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CNN'S AMANPOUR

"God's Warriors" From Three Fronts

Aired August 23, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

And this week, something special. A few years ago, I had the rare opportunity to spend almost a year traveling the world to report a series that we called "God's Warriors," illustrating in dramatic detail where religion and politics collide and sometimes explode to change the course of history.

Each night this week, I'll bring you these reports on Islam, Judaism and Christianity, because much of what we discovered remains so vital to the challenges that our world faces today.

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AMANPOUR: Tonight we bring you reports on the warriors from all three fronts. Let's start with the popular uprising sweeping the Muslim world and ushering in democracy. Many are still taking shape, but an important gauge of their success will be the role women play.

They certainly man the barricades along with the men during the Arab revolutions last year, and today, from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, women are insisting that their full rights be enshrined as their constitutions are being written.

Many of the Arab women we've met want Islam in their political lives, but most don't want the kind of fundamentalist Islam that's governed women's rights in Iran since the Ayatollah's revolution back in 1979. As I find out every time I visit the country.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Far from Iran's capital, in rural Zanjan, Rafat Bayat is doing what politicians do, meeting her constituents.

AMANPOUR: How many women M.P.s are there?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Bayat is one of 13 women in the Majlis, the parliament of Islam's Islamic Republic.

AMANPOUR: Thirteen out of 209?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But she's a fundamentalist with unusual credentials.

AMANPOUR: I understand that you studied in the United States?

RAFAT BAYAT, IRANIAN PARLIAMENT MEMBER: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Where did you study?

BAYAT: Texas.

AMANPOUR: Texas?

BAYAT: Yes.

AMANPOUR: Were you veiled when you were in America?

BAYAT: Yes. Yes. You have problem with me, no?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, I might not have a problem with you, but Americans, certainly, when they see a woman dressed completely like this, they say, well, clearly, women don't have rights.

What rights do women have under the Islamic Republic of Iran?

BAYAT (through translator): Every right. A woman needs to lead a good life, in her job, her home life, her education. In fact, 65 percent of all university students are women.

AMANPOUR: You say that, under the Islamic Republic, women have all the rights they want. And, yet, in court, a girl, who is accused of adultery, whether she's been raped or whatever, can get stoned to death.

BAYAT (through translator): You always pick on isolated cases and blow them out of proportion. We probably have less rapes of minors here than anywhere in the world. But stoning for adultery is part of Islamic law.

AMANPOUR: I can't imagine any religion that would say it's all right to stone a young girl to death, no matter what she's done.

BAYAT (through translator): We have only had three to four cases of stoning in the past 28 years.

AMANPOUR: Do you not think it's violent to stone a woman to death?

BAYAT (through translator): If Islamic law mandates a specific punishment to stamp out a specific vice, I will defend it, even if the whole world is against it. Understand?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But, recently, Iran's highest court exonerated religious vigilantes who had killed five people in the name of moral purity, including one couple just for walking together in public.

KAREN ARMSTRONG, RELIGIOUS HISTORIAN: It's important to say that none of the great world religions has been good for women, not a single one of them.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Religious historian Karen Armstrong says that Islam's Prophet Mohammed was actually ahead of his time when it came to women.

ARMSTRONG: The Koran gives women rights of inheritance and divorce that Western women would not receive until the 19th century. There is nothing in the Koran about all women having to be veiled or secluded in a certain part of the house. That came in later.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): In 2003, lawyer Shirin Ebadi won a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting to restore the rights of Iranian women. She had been Iran's first female judge. But, when the ayatollahs came to power, they tossed her off the bench.

SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER (through translator): I have been a judge and a lawyer for 35 years. I teach law at university and I won the Nobel Peace Prize. But the court here will not admit my testimony unless it's backed by another woman. But the man who cleans my office can testify on his own, even though he's illiterate.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): That's because here in Islamic court a woman's testimony, and even her life, are worth exactly half that of a man's.

AMANPOUR: Is there a pushback of the limited rights that women have?

EBADI (through translator): Yes, of course. Sixty-five percent of our university students are girls. But now officials want to reduce that to 50 percent. It's a regressive step.

AMANPOUR: In a fundamentalist society, can there be women's rights?

EBADI (through translator): Women and men can enjoy equal rights only with a modern interpretation of Islam. Fundamentalism promotes a male- dominated culture.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And this is the product of that culture, the numbing reality of a woman's everyday life, according to Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian.

AMANPOUR: What are you trying to say with this? What's the message? To me, it looks like women have a boring life; all they do is make tea, iron clothes, brush the floor and cook.

SHADI GHADIRIAN, IRANIAN PHOTOGRAPHER: You know, it's somehow an objection, and that's to the women that always, they repeat these things every day and they don't think about it. They are like a machine.

AMANPOUR: They are like machines.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Shadi Ghadirian has grown up in Iran. She knows the intricate art of self-censorship.

AMANPOUR: How do you censor yourself?

GHADIRIAN: For example, my women in my photos should have veil in my photos, like our cinema. If you notice, women, when they want to go to bed, they have also veil, you know?

(CROSSTALK)

GHADIRIAN: Because we know that, if we want to show our photos, we should do these things.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Because, if they don't, government censors will do it for them. AMANPOUR: This is how it appears --

(CROSSTALK)

GHADIRIAN: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: -- in the books at the university?

GHADIRIAN: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR: Classic pictures of art that are censored?

GHADIRIAN: And imagine we have studied art.

(LAUGHTER)

AMANPOUR: Is the biggest problem for women like you the veil?

GHADIRIAN: No. I have many, many more serious problems. I think it's for our Islamic laws.

AMANPOUR: So, the laws are the big problem?

GHADIRIAN: Yes. Yes.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Something even conservative parliamentarian Rafat Bayat discovered when she tried to run for Iran's highest political office.

AMANPOUR: Ms. Bayat, you put your name forward to be a candidate for president. What was the answer?

BAYAT (through translator): I was told that I didn't have enough executive experience. But there was another thorny issue, the ambiguous wording in our constitution that currently says only important men of politics can become president.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): The clerics blocked her candidacy. But she wants to change the law.

AMANPOUR: Can Iran have a woman president?

BAYAT: I think. I hope.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Women keep pushing the boundaries here. But now President Ahmadinejad's enforcers are trying to stop them. In a new Tehran-style spring cleaning, thousands of women have been detained for dressing un-Islamically, like this woman, screaming as she's pushed into a police car, according to the bystander who captured it on his cell phone.

Many women in Iran are refusing to go quietly.

GHADIRIAN (through translator): If they try to turn the clock back, they will set off an explosion.

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AMANPOUR: Welcome back to our encore presentation of "God's Warriors." Tonight we bring you reports on God's Christian warriors, joining hands with God's Jewish warriors to practice their own religious foreign policy.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): Welcome to Texas where horses, cattle and cowboy hats are a way of life, and probably not the first place you'd expect to see this.

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AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is a night to honor Israel, Texas style.

But here's where it gets even more unusual. The people sponsoring this affair are evangelical Christians. The man in charge, Pastor John Hagee, a Christian warrior for Israel.

JOHN HAGEE, EVANGELICAL PREACHER: Send a message to America, send a message to the enemies of Israel, send a message to the people of Israel. Israel, you are not alone.

(APPLAUSE)

HAGEE: I believe that the Bible, the Torah, is the truth. I believe there's the Torah way and the wrong way.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And the right way. says Hagee. is to protect and defend Israel at all costs.

Hagee is a Zionist, a Christian Zionist.

HAGEE: A Christian Zionist is someone who believes that the Bible supports Israel. God begins in the foreign policy statement of Israel in Genesis 12:3, saying, "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you."

AMANPOUR: You said God's foreign policy statement?

HAGEE: Yes.

AMANPOUR: God has foreign policy statements?

HAGEE: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: And his is pro-Israel?

HAGEE: Concerning the Jewish people, that's his foreign policy statement.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hagee's devotion to Israel began in 1978, when he first visited the Jewish state.

HAGEE: While I was praying at the western wall, I turned and saw a Jewish man. He had a prayer shawl, reading the Bible, rocking back and forth, and I just felt that that man is my spiritual brother.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hagee tried to re-create the experience in his own church in San Antonio, Texas.

HAGEE: Put your hands together.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Where his evangelical congregation numbers nearly 20,000.

HAGEE: I saw Yitzhak Rabin. I met with him in Houston.

AMANPOUR: A great man.

HAGEE: He was a great man.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): There is a hallway lined with pictures of Israeli prime ministers. And outside, Hagee's masterpiece, a replica of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.

AMANPOUR: Now Pastor, what is going on here? We're in a Christian conservative church and it looks like a little bit of Israel?

HAGEE: We sent to Israel and got all of these stones and put them in place here so that they could have this opportunity of praying at the wall as close as we could replicate it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): But this is more than just a tribute to the Jewish faith. If Israel is at the heart of God's foreign policy, Hagee wants to make sure it shapes America's foreign policy, too.

HAGEE: There are voices in the State Department calling for the city of Jerusalem to be divided, to make way for a Palestinian capital. Let us make this clear, there shall be one Jerusalem that shall never be divided, not now and not ever.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): He's got his own pro-Israel lobbying group. Their recent meeting in Washington included a written greeting from President Bush.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Thank you.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): And it drew people like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senators Lieberman and McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If we fail in Israel, where will we succeed?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hagee's group also went to Capitol Hill, telling members of Congress of their strong support for Israel. Their visit last year coincided with fighting between Israel and Lebanon. They made it clear what they expected America to do.

HAGEE: We asked them to give Israel the opportunity to respond to those people that had attacked them, not to send someone from the State Department over there to get the war stopped.

AMANPOUR: So you were pro that war?

HAGEE: We are never pro-war. We are for Israel having the opportunity to respond to those that attack them.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Israel can do no wrong in Hagee's eyes, and he's identified his enemy. Hagee sees Iran and its defiant president as a threat to both the U.S. and Israel.

HAGEE: He is threatening to wipe Israel off the map. He has said that he can see a day when there will not be a United States of America. He's racing to obtain nuclear weapons and if he obtains them, it will be the western world's worst nightmare.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): This is how Hagee thinks Iran's nuclear ambitions should be thwarted.

HAGEE: Well, I think America should do everything in its power to make sure that he never gets nuclear weapons, whatever that takes. If they cannot do it through diplomacy, then I think there needs to be a military preemptive strike to deny them nuclear capability.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Fighting words for a man of the cloth, but this pastor thinks war is part of God's plan.

In his recent book, "Jerusalem Countdown," which has sold more than a million copies, Hagee mixes Biblical prophecy and current events and outlines a violent showdown for the end of days.

In his scenario, Russia and its Arab allies invade Israel. The antichrist appears as the head of the European Union. Armies mass and there's 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.

HAGEE: You have not read --

AMANPOUR (voice-over): It's a controversial theological stance, and critics accuse Hagee of supporting Israel and favoring war with Iran to hasten the Second Coming.

HAGEE: I can make it very clear for you. Our support of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with end times prophecy.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Some Jews have also been wary of Christian support for Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you stand for the reading of the word of God?

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Since many believe Jews must accept Christ in order to be saved.

HAGEE: The one thing that Jews and Christians disagree about is who the Messiah is.

He is the sovereign God.

We just have to agree to disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shalom!

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Hagee does not try to convert Jews, but he's confident that when Jesus does return, the Jewish people will also recognize and accept him as their Messiah.

HAGEE: And as I tell the Orthodox rabbi friend here in San Antonio that, when we're both standing in the streets of Jerusalem and Messiah is coming down the road, one of us has a big theological adjustment to make. But in --

(CROSSTALK)

AMANPOUR: Which of you is going to make the adjustment?

HAGEE: Oh, I think he is, of course, and of course he thinks I am. So it's going to be an exciting day.

The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): For now, Hagee's battle is political, rallying evangelical Americans for Israel.

HAGEE: Let it echo down the marble halls of the presidential palace in Iran. Israel lives. Israel lives. Israel lives.

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AMANPOUR: And a final note, tomorrow we'll revisit God's Muslim warriors, and we'll hear from an Iranian mother who willingly sacrificed her son to defend the Islamic republic.

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AMIR FAKHAR (through translator): This is my son Abbas (ph) and this is Ali (ph).

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Amir's two little boys are named after his two brothers, who were killed in the war with Iraq, dying to defend their country.

More than 20 years later, his mother doesn't regret the family's sacrifice.

AMANPOUR: Kobra, you're a mother and you sent your 13-year-old son to the front. You lost already two sons. How could you have done that?

KOBRA FAKHAR (through translator): I never wept for my sons when they went to war. In fact, I was happy. I would have been angry if they had refused to go.

AMANPOUR: Is religion that important in your life?

K. FAKHAR (through translator): During the Ashura war, one of the Imam Hussein's disciples was decapitated and his head was thrown at his mother. But she flung it back defiantly, saying, "Whatever I give to God, I don't want back."

That's how important Islam is for us.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): From the Holy City of Qom, a grand ayatollah tells us that martyrdom for your faith should never be confused with suicide terrorism.

AMANPOUR: The Western world, when they think of Muslims, they think of terrorists.

So what is your answer to those people who say that they are God's warriors, that they're God's soldiers, that they kill in the name of God?

GRAND AYATOLLAH SAANEI, Iran (through translator): I've always said that terrorists should go to Hell, and that is our belief. But if the enemy attacks us, we have the right to defend ourselves in any possible way.

AMANPOUR: Here we are.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Which is what Davoud Abdolhadi did. Like his friend, Amir, he was also a teen, defending his country.

AMANPOUR: Do you really wish that you could have been martyred?

DAVOUD ABDOLHADI (through translator): Yes, martyrdom was my biggest wish. But for me, it just wasn't meant to be.

AMANPOUR: Everybody understands that if your country is attacked, you will defend it. But what I think many people don't understand is this love of martyrdom that exists in Islam and particularly in Shiism. Why is it so important to die?

ABDOLHADI (through translator): We love martyrdom because it leads us to heaven and because we will be helped on the Day of Judgment.

AMANPOUR: Are you ready to fight again if you have to?

ABDOLHADI: The true believers are still here. We don't ask for war. But if an enemy attacks even an inch of our territory, all Iranians, from children to old men, are ready to fight.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Tonight Davoud sings in honor of Imam Hussein's martyrdom.

ABDOLHADI (through translator): When we beat our chests, we feel light. We share the sufferings of Imam Hussein and we tell the world that he is our master.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: And that's our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.

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