel. We discovered that sick women are being sent to a crumbling old building that has no windowpanes, no running water, no proper operating room and barely enough electricity to power lightbulbs. The patients are tended by a meager female-only staff.
The toll such measures take on Afghan women is impossible to assess. Several told us how dispiriting it is to be thrown off a bus or forced to sit in the back. We heard reports of an increase in the suicide rate among females, and that many have sunk into despair and depression. For Afghanistan's tyrannized women, there is no escape from an unsparing, medieval way of life.
That Amanpour can equate Christians in the U.S. with the Taliban who shoved women into the shadows of Afghanistan beggars belief. None of the Christians she met insisted that she change into a more modest outfit as a prerequisite for the interview while her interview regarding the Hidden Imam in Iran required her to put on a full headgear. And the cleric she interviewed about the subject would not even look at her during the course of the interview. By way of comparison, Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, spoke directly to Amanpour, telling her that he would support any presidential candidate male or female that was strong on security:
Well, certainly, wed love to get, in one package, a man, a woman, who is strong on security and right on social issues. Weve got to find the person closest to where we are.
It is interesting to note that the segment on Christianity included an interview with Mandy Chapman, a student at Falwells Liberty University who hopes to become a lawyer. Amanpour seems unable to discern the difference between the Taliban, a movement that denies women the right to attend school, with a movement that encourages them to attend college and become lawyers.
Compare Amanpours suspicion of Evangelical notions of chastity with Muslim convert Rehan Seyams desire to cover herself completely:
AMANPOUR: Rehan insists that covering up is not a sign of a womans inferiority, as many Westerners believe, but a sign that Muslim women refuse to be degraded, as she feels they can be in American culture.
SEYAM: I dont want any guy looking at me, except for my husband, provocatively. Why would I want that? Why do I want to be a piece of meat?
AMANPOUR: A feeling echoed by religious historian Karen Armstrong, who herself used to wear a habit as a former Roman Catholic nun.
ARMSTRONG: In some ways, it was very liberating. For seven whole years I never had once to think about my hairstyle, my makeup, my clothes. I never had to wear man-pleasing garments. I never had to fill my head with the junk that society tells women, to trivialize their lives about.
Amanpour did not challenge either of these interview subjects with the charge that they are pushing forth a Taliban-like agenda, but reserves that charge for Ron Luce, an Evangelical in Texas. Why?
Another revelatory moment came when Amanpour discussed the issue of womans rights with Kamal Al-Saad Habib, a former Egyptian jihadist and a member of the group that plotted the assassination of Anwar Sadat. When Habib informed Amanpour that women should not be allowed to govern over men, she smiles and wags her finger at Habib as if he were a naughty child, evoking laughter from the film crew. Hilarity for Habib and a gratuitous insult for Luce.
In her coverage of John Hagee and Christians United For Israel, Amanpour reports Hagees scenario for the end times: Russia and its allies invade Israel. The anti-Christ appears as the head of the European Union. Armies mass and theres a final battle at Armageddon resulting in a sea of human blood before Jesus returns to slay nonbelievers and reign over an era of peace.
This is a frightening scenario, especially when its compared with Amanpours pretty benign portrayal of the Hidden Iman prophecy adhered to by Shia Muslims in Iran.
AMANPOUR: If Christians and Jews don't follow the Hidden Imam, clerics say there will be trouble.
MOHAMED REZAIE, MAGAZINE EDITOR, BRIGHT FUTURE INSTITUTE (through translator): If Judaism and Christianity don't recognize him, conflicts are possible. So, God will send Jesus to mediate.
In addition to giving relatively short shrift to the apocalyptic violence (there will be trouble) envisioned by adherents of the Hidden Imam scenario, Amanpour fails to detail how children were sent to their deaths on behalf of the Hidden Imam during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. To be sure, she mentions Iran's policy of sending children to their deaths during this war, but the link between this action and belief in the Hidden Imam was left unmentioned. Writing in the Telegraph, Michael Burleigh reports that during this war, belief in the Hidden Imam was used to send children to their deaths.
During the eight-year war, an enormous militia, called the Basij, was created under the aegis of the Revolutionary Guard. Boys aged 12 to 17 were dispatched against the Iraqi army, each armed with a plastic key to paradise, manufactured in bulk in Taiwan. A ghostly pale rider occasionally appeared, whose phosphorous-painted face was supposed to be that of the Hidden Imam, to urge these suicide waves on. Mowing these children down and perhaps as many as 100,000 were killed was so traumatic that even battle-hardened Iraqi veterans declined to fire.
By way of comparison, Christian Zionists, or pre-millenial dispensationalists as they are called by their critics, have not sent children off to war, they have not threatened to destroy a state with nuclear weapons, nor have they hijacked any planes, blown up any busses, or assassinated anyone. Despite the fearsome manner in which Amanpour describes Christian Zionists, they abide by the rules of pluralistic democracy, and they do not always win, as the 2006 congressional elections demonstrated.
Timothy Weber, author of On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israels Best Friend (Baker Academic, 2005), and one of the harshest critics of the Christian Zionist movement, admitted as such at a conference on Christian Zionism held at North Park University in Chicago in 2005. At a closing panel of the conference Weber stated:
I just need to point out that dispensationalists [Christian Zionists] are not throwing bombs. They are not attacking people in the streets. You may argue that they are promoting things that may lead to that by other people. Thats arguable. I think that that is certainly a possibility. But in our own context, in our own world and our own culture they play by the rules of American democracy. They attack verbally. They promote their own ideas. They denigrate others. But thats the American way.
This description, offered by a ferocious critic of Christian Zionism, is a far cry from Mahmoud Ahmadinejads belief in the Hidden Imam, the end time scenario embraced by many Shia Muslims in Iran. As Amanpours own reporting revealed
[Ahmadinejad] has reportedly made his entire cabinet take an oath of allegiance to the Hidden Imam, a ninth century Shiite cleric who is a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. He is meant to come back one day as a Shia messiah. President Ahmadinejad repeatedly says that his government must hasten that day.
Amanpour would do well to learn the difference between those who have religious and political beliefs she finds distastetful, and extremists who perpetrate violence to force their beliefs on others.