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My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose
September 15th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Editor's Note: Brian D. McLaren  is author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group). 

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.

At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents."  Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

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Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned.  John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

Ambassador's killing shines light on Muslim sensitivities around Prophet Mohammed

Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.

It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.

Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

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Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.

To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”

The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian D. McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • My Take • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. Karen

    Islamaphobia? not for this evangelical Christian...I actually pray for them. If there is any type of anti religious wave in America it is Atheism vs. every type of religion/belief. For every believer, and non-believer out there, read Psalms and Ezekiel...this is spoken about in prophecy. One Israel strikes, and Iran retaliates, look out...then there maybe a few more believers out there. Also, the Bible tells us to love one another, even our enemies, the Quran tells the Islams to not befriend Jews or Christians...several times. Now which is the more peaceful religion? Do you see Islamic missionaries going out to various orphanages, helping to build villages, without their M-16 machine guns in hands, killing families? No.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Joel

      Yes, I have read the Korean cover-to-cover. The Koran commands Muslims not to befriend non-Muslims, and not to let them into their houses.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Horus

      Why would you think non-believers care what the bible says?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
  2. Mom

    If you kids can't play nicely with your imaginary super-heroes, we are going to have to put them ALL up on the shelf before you burn down the house.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  3. Joel

    If I approached life the same way that thousands of Muslims do, I would say, "Hey look, some Muslims are burning the American flag. That is offensive to me. I think I'll go riot, kill a foreign ambassador and whatever other Muslims I can get my hands on, break everything owned by a Muslim that I can find, . . . "

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  4. furianxo

    people are afraid because the extremist chop peoples head off.... you dont see that with Christians.... not modern Christians. If Muslims want to get rid of the bad rap, then they need to put a leash on their dogs (the bad people). it is their responsibility to put an end to this.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  5. Name*Ray

    You can't serve God and fear? Fear seems to be the number one reason for serving God.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
  6. jeery

    Its amazing how many people are saying "Islam" flew the planes into the towers. Or "Islam" did this and that. Did "christianity" kill those 77 innocent people in norway? Nope. Brevik did. Did "christianity" cause the oklahoma city bombing? Theres so many people in this world who slam a religion they know absolutely nothing about. Oh and when they do want to learn about "Islam" they chose to believe what is false over what is true to feed on the hate and fear of their own minds.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • mike

      Jeery, you just don't get it

      Christians didn't fly planes into occupied buildings, Jews didn't blow up Pizza restaurants, Hindus didn't blow up hotels and a Chabad Center in Mumbai. When more people start to realize that there is ONLY ONE RELIGION that dictates to their adherents to KILL THE UNBELIEVERS, we will get nowhere on this issue.

      We have to stop the silly Political Correctness that is killing us.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Timber

      Well, since neither Breivik nor McVeigh themselves claimed to be christians, and certainly didn't behave like one, since all 19 9/11 Hijackers were practicing Muslims, and since Islam explicitly commands its followers to kill unbelievers, and Christanity explicitly forbids it, I'm not quite sure what your point may be.....

      September 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm |
    • sjenner

      All very fair points. It's what happens when you fail to recognize people as individuals, and instead build straw man constructs to lump all "others" into. Ultimately, it's a way to avoid dealing with the real issues at hand. After all, if it's religion motivating the current mess in the Islamic Middle East, then what can you do except battle and convert them? But what if it's not all about some self-justifying epic of a Holy God versus the spawn of the Devil? What if religion, for political and historic reasons, has simply been the favored manner of expression in the Islamic Middle East for what are decades of building social grievances and injustices? (Although far more peaceful and positive, the Catholic Faith played a similar role in helping topple Communism in Poland and in structuring a response and opposition to totalitarianism.) Of course, acknowledging the reality is in fact not predominantly religious would require a more open minded, nuanced and complex analysis, something many people simply don't like doing. Rejecting the demagoguery and focusing more intently on the real issues underlying the shifting ground and violence in the Islamic Middle East can derive meaningful solutions. The other method merely plays to the radical Islamists' desire to cast the world in extremes. There's nothing to be gained by dancing to their tune.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:36 pm |
    • sjenner

      mike and Timber, you paint with far too broad a brush. McVeigh did regard himself as an Aryan Christian. If you look at White Power extremism, you'll see it's all tightly bound up with a harshly mutated form of Christianity. You also ignore Jones Town, the Branch Davidians, and other cultist forms of Christianity which have killed people and will continue to do so. The argument, therefore, is simply that Christian violence is less well organized, and thus less effective, than radicalized Islamic violence–a point I would agree with. But Islam doesn't demand extremism, no more than Christianity does. Look up, for example, "Sufism," which is one of the largest, trans-denominational forms of Islamic religious practice–and indeed has historically been dominant. The problems experienced with Islam from the Western perspective arise from Islamic Middle East, and are attributable to confluence of the harsh realities created by ruling classes who have brutally oppressed and impoverished their subject peoples for decades–as a result of necessities of Cold War politics, often times with the tacit approval of Western governments who were generally left with few choices as to allies. This accords blame to none, but affords a basis for viewing the radicalization besetting the Islamic Middle East through a more constructive lens.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
    • Timber

      Sjenner....I didn't ignore any of those things, because Jeery didn't bring them up. I was specifically and only answering his point.

      And "Aryan Christianity" isn't recognized by anyone as a legitimate form of christianity. After all...I can call myself a toaster if I want, but if I have none of the characteristics of a toaster, and do none of the things that define a toaster, and, in fact, do things that are in opposition to what defines a toaster....am I really a toaster? So all those people who call themselves "christians", but act contrary to what christianity commands, are they really "christians"...? The answer, of course, is no.

      "Christian violence is less organized." You say that as if christian violence and islamic violence are just two sides of the same coin of relligious violence. But as I said, those who commit violence in "the name" of christianity are acting in OPPOSITION to that which they claim to believe. Those who commit violence in the name of islam are acting IN CONCERT with that which they claim to believe.

      That's the fundamental, bottom line difference, and why all comparisons between so-called "christian violence" and islamic violence fail.

      September 17, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
  7. James

    First of all, there is NO verses in the Bible that encourages followers of Christ to kill anyone or to hate anyone. Christians are instructed to love unconditionally. People that know nothing about the Bible are always the first to pass judgement and publish misinformation and btw, it makes you sound very ignorant. Do your research before forming an opinion or publishing a story. Do research on the story of Abraham and his two sons Isaac and Ishmael and why there is unrest between Muslims and Christians. I think the verses below from the Koran sum it all up.

    Qur’an 4:91- If the unbelievers do not offer you peace, kill them wherever you find them. Against such you are given clear warrant.
    . Qur’an 9:7-9-Don’t make treaties with non-Muslims. They are all evildoers and should not be trusted.
    . Qur’an 9:5 Kill the nonbelievers wherever you find them.
    Qur’an 2:191-2-Kill disbelievers wherever you find them. If they attack you, then kill them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
    Qur’an (5:51) – ”O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.”
    Qur’an (2:65-66) Christians and Jews must believe what Allah has revealed to Muhammad or Allah will disfigure their faces or turn them into apes, as he did the Sabbath-breakers.
    Qur’an (5:51) Don’t take Jews or Christians for friends. If you do, then Allah will consider you to be one of them.
    Qur’an (5:80) – “You will see many of them befriending those who disbelieve; certainly evil is that which their souls have sent before for them, that Allah became displeased with them and in chastisement shall they abide.” Those Muslims who befriend unbelievers will abide in hell.
    Qur’an (3:85) – ”And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.”
    . Qur’an 9:6-Those who submit and convert to Islam will be treated well. (Those who don’t submit will be killed. See previous verse.)
    Qur’an 5:53 Jews and Christians are losers.
    Qur’an 5:59 Jews and Christians are evil-livers.
    Qur’an 5:63 Evil is the handiwork of the rabbis and priests.
    Qur’an 5:72 Christians will be burned in the Fire

    September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • James

      Sorry for the grammatical errors. Rushing

      September 17, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Don Quixote

      This is shameless.. Absolute lies and deceitful propaganda.

      Is this the Quran you drummed up yourself in your basement?

      September 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • jeery

      Oh ya? You act so innocent...

      I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But the enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence. Luke 19:26-27.

      Deuteronomy 17
      If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant; 17:3 And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; 17:4 And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel; 17:5 Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • ME II

      12 And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul;
      13 That whosoever would not seek the Lord God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.
      (2 Chron 15)

      September 17, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
    • Timber

      Psssst...Me II...2 Chron 15? I know context is meaningless to some, but that passage refers to HEBREWS and HEBREWS ONLY. The HEBREW PEOPLE swore that any HEBREWS who would not seek God would be put to death. HEBREWS ONLY. It has NOTHING to do whatsoever with ANYONE but the ISREALITES, as is made clear in the chapter, when the people of JUDAH and BENJAMIN and EPHRAIM and MANASSAH and SIMEON...all HEBREWS.

      But nice try.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm |
    • Timber

      Context, context, context. Context matters, people. Jeery...that passage in Luke 19? That's a PARABLE. That means it is a STORY used to make a POINT. "Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them" is NOT a parable. It is a COMMAND.

      And Leviticus? That has to do with evil AMONGST THE ISREALITES. Not "non-believers."

      Context matters, people.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Timber

    "Quran (8:12) – "I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them" "

    This is one of dozens of verses that have no temporal context (as opposed to, say, the Lord ordering Saul to specifically destroy the Amalekites completely in 1st Samuel 15...seen any Amalekites lately...?), and applies to each and every person who "disbelieves", now and forever. This is not "Islamophpbia." This is calling a "religion" of death, destruction, and violence for what it is.

    The PEOPLE in Islam are deceived by this cult of death, and absolutely need to be treated as Messiah would treat them, but that doesn't mean that Islam itself not a cult of death, and should not be revealed as such.

    .

    September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Michael

      Thanks for taking words out of context, Good job proving McLaren's point!

      September 17, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • Timber

      Sorry, Michael, but that's entirely in context. Saying something is "out of context" doesn't make it so. You need to explain why...but you cannot, because it's in context, sadly.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  9. Chad

    McLaren, This article should be about the real issue of democracy and freedom of speech. Instead you've wrapped that point in a message of Christians have a phobia of Islam. Offensive faith based videos, websites, books, etc are produced daily around the world that have the potential to anger those who's faiths are made fun of but this one got the attention and has fueld ignorant protests. I do believe that most of the protestors do not understand the concept of democracy and freedom of speech and I doubt that more than 10% of them have seen the video. The governments of these protesting countries know that this is not a US government sponsored video snd should be educating their citizens on that. I think Mohammed AE said it best in is comments to this blog. It is a small minority but thanks to the attention from the Media it is embelished as a movement and more people want to get on board.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Don Quixote

      I think people mistake Freedom of Speech as the right to just say anything.

      We need to be sensitive to other people beliefs and faith. If someone denies the Jewish Holocast, he can be labelled as Anti-Semite and there are laws in some countries where you can be jailed for that.

      How is spreading hateful speech against a particular religious denomination any better or different than that?
      Let us stop this stupidity. Lets not be hateful and provoke intolerance. If the civilised nations of the world dont do anything, we are not better than these extremists.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Timber

      Hate speech...?

      Islam itself is hate speech. I'm sorry...truly...if that statement offends some, but that doesn't change the fact that Islam is hate speech. Islam is hate speech against any and all...including certain segments of Islam by certain OTHER segments of Islam...who disagree with what islam teaches.

      There's no getting around that. None. Read the Qu'ran, read the Hadith. It's not possible to understand Islam and not call it hate speech against any who disagree. If people want to believe it, they should be free to believe it...but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be called what it is.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  10. Debbie B.

    Wow. How many times do we have to get attacked in the name of ALLAH before you stop shuttling the blame to Christians? American values of free speech and freedom of religion run COUNTER to Islam. There is no amount of spin that will change that fact. How many Christian churches are there in Saudi Arabia? How many Coptic Christians have been killed in Egypt? And you want to call Christians Islamaphobes?

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  11. Plowboy

    Observing Muslims who act on their faith (aka terrorists) is the origin of my Islamaphobia

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Debbie B.

      Absolutely! Like the saying goes "if it walks like a duck....."

      September 17, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  12. Caddolakeguy

    Islamophobia, really? How about Islamorealism. Who flies airplanes into buildings, uses suicide bombers to kill innocents, kills their own daughters (honor killings) and that's after mutilating their genitals, absolutely denies freedom of religion to anyone else, etc. The list goes on and on. Islamophobia? Pull your head out of your azs.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  13. Robert

    No surprises here. Brian blames Christians for the murder of our ambassador.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  14. Chris B.

    I wouldn't fear them if they, as a group, weren't statistically more likely to blow me up because I won't convert. When Baptists start blowing up buses of tourists and embassies, get back to me.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  15. Frank

    Brian D. McLaren is a complete moron... I am friends with Muslims and yes ALL of islam is against christianity... What a moron... Talk to some muslims and learn the truth, Idiot...

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • chip

      You see from these comments, this is the stupidness and idiotic thought process the reason we can't find a common ground when it comes to building a peaceful world, whether it's getting to understand a person's race, religion or creed. Now just every comment I read here was either a lie or some dumb crap you pulled out of your butt. There are good and bad people in every religion and race. It's all due to ignorance, like what you display. None of you probably truly know a Muslim, and if you did you more than likely formulated your opinion before you knew him/her which makes you actually wanting to know them impossible. Not to long ago the KKK killed black people in the name of Christianity! But I would not go around thinking everybody white is the Klan and should go around seeking revenge. The are alot people whom use religion as a means to do bad things and they tend to teach people who don't know no better and can't educate themselves the correct way. And you get some people not all reacting in such away. Educate your damn selves before write something dumb like this.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  16. Steven Gaynor

    This is exactly why our founding fathers (wisely) chose to start a secular nation. Let all religions (or those without one) live here in peace and do not pass laws based on religious views.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  17. Don Quixote

    http://www.arabnews.com/saudi-arabia/grand-mufti-denounces-violence-against-embassies

    People complain Muslims dont do enough.

    Maybe you need to look closely. It is just not covered by media here in the USA. Peaceful people in these countries are suffering too. Nobody likes bloodshed and violence. All human beings want security and peace for themselves and their families.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Timber

      "All human beings want security and peace for themselves and their families"...they do? How do you explain someone who murders his entire family? He's a human being, isn't he? Does that man magically become "not a human being"...? Oh, sure, he may metaphorically be a "monster"...but he is still physically a human being, so clearly not ALL human beings want security and peace for themselves and their families...and that's just one example.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  18. hawaiiguest

    History and current events show us what happens when theocracies are embraced. Makes me glad I live in a secular country.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
  19. SelmaM

    Interesting how religions say GOD is almighty, omnipotent and awesome, full of love and forgiving.
    Funny how the religious treat others like those attributes of GOD applies ONLY to them.

    God ONLY LOVES ME!

    September 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mike

      Read and understand the bible then have an opinion that is worthy.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Reese

      i agree, n thats why alot of ppl shy away frm God. Religious ppl hold their heads up to God to turn their noses up at everybody else. Thats why its better to not be apart of religion, but to simply have a RELATIONSHIP w/ our creator...whomever that maybe.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Chris

      Ironic comments to a story in defense of Islam, attacking Christianity...

      September 17, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • Reese

      Well Selma, i have read the entire bible and do understand and your opinion is more than worthy its true and valuable, and christians like Mike need to get their head out of their behinds and do what Jesus would do...Jesus condemn, cursed, and was extremely angry at religious folk...heck it was the Pharisees and Scribes the crucified him and tried to murder him repeatedly before...their goes religion and religious ppl for you...God is easy to recognize, God is love...nothing more nothing less

      September 17, 2012 at 3:28 pm |
  20. reader10

    As far as I know Muslims kill their own daughters for honour.

    September 17, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • American

      CLEARLY your profoundly limited view prevents you from knowing anything. You have a choice to educate yourself on the truth of 'honor' killings, which are a result of culture and tradition, NOT religion. Islam strictly forbids honor killings. If you were genuinely concerned about this barbaric practice, why didn't you research (seeking authentic Islamic scholars) the truth? If you continue to choose to keep your mind and eyes closed and not educate yourself, then you are responsible for promoting your own ignorant hate and contributing to any harm that results.

      September 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.