August 13th, 2010
10:10 PM ET

Transcript: President Obama at White House Iftar Dinner



State Dining Room

Good evening, everybody. Welcome. Please, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. To you, to Muslim Americans across our country, and to more than one billion Muslims around the world, I extend my best wishes on this holy month. Ramadan Kareem.

I want to welcome members of the diplomatic corps; members of my administration; and members of Congress, including Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Andre Carson, who is one of two Muslim American members of Congress, along with Keith Ellison. So welcome, all of you.

Here at the White House, we have a tradition of hosting iftars that goes back several years, just as we host Christmas parties and seders and Diwali celebrations. And these events celebrate the role of faith in the lives of the American people. They remind us of the basic truth that we are all children of God, and we all draw strength and a sense of purpose from our beliefs.

These events are also an affirmation of who we are as Americans. Our Founders understood that the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of our people was to protect their freedom to practice religion. In the Virginia Act of Establishing Religion Freedom, Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.” The First Amendment of our Constitution established the freedom of religion as the law of the land. And that right has been upheld ever since.

Indeed, over the course of our history, religion has flourished within our borders precisely because Americans have had the right to worship as they choose -– including the right to believe in no religion at all. And it is a testament to the wisdom of our Founders that America remains deeply religious -– a nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in stark contrast to the religious conflict that persists elsewhere around the globe.

Now, that's not to say that religion is without controversy. Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities -– particularly New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. (Applause.) And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

We must never forget those who we lost so tragically on 9/11, and we must always honor those who led the response to that attack -– from the firefighters who charged up smoke-filled staircases, to our troops who are serving in Afghanistan today. And let us also remember who we’re fighting against, and what we’re fighting for. Our enemies respect no religious freedom. Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam -– it’s a gross distortion of Islam. These are not religious leaders -– they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children. In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion -– and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.

So that's who we’re fighting against. And the reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms -– it is the strength of our values. The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish. The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status. Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus —- and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth. And that diversity can bring difficult debates. This is not unique to our time. Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches. But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it. So it must be -– and will be -– today.

And tonight, we are reminded that Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity. And Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been a part of America. The first Muslim ambassador to the United States, from Tunisia, was hosted by President Jefferson, who arranged a sunset dinner for his guest because it was Ramadan —- making it the first known iftar at the White House, more than 200 years ago. (Applause.)

Like so many other immigrants, generations of Muslims came to forge their future here. They became farmers and merchants, worked in mills and factories. They helped lay the railroads. They helped to build America. They founded the first Islamic center in New York City in the 1890s. They built America’s first mosque on the prairie of North Dakota. And perhaps the oldest surviving mosque in America —- still in use today —- is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Today, our nation is strengthened by millions of Muslim Americans. They excel in every walk of life. Muslim American communities —- including mosques in all 50 states —- also serve their neighbors. Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders. Muslim American clerics have spoken out against terror and extremism, reaffirming that Islam teaches that one must save human life, not take it. And Muslim Americans serve with honor in our military. At next week’s iftar at the Pentagon, tribute will be paid to three soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq and now rest among the heroes of Arlington National Cemetery.

These Muslim Americans died for the security that we depend on, and the freedoms that we cherish. They are part of an unbroken line of Americans that stretches back to our founding; Americans of all faiths who have served and sacrificed to extend the promise of America to new generations, and to ensure that what is exceptional about America is protected -– our commitment to stay true to our core values, and our ability slowly but surely to perfect our union.

For in the end, we remain “one nation, under God, indivisible.” And we can only achieve “liberty and justice for all” if we live by that one rule at the heart of every great religion, including Islam —- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

So thank you all for being here. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. And with that, let us eat. (Applause.)

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Barack Obama • Muslim • Politics • Religious liberty

soundoff (135 Responses)
  1. Frank Rizzo

    Well, if were going to attack the whole religion of Islam due to a few wing-nuts hijacking their religion then let's hijack Catholicism as well since a few wing-nuts abuse chidden around the World, this is non-sense. Islam is a great religion with great People who have earned their moment is History, You and I both know there are bad apple in every religion, don't feed into the hype Muslims like their Jewish, and Christian cousins are among some of the greatest Hero's in the World.

    I support the POTUS why because I'm an American and I love my Nation and all its People not matter what your religious faith is, why because why the call go out to defend our Nation All Americans regardless of faith will defend her.

    August 14, 2010 at 3:12 pm |


      August 14, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
    • Bush

      Why is there no like button here? *Press like button*

      August 14, 2010 at 6:03 pm |
  2. concerned one

    Well,,, can build a mosque anywhere...however if the terrorists succeeded in hitting America in the gut in 9/11 a few blocks from this proposed mosque here they have hit America again in the gut, This time from the inside. I think this is far more dangerous than the first attack. The nation will rot from the inside...the fish starts to rot from its head...
    ..While all those who have lost their loved ones/legs or limbs will always look at ground zero with sorrow the islamic terrorist who caused 9/11 to happen will have twice the reason to rejoice – they will look at ground zero and say hey look this is what we have done to you! And they will look at the mosque and say this is what now your president has allowed us to do !! Last time they made a mark in our land without our permission – this time with our permission – wiht our presidents permission..... Obama seems to be more concerned about what the muslims would think than what the real Americans would think.....If Islam had been curtailed during hte middle ages it wouldnt have spread to Europe...we take a very permissive soft stance towards them...but they abise those things....Is this the begining of America becoming a muslim nation????

    Ok if you build a mosque then they will put loud speakers and call all the muslims in the neighbourhood for prayers 5 times a day...they will cause trafic and there is no talking with these muslims....last year Christmas was on a Friday...some of our children were firing crackers on the road when a passing muslim said – dont put crackers this is Friday...Christmas comes once a year,,,friday comes every week..they dont have religous tolerance...

    If you take this path very soon Christ would be replaced by Mohamed and God would be replaced by Allah....

    August 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  3. Joseph

    We have a unity of all kinds of people, but the greatest devisions in this world. As a child of the father in the the body of Christ ( not religion)( which was created by disagreements to begin with) what one chooses to say from the tongue can be dangerous. If speak to something that is Biblically troubling. God will deal with you bottom line. To ge against the grain of the majority in this nation will surly bring kaos to a falling land and yes it is falling. If you have seeking him, youknow by. Any nation that is disobedient to the word of God shall not stand, and any nation devided against shall fall.

    .Romans 16:17
    I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
    Romans 16:16-18

    August 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Joseph

      To entertain things outside of the will of God will shurly bring forth her distruction, but I say:"Thust only in the Lord your God for he will sustain you. Let the foolishness of hte wicked be their demise. Pray for leaders for they know not what they do.

      James 3
      Taming the Tongue v5 say: Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

      Gos bless all that seek him and I pray for the ones who don't. We do have choices, but soon he will decide your outcome for them to.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • DontDistort

      Where are you guys coming from? This place is crawling with brainwashed bible robots....ewwwww everyone be careful don't let it rub off on you. They'll brainwash you if they get a chance and take away your ability to reason with your own mind.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm |

      2To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;

      3To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity;

      4To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.

      5A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:

      6To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings.

      7The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

      8My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:

      9For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.

      10My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.

      11If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause:

      12Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit:

      13We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil:

      14Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:

      15My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path:

      16For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.

      17Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.

      18And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives.

      19So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.

      20Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:

      21She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying,

      22How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

      23Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.

      24Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;

      25But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:

      26I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh;

      27When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

      28Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me:

      29For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:

      30They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.

      31Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices.

      32For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.

      33But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil

      August 15, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  4. Freedom Lover

    (B)iraq Hussein Osama – you really show who you are by saying "dont' expect us Muslims to be sensitive to victims that you helped create and that cause our religion bad publicity to boot." Change the bad publicity by changing your attitude. Americans had nothing to do with the attack, and, yes, they have attacked innocent victims all over the globe. Where have you been? You are the one who yet, again, is providing "bad publicity" for Muslims. You do not know who I am, what I do. I support anyone who is a descent human being and respects other's rights, feelings, and freedom to live. Show us that your religion does also.

    August 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  5. KYfireman

    Since when does any politian have a say in religion? What happened to seperation of church and state? Is it only used conviently when Christian beliefs are the topic? Get that foreigner out of office before he totaly destroys the USA !!

    August 14, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      Don't think so Son, President Obama is here to stay, were gonna make sure get reelected for another Four more years, why Son, because he's the right Man for the Job.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  6. Freedom Lover

    Feedom comes with responsibility. The responsible and descent thing for someone who wants to build a Mosque to do would be to not do it in such a way that it steps on the feelings of all of those directly touched by the attack "in the name of Islam". Even though all Muslims are not the same, if they really cared to show this, they would not add insult to injury by demanding their rights to build a Mosque at Ground Zero. How about showing their sensitivity by providing help to build a memorial to the victims and buidling a Mosque further away and then really working to build a bridge of understanding? I am really disappointed in this President! He has shown over and over that he cares more about his radical agenda than bringing peace to all people. He has divided this country more than any other president and has shown not once that he listens to the Voice of America. You can support religious freedom and not hurt others in the process.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      some of us may argue that the United States itself is responsible for the death of the 9/11victims! So called islamic ter rorists were not on here blowing up buildings because Islam preaches so, did they blow up anything in Hong Kong, or Germany, France or Switzerland, not really. You reap what you so. Why should the so-called "moderate muslim" see their religion undermined because of actions and reactions of US mi litary machinations abroad. If you are so concerned about the sensitivity of the victims of the 9/11, you should stop supporting Is rael unilaterally and stop arming undemocratic regimes in the Middle East. Put your money where your mouth is. Don't expect us Muslims to be sensitive to victims that you helped create and that cause our religion bad publicity to boot.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      building a mosque is akin to building a US Foreign Policy institute next to the 9/11 site. Both are equally guilty if indeed you wish to blame Islam for 9/11. However, you won't hear a word if the Government showed up to build a shrine across from the 9/11 site to showcase its racist, pro-apartheid, pro-undemocratic policies abroad! how ironic!

      August 14, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Robert

      Dear (B)iraq Hussein Osama , How would you like to go hunting with a few of us Georgia boys? We could teach you religion.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm |



    August 14, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      also google fornication and AIDS!

      August 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Patricia

      This is not about religion. This is about 911 and where the mosque is going to be built. Build the mosque any where in the world but not on or near GROUND ZERO!

      August 14, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  8. Robert

    Lets see- raised to be a Muslim, religious teachings on hating America, bow to Muslim leaders and offend Christian leaders,and ( this is my favorite) pick the architect of the NYC mosque controversy to represent America , thru the prez, in countries that want us dead. Any of you liken the change?

    August 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • fares khader

      hi my brothers ,hi my sisters,in the whole world. (sorry i not speek english good)
      I like to give my opinion not because i am muslims ,i give my opinion because i like to have all peace in this world.
      islam he is name coming from salem mean peace in english . i will corect every one who think muslims are terrorism not true !
      there are some crazy people who are not real muslims they touched the picture of islam ,i am Algerian and we are muslims
      and we are btween the 1st countries we saffering from this crazy terrorist ,if terrorist are realy muslims ,can you kill the muslims too? no it not true ,this terrorist is not muslims and we must fighting them where they are .
      islam respect all religious,its religious of peace like all the religious,he is religious of liberty .
      so hand to hand to make peace in the whole world .we sorrow of all who is died in the whole world from this crazy terrorist . Mr president obama you must works to put peace in this whole world .god helped you ,thank's

      August 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  9. Robert

    The vast majority of you are absolutely right regarding freedom of religion. The evidence of our beliefs is quite apparent as evidenced by the number of Mosques in nyc. I personally believe that this particular structure is more of a symbol than it is a place of worship. Regardless of which religion you choose there is a common theme which is peace and love for our fellow man. The radicals that killed those people are diametrical opposed to true Muslim teaching and as such should be dealt with as harshly as their Sharia ( spelling?) law dictates for blasphemers. Instead they are protected and supported by some. This speaks to the relevance of their arguments. If muslims really believed in the teachings of Allah they would help us rid the world of this human waste.

    August 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      you claim that the te rrorists are "protected by some", you do realize that these "some" you are talking about are the allies of the United States! To whom you supply billions, and i literally mean billions and billions of dollars in weapons aid, weapons sales and advanced weapon systems. Make up your mind, if you do not like ter rorists then do not support their friends, and if you love their friends to the tune of billion dollar weapon selling, then put up with their ter rorists.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Robert

      I do not support arms sales to countries that support terrorism.
      I believe you misunderstood my message. The "some" I was speaking of are the overall Muslim population. They know who these terrorists are and with their help they could be removed as you would remove a stain on the rug.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
    • Freedom Lover

      I do not for a moment believe that they mean well by choosing to build a mosque there instead of somewhere else. If they were descent people they would care about those who lost their lives at Ground Zero enough to not do anything to tread on the feelings of their loved ones and all so tremendously hurt by what was done in the name of "their religion", whether they believe the same or not. How many Muslims have you seen open their mouth publicly against this "Holy War" or do anything to oppose it? They need to change that before the majority of Americans can feel they mean well.

      August 14, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  10. Logger

    Another great opportunity for "devirsity" would be for the Muslim leaders to embrace the building of the Jewish Temple along side the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem! What a moment that would be! Can the Islamic leader working to build this Mosque at ground zero also endorse the unopposed erection of the Jewish Temple in Israel? Just a thought.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      the difference of course is that Muslims in Jerusalem are under occupation and victims of apartheid by the people who govern Jerusalem. Here in America, they are supposedly equal rights citizens.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Logger

      "Osama" Isn't the greater notion tolerance, regardless of oppression. Shouldn't these Muslim religious leaders embrace the "diversity" that they are demanding! Just because they feel oppressed does that justify hatred. Our country has been attacked in a terrifying way. The argument for tolerance should apply equally to both sides of the discussion.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  11. Methusalem

    It is increasingly obvious that the time of our Lord's coming is drawing near. Prophecy is being fulfilled daily, and at a faster pace than ever before. Mosques are built everywhere is one of the symbolic signs.

    Most of humanity is deceived by Satan. Satan is alive and well in the mosques of today as he once was in the Catholic Church of the Inquisition and pogroms and the Lutheran Church of the Nazis. In both instances, Satan convinced the willing to persecute God's chosen people and to try and destroy them. Satan hates the Jews because the Messiah came through them and the word of God was written by them. Also, if he can destroy Israel then where will the end time Temple be rebuilt and where will Jesus Christ return to rule and reign for 1000 years? Islam speaks of the prophet Isa (Jesus) returning in the last days to help the Mahdi defeat the evil one. Thus Islam has the two major players involved in the end times, Christ and the Antichrist, but has them terribly mixed up and jumbled. They will be deceived.

    We are fortunate to witness this all!

    August 14, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • DontDistort

      bwahahahaha.... you have a vivid imagination and have spent way too much time being brainwashed by one of those doomsday preachermen. You might try reading some comic books to see what will happen next, just as much fantasy in one of them as their is in your bible, and your wacky interpretation of (drumroll) "The end of times"


      August 14, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  12. wake up

    There has not been a single muslim here showing hatred towards christianity or any other religion, but all of you spare no moment writing against islam and muslims. This explains who is extremist and who wants peace.
    We should all stand by our President for doing peace efforts.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  13. Becky

    I have nothing against any race, religion or sexuality. This (the mosque) is just wrong. It's like the family and friends of Jeffrey Dahmer building a Gay Friendly Bar & Grill on his old property. And no, I am no way saying anything bad about gay people. Just throwing this out there for President Obama and everyone to think about.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  14. Norm

    This country is Ground Zero for all Native Americans so let us think about getting rid of all the foreign uninvited places of worship constructed without regard to the blood of native peoples.

    August 14, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      no complaints about building skyscrapers on the mass graves of native indians, but a lot of hoolaboola over a little mosque next to a few thousand victims of "supposedly" islamic terrorists.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  15. Eliana

    To say that this is insensitive suggests that the image of Islam–in any form–evokes painful memories for people. This demonstrates that the majority of Americans still cannot distinguish between average Muslims and Islamic extremists. The US's "War on Terror" is just that–a war on terrorism, not on Muslims. Yes, a Christian church would not be allowed to be constructed in a Taliban-controlled country, but that is because Al-Qaeda is intolerant of other religions. Forget "eye-for-an-eye" or even "turn-the-other-cheek," this is about the US being the better country and tolerating what our enemies won't. While this nation hasn't always been perfect, for 200+ years our Constitution–the oldest in the world–has defended the freedom to establish and practice religion. We cannot make an exception now.

    August 14, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  16. Bev

    I am a Christ follower. I do not believe God wants a religon, but a relationship. I have friends who are not of the same belief. We have interesting but respectful conversations regarding our beliefs. We agree that we disagree and respect that. The proposed building of this mosque has created an incredible outrage with many Americans. Other alternatives have been offered and rejected. If you look at this situation outside of political or religious agendas, it would seem that the best and most peaceful solution is to relocate the site. If things like respect, community, and faith are at the heart of this building, it could be beautifully expressed – somewhere else.
    The question that arises is – Why is it so important to take this step – construct this building in this location – when obviously that act alone creates unrest, dissention, anger, and a feeling of being disrespected?

    August 14, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  17. Kim

    People need to remember that it was the party of BinLaden's that caused the presence of Ground Zero, not the entire Islamic community. As America, we have to seperate the non-related parties & respond appropriately beyond the surface.

    August 14, 2010 at 8:10 am |
    • (B)iraq Hussein Osama

      most of the muslim world and muslims outside of it, do not support the ways of Osama Bin Laden, or his religious views. This is not their idea of bringing peace to the world or taking revenge for Western atrocities in the East of the past half century.

      August 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  18. gregg phillips

    I am not surprised by what this "jerk of a president" does! Americans beware! This idiot will be the downfall of a great nation

    August 14, 2010 at 6:34 am |
    • Kim N

      Gregg: too late for a downfall, Bush already accomplished that. I have more hope today, than 2 yrs ago.

      August 14, 2010 at 8:13 am |
  19. Jeffrey Young, Sr

    B)iraq Hussein Osama,

    The analogy you make to the mirror is a very apt one. Two things come to mind when I ponder this topic: first because the mosque is not at ground zero, but a few blocks away from the space, I cannot understand how it in any way takes away or soils the memory of the tradegy and its victims; and second how long will it take "religious society" to understand that there is only one God (the God of Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed) who speaks to all in his or her own understanding. As the president reiterated .....do unto other as you would have done to you.......

    August 14, 2010 at 5:08 am |

      AT LAST.

      August 14, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
  20. Angelina

    Hey Ghada – if you love Islam so much – why don't you go back where you came from?

    August 14, 2010 at 3:05 am |
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About this blog

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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.