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Russell Brand: Don't blame Muslims

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
May 31, 2013 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
Russell Brand arrives at the GQ Men of the Year party on November 18, 2008, in Los Angeles. Russell Brand arrives at the GQ Men of the Year party on November 18, 2008, in Los Angeles.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN Radio podcast features CNN Opinion contributors and a guest on top three stories
  • John Avlon: Departing Michele Bachmann has been a symbol for worst in U.S. politics
  • Russell Brand: Blame mental illness for England hacking attack, not Muslims
  • Hoover, Obeidallah, Avlon offer advice for class of 2013: Success needs hard work

Editor's note: John Avlon, a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, is the author of "Independent Nation" and "Wingnuts." He won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' award for best online column in 2012.

(CNN) -- This week on The Big Three we say bye bye to Michele Bachmann; comedian Russell Brand joins us (naked, apparently) to talk about his column condemning group-blame in the wake of the brutal beheading of a British soldier; and Dean and Margaret offer their take on a commencement address for the Class of 2013.

First, one of the most polarizing figures in American politics decided not to run for re-election this week. I think I heard church bells ringing in reaction. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was briefly an icon of the tea party movement and even pursued an ill-advised presidential campaign that resulted in numerous -- and ongoing -- ethics investigations.

Bachmann used her 15 minutes of fame to divide and demagogue our national debates, routinely accusing opponents of being anti-American and parroting conspiracy theories from her congressional pulpit. Her frequently fact-free accusations made her a favorite on the far-right, but interestingly it is liberal Democrats like Dean who already think they're going to miss her the most, while Margaret sees her departure as a win for reforming the Republican Party.

Russell Brand is best known as a British comedian and TV/film star, who, in addition to co-starring in the upcoming animated film "Despicable Me 2," is also a Solzhenitzyn-quoting, part-time essayist. In the wake of the barbaric beheading of a soldier in London, Brand wrote an essay in The Sun called "Blame this on madness...not Muslims."

Big Three podcasters John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, Dean Obeidallah
Big Three podcasters John Avlon, Margaret Hoover, Dean Obeidallah

Click here to hear podcast

Dean was particularly touched by the effort to defend the Muslim community from the ugly passions stirred by group blame. Brand's perspective is that mental illness is more at fault in the attack than the influence of radical Islam and that root causes must be analyzed, as well.

While I agree with Brand's assertion that we can't let extremists determine the terms of debate for the rest of society, especially when their goal is to take us off center by inspiring further hate and distrust, I'm not convinced that taking troops out of Afghanistan would stop terrorism -- and, unlike Brand, I think that evil exists. But it's a lively, thoughtful conversation -- especially considering that Brand informed us afterward that he conducted it naked looking in a mirror.

Which is a sideways segue to commemorating the end of another college year. Yes, its commencement address season and already words of wisdom are being dispensed on college campuses across the country by the likes of Stephen Colbert, President Obama and Wolf Blitzer. The millennial generation is coming of age and we debate whether the "everybody gets a trophy" ethos (plus the uphill economic climb) has left them well prepared for life after college.

Dean orates a commencement address of his own, while Margaret and I dispense our advice (you have to be willing to work hard if you want to follow your bliss). Plus, I trot out a dimly remembered quote I like: "The only place where success comes before work is the dictionary." Our collective consensus slogan: Ladies and gentlemen of the Class of 2013: Lower your expectations.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

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