Mixed reaction to CNN series on religious zealotry

By Ecumenical News International
August 28, 2007

An ambitious media look at religious zealots in Christianity, Judaism and Islam is receiving worldwide media coverage, but lukewarm reviews from television critics in the United States - writes Cheryl Heckler.

Global broadcaster CNN has aired three, two-hour programmes titled "God's Warriors", documentaries produced by its chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She travelled extensively for eight months to examine fundamentalists in the world's three largest religions. The programmes have aired from 22 August 2007.

The documentaries include a segment filmed as demonstrators in San Francisco accuse the fundamentalist Christian group BattleCry, of intolerance.

There are also interviews with legal experts about religious rightwingers' ambitions for the US Supreme Court, and with the Rev Jerry Falwell. Amanpour interviewed him a week before his death in May about the legacy of the Moral Majority, the organization that Falwell founded in 1979, and which thrust evangelical Christians on to the political stage.

Amanpour also explores the ancient roots of conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, and explains to viewers why devout Muslims are willing to die for a cause.

"To the West, martyrdom has a really bad connotation because of suicide bombers who call themselves martyrs," Amanpour told the Associated Press: "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."

The segment on Jewish fundamentalism was filmed in Israel, Britain and the United States. It looks at those American Christians who are raising large sums of money to support the activities of Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The series is "a fine primer on the emergence of strains of Judaism, Islam and Christianity that want to fuse politics and religion", Neil Genzlinger wrote in the New York Times. "But too often Ms Amanpour relies on talking heads rather than on actual representatives of these groups, and when she does get a live specimen she rarely bores in with hard, blunt questions."

Chicago Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan, says, "There is the usual array of academics, authors and others explaining the rise of religious extremism in Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but much - sometimes too much - of God's Warriors dwells on individuals within each religion ...Quite a few are superficial and don't tell us much about why these people were attracted to deeply conservative strands of their respective faiths."

Barry Garron, Reuters' Hollywood reporter, writes; "If you watch all three episodes … you will see an impressive number of parallels among the true believers of the three faiths. These comparisons are what Amanpour does best."

He adds, "What Amanpour doesn't do - and what needs to be done - is to point out the contrasts among these groups. Do they all have the same strength within their religions? Do they receive support, tacit or otherwise, from governments? Do they plan to achieve their aims peacefully?"

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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