God's Warriors

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9 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, Aug. 21-23
CNN


While one can quibble about the title -- and I do -- there is much to learn from and to be said about Christiane Amanpour's three-part series on the (choose one) ultraorthodox, fanatic or fundamentalist segments of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Each of the three episodes of "God's Warriors" is filled with interviews with leaders and followers and critics. Each shows how these super-faithful have adapted their lives to reflect their beliefs that they alone understand the will of God.

Whether or not what they say and do makes sense to you, they wield a certain degree of power, and they covet more. Their influence goes beyond the making of war and peace in the Middle East. In Europe, Muslims are reshaping cultural conventions. In the U.S., the Christian right has held sway over the presidency and now, perhaps, the Supreme Court.

If you watch all three episodes -- which vary in length -- you will see an impressive number of parallels among the true believers of the three faiths. These comparisons are what Amanpour does best.

In introductory remarks each night, she points out that the extremists are aghast at materialism and secular culture. They see tolerance as weakness. They do not question or doubt. They want their religious beliefs to be the law that governs everyone. More similarities reveal themselves, especially in the rhetoric of their leaders.

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? Are they, in fact, God's warriors, or are they more like God's missionaries?

Jews and Christians in this series are zealous but overwhelmingly condemn violence. Often, ultraorthodox Jews get reined in by the Israeli government, as when settlers were removed from Gaza. Their philosophy is not embraced by most Jews. Fundamentalist Christians also favor ballots over bullets, though they perhaps enjoy wider support among their co-religionists.

Of Muslims, Amanpour says, there is only a "small minority who resorts to violence." Yet, as she points out, they enjoy the support of many others. A Pew poll finds that 26% of Muslims think suicide bombings can be justified, and that's just among Muslims in the U.S. Unlike Jews and Christians, extreme Muslims believe that heaven is assured by killing innocents who believe differently. Some governments suppress them, others have been overtaken by them, and still others turn a blind eye. This is a distinction with a difference.

The documentary's title implies a physical struggle on behalf of ideology, even violence. As the program shows, even the most fervent Jews and Christians reject terrorism. Exceptions are so rare that they prove the rule. That's not the case with extreme Muslims, as daily headlines can attest. Better to have called this "God's Messengers" or "God's Advocates," though neither is as catchy as the title used.

GOD'S WARRIORS
CNN
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Credits:
Senior producers: Andy Segal, Michael Mocklar, Kenn Shiffman
Producers: Brian Rokus, Jen Christensen, Julie O'Neill
Producer-editor: Cliff Hackel
Managing editor: Kathy Slobogin
Host: Christiane Amanpour
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