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The clash between faith and politics

August 21, 2007|David Bauder | Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Christiane Amanpour's work on the documentary series "God's Warriors" took her directly to intersections of extreme religious and secular thinking.

She watched, fascinated, as demonstrators in San Francisco accused teenagers in the fundamentalist Christian group BattleCry of intolerance in a clash of two cultures that will probably never understand each other.

Understanding is what Amanpour is trying to promote in "God's Warriors," airing in six prime-time hours on CNN. The three-part series on religious fundamentalism among Christians, Muslims and Jews runs tonight through Thursday.

Many people know only stereotypes of these true believers, even the ones in their own country, she said.

Yet it's vital to be familiar with their thinking given the growing importance of these movements in the war on terrorism, the never-ending conflicts surrounding Israel and conservative politics in the United States.

"I'm not interested in drumming up false fears or falsely allaying fears," CNN's chief international correspondent said by phone from France, where she added last-minute touches to the series. "I just want people to know what's going on."

Amanpour traveled extensively over eight months to work on the series. The trips to Amanpour's native Iran are most fascinating. She explored the ancient roots of the conflict between Shiites and Sunnis and talked with one of the country's most accomplished female politicians about how Muslim women are treated.

Another segment tries to explain why so many devout Muslims are willing to give their lives to a cause.

"To the West, martyrdom has a really bad connotation because of suicide bombers who call themselves martyrs," she said. "Really, martyrdom is actually something that historically was quite noble, because it was about standing up and rejecting tyranny, rejecting injustice and rejecting oppression and, if necessary, dying for that."

Finishing the project didn't leave her with a sense of fear over the implications of stronger fundamentalist movements.

"I did come away with a sense that we -- or those people who don't want to see religion in politics and culture -- if we don't look into it and see what is going on, we're in danger of missing it and not being able to react to it properly," she said.

Amanpour was one of the last reporters to talk to the Rev. Jerry Falwell. She interviewed him a week before he died about the legacy of the Moral Majority, the organization that thrust evangelical Christians onto the political stage.

The segment on Christians explores BattleCry in some depth, digging at the roots of an organization that fights against some of the cruder elements of popular culture and urges teenagers to be chaste. In noting how girls at some BattleCry events are encouraged to wear long dresses, Amanpour asks the group's leader how it is different from the Taliban.

In a nonjudgmental way, she visits a family that is home-schooling its children and explores the influence of Evangelicals on the courts.

"There is so much nuance, so much information, so much to talk about, by no means were we able to talk about it all," she said, "and by no means do I claim this is the definitive project. It is one of the fullest, one of the most ambitious and one of the most complete."

Amanpour, 49, is no longer CNN's most visible reporter, as she was when skipping from one war zone to another. She received a lot of attention for her documentary "In the Footsteps of Bin Laden" last year and said she's enjoying the opportunity to put day-to-day news in greater perspective.

She has frequently criticized American television networks, including her own, for not spending enough time on international news.

That hasn't changed. "I believe [the audience] wants to know more than our bosses or superficial focus groups would have you believe," she said.

Amanpour was recently named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She's leaving her home base of London to move to New York with her husband, former State Department spokesman James Rubin.

"This is really a personal move for my husband, who has lived eight years out of his own country and wants to come back," she said.


'CNN Presents: God's Warriors'

Where: CNN

When: 9 tonight, Wednesday and Thursday

Rating: Not rated.

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