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September 7th, 2010
08:31 PM ET

My Take: Will moderate Christians fiddle as Qurans burn?

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Yesterday I was sitting on a pier on Cape Cod watching the summer drift away and talking with a friend about Islam. She told me something I have heard dozens of times before—that Muslims need to do a better job of denouncing the violence perpetrated in the name of their religion.

I told her that after 9/11, and after almost every act of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam, Muslims in the United States and around the world have lined up, individually and in groups, to denounce such violence in print, on television, and online. Unfortunately, as Daisy Khan of the controversial Park51 project in Lower Manhattan said in an August 25 conference call, “the voices of the moderate, mainstream majority Muslims have been drowned out by the actions of extremists.”

I agree with my friend that Muslims of good will need to be ever vigilant in speaking out against those who would hijack their religion for the purposes of terror.  Moderate Christians, however, need to do the same.

Over the last few months, a gaggle of conservative politicians have lined up to denounce not only the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero but also Islam itself. Reasonable people can disagree about whether their incendiary rhetoric is motivating attacks on Islamic properties such as the recent arson at the site of a future mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Quite unlike the conciliatory language of President George W. Bush, however, who repeatedly stated during his presidency that Americans were at war with terrorism rather than Islam, this rhetoric has surely stoked rather than doused American/Islamic tensions.

Now comes the pastor, provocateur, Terry Jones and his plan to burn Qurans on September 11 at his Gainesville-based Dove World Outreach Center—a plan the U.S. commander in Afghanistan David Petraeus says “could endanger troops” and “the overall effort in Afghanistan" and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says is both counterproductive and "disrespectful."

Predictably, this provocation is drawing notice worldwide, including in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, where thousands protested on Sunday outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, and in Afghanistan, where 500 or so chanted “long live Islam” and “death to America” in Kabul on Monday.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul responded to those protests by issuing a statement rejecting “acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam” and adding that “Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject the offensive initiative by this small group in Florida.”

My question is whether the political provocateurs who gave us the Park51 controversy will join those Americans in rejecting “Burn a Koran Day.” Or, to put it another way, where has all the sensitivity gone among those who have called for sensitivity in the blocks around ground zero? Will Sarah Palin grace us a tweet against this bonfire of the inanities? Will Newt Gingrich?

For at least a decade I have written that people inside each of the world’s religions must deal with the demons in their midst. Christians need to reckon with how their beliefs and actions helped to contribute to the Holocaust. Muslims need to reckon with how their beliefs and actions helped to inspire 9/11. “The Nazis were not Christians” will not cut it.  Neither will “the terrorists were not Muslims."

But calls for moderates to denounce religiously inspired violence go both ways. If my friend on the pier yesterday was right to call for moderate Muslims to speak out against Islam-inspired violence surely it is reasonable to expect moderate Christians to speak out against provocations such as “Burn a Koran Day.”

Happily, there are moderate Christians out there in the general public.  The National Association of Evangelicals has asked the tiny Florida church planning the event “to call it off in the name and love of Jesus Christ.” But are there any moderate Christians left among the chattering conservatives in the Republican Party? Is it really that hard for Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich to denounce the crankpot plans of a crankpot church whose core proclamation seems to be that “Islam is of the devil?”

As “International Burn a Koran Day” approaches, we will see. I am putting my best on an unholy silence.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Christianity • Florida • Fundamentalism • Islam • Opinion • Quran • Sarah Palin

soundoff (97 Responses)
  1. morton

    Now is the right moment for Mayor Bloomberg to come out strongly and wax eloquent in defending the right of Pastor Jones to burn the Koran and Fareed Zakaria to pen a belligerent article entitled, "The Florida pastor should burn the Koran." And this is an opportunity for those using the sensitivity issue to object to the burning of the Koran to reflect why this sensitivity issue doesn't come up in their minds regarding the building of the Islamic center near Ground Zero.

    September 8, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  2. lexus

    In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

    ****************

    Alif Lam Mim (1)

    Allah! There is no Allah but He―the Living, the Self-Subsisting Eternal. (2)

    It is He Who sent down to thee (step by step), in truth, the Book confirming what went before it; and He sent down the Torah (Of Moses) and the Gospel (of Jesus) (3)

    Before this as a guide to mankind, and He sent down the Criterion (of judgment between right and wrong). Then those who reject Faith in the Signs of Allah will suffer the severest chastisement and Allah is Exalted in Might, Lord of Retribution. (4)

    From Allah, verily nothing is hidden on earth or in the heavens. (5)

    He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He, the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (6)

    **Quarn : 3 (Al-E-Imran) : 1-6

    Brothers, you can learn Quran here:
    http://www.quranexplorer.com/Quran/Default.aspx

    September 8, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  3. Andy

    It goes both ways, why isn't the President stressing the Freedom of Speech in this matter?

    Apparently Muslims get protection from this Administration, but Christians don't.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:10 am |
    • Frogist

      I'd love for the President to weigh in on these issues and stress our rights to religious freedom and freedom of speech. But you might want to qualify what you are talking about. I haven't seen this administration calling for the protection of muslim rights while dismissing the rights of christians in this country.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  4. Matthew

    So Larry David urinates on a picture of Jesus on Curb your Enthusiasm and it's hilarious, but burn a Koran and it's disrespectful? God forbid anyone offend these animals...

    September 8, 2010 at 1:26 am |
    • Frogist

      @ Matthew: Yes, that's the difference exactly. It comes down to intent again. The intent of a comedy show, is to make fun of things. The intent of a christian pastor burning another religion's sacred text, is to provoke followers of that religion. I just wish he would read it instead of burning it.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  5. andyk

    Interesting Peter, thats how i feel as a muslim when people talk about alqaeda and the taliban... they're a pretty small group that tends to confine themselves to areas of anarchy... is there something i'm supposed to do aside from informing people i know that i oppose them?

    September 8, 2010 at 1:09 am |
  6. Peter F

    Are moderate Christians suppose to do something? We're talking about people similar to the Westboro Baptist group (a cult that has very, very little in common with the rest of Western CHristendom) down there in Florida. We can't stop them... we can only pray for them.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • Kate

      @Peter F

      I don't know, are you? They do such things under the banner of Christianity, after all. (And they're more than similar to WBC, they've participated in, and support and celebrate that group's actions).

      You get people like David Johnson or Reality who claim religion itself is the cause of the world's strife – but it isn't the religions that are the problem – it's the extremist religious adherents, who see everyone, even moderates within their own religion, as threats to be destroyed.

      People are so he||-bent on trying to force everyone else to follow their religion they've forgotten to follow it themselves in the first place 😦

      Just sayin'

      September 8, 2010 at 2:04 am |
    • Peter F

      Exactly. It was my response to the title of the article, which presupposes that we Christians are suppose to get off our sofas go out there and kick some extremist butt. No, I don't support the burning of Korans. I condemn it in the sense that it is not an act that shows love for our enemies (as Jesus teaches), but instead breeds hatred, strife, and essentially helps to fuel this war that has been going off and on for centuries. I am not sure if the author is suggesting we do something beyond condemning this behavior and praying that the act is not carried out.

      Very good point, Kate. People are trying so hard to 1) win converts 2) distance themselves from other religious groups. When all is said and done they have essentially forgotten the fundamentals of their faith (I speak from the Christian perspective). In too many cases the love and compassion disappears, and they are replaced with fear, condemnation and polarization. Jesus hung around with prostitutes, the demon possessed, the wretched "low-life" of Israel. He welcomed them with open arms, godly love, and a willingness to meet their needs. That's "religion" at its best.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:41 am |
    • Peter F

      @ Kate

      Exactly. It was my response to the t*tle of the article, which presupposes that we Christians are suppose to get off our sofas go out there and kick some extremist butt. No, I don't support the burning of Korans. I condemn it in the sense that it is not an act that shows love for our enemies (as Jesus teaches), but instead breeds hatred, strife, and essentially helps to fuel this war that has been going off and on for centuries. I am not sure if the author is suggesting we do something beyond condemning this behavior and praying that the act is not carried out.

      Very good point, Kate. People are trying so hard to 1) win converts 2) distance themselves from other religious groups. When all is said and done they have essentially forgotten the fundamentals of their faith (I speak from the Christian perspective). In too many cases the love and compassion disappears, and they are replaced with fear, condemnation and polarization. Jesus hung around with prost*tutes, the demon possessed, the wretched "low-life" of Israel. He welcomed them with open arms, godly love, and a willingness to meet their needs. That's "religion" at its best.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:42 am |
    • Kate

      @Peter F

      As much as I hate to make a55umptions, I think the author is pointing out that that the co-religionists of those with an extremist bent (regardless of what religion it is) have some responsibility to keep those extremists from hijacking the religion away from the mainstream members.

      I hope that's what he means at least.

      Just hopin'

      September 8, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Peter F: Actually, that is exactly what you should do: condemn their behaviour loudly and openly. And get your church to do that too. Or maybe it's ridiculous to ask all of christianity to create a tv ad for each of their denominations denouncing this fool. Just like it is ridiculous to condemn every muslim for not doing the same. Either way, let's keep the standards the same for every religion. But the hypocrisy that some christians are showing in the midst of the heightened tension over Islam is astounding. When it comes down to it, the people who are the loudest christians are not the ones calling for peace or love. On these boards all we see are examples of so-called christians denying the effect their extremists have done and are doing and in the same breath condemning all muslims for 9/11. Personally, I'd like to see all christian churches stand up for their fellow religions. Otherwise, come time for others to stand up for them, they will stand alone.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Peter F

      Sometimes it is difficult to discern where religion and politics go their separate ways. I am not sure that catering to the general audience who cares more about bashing faith instead of embracing it will make a difference. Anyone at all interested in learning what each religion professes will soon find their answer as to who is in the right: the extremists or the moderates. The answer should be a pretty easy one to find.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
    • Kate

      @Peter F

      The trouble is, extremists are of the opinion that people should find out who is right sooner than later 😛

      Just sayin'

      September 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  7. Reality

    Actually, it is the Muslims that should burn their copies of the koran for the 1400 year old con job that is pulled on them daily by the imams and ayatollahs. Christians should burn their copies of the NT for the 2000 year old con job that has been perpetuated on them by popes, bishops, priests, ministers and evangelicals. And Jews should burn their copies of the OT/Torah for the 6000 year old con job pulled on them by their past and current rabbis.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  8. Smite_Me

    Build a 12-story casino across the street... and a Hoo_ters next door... and a great pulled-pork restaurant.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:04 am |
    • Frogist

      @ Smite me: Next to the Dove Outreach church? I don't think they'll like that, but you never know!

      September 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • Kate

      @Smite_me

      Consider yourself well and truly smoted

      Frogist++

      Just gradin'

      September 8, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  9. Smite_Me

    Build a 12-story casino across the street... and a Hooters next door... and a great pulled-pork restaurant.

    September 8, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  10. Ram

    I support the Muslim's right yo build the mosque, also the pastor's right burn Quran...

    September 7, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  11. gloria

    So much for Palin and Fox News, and the TParty politics for honoring the troops. Right at this moment they're accountable for putting all of these troops in harms way, if they don't denounce these freaks in Florida. Its blood on their hands..

    They incite this crap and then try to somehow subvert the blame for political reasons. Its a crime. And it will be a real crime if not one right wing leader denouces this fringe group, and our men&women die. Lets be honest, the NAACP have their issues, but they were correct in stating, they need to clean their ranks.

    I have a brother fighting in Afghanistan. Do you think any of those leaders who honored the troops would be so brave to do so. NO. They're no different than cowardly Dick Cheney (who deferred 5 times from Nam and then started an illegal war, committed verifiable war crimes – which should've impeached Bush and that whole administration. Lets not get started how they put us into a complete deficit with an unnecessary war . . .).

    September 7, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  12. Jamin Hamilton

    Christianity too calls on its followers to defend themselves when under threat of losing their property, freedom, or those they love and care for. But when our nation, (which isn't a nation of Christianity as Obama says, even though Christianity built the foundations for most everything that made this country great) comes under ruthless attack on a mass scale for the first time in over 60 years, and we find out it was an Islamic extremist group which took responsibility for the deaths of thousands (some innocent Muslims included in those that lost their lives that day I'm sure), we are to just turn the other cheek and let it slide as though nothing happened?

    When someone who's biased beliefs (beliefs that are at least founded on some bit of truth) show their distaste toward the only religion on this earth that holds fatal hostilities towards us, whether extremists or not, they are suddenly branded as incompetent and ignorant fanatical believers and threatened with death? I mean, the books haven't even so much as caught an ember yet and already people across the world are shouting "Death to America". Surely this small, private community of church goers are the evil doers here, as thousands of others around the world burn our symbol, the red white and blue, a symbol that stands for everything every American veteran fought and died for over the centuries so others may come to our country and enjoy any religion or freedom they wish. Ask yourself, is this small church the only biased ones here?

    Of course I think this Quran burning is a stupid and probably a self-motivated means for this small church to make money and grow. But they wouldn't be burning anything if Islamic extremists, somehow now being compared to this tiny church, extremists who were probably raised and taught with a copy of the Quran very much like the ones these people seek to burn, didn't vocally and physically threaten our way of life in this country so often.

    I think they need to burn a figurine of Osama Bin Laden or something instead, not the book that everything Islam is founded on.

    September 7, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • PsiCop

      Re: "Christianity too calls on its followers to defend themselves when under threat of losing their property, freedom, or those they love and care for."

      Actually, Christianity requires the opposite! It requires that the Christian "not resist an evil person." Christians are to give themselves over, wholly, to their enemies, in all cases.

      As unbelievable as that may sound, it comes from no less an authority than Jesus himself: "You have heard that it was said, 'an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your [b]coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you." (Mt 5:38:42; cf Lk 6:29-30).

      Re: "But they wouldn't be burning anything if Islamic extremists, somehow now being compared to this tiny church, extremists who were probably raised and taught with a copy of the Quran very much like the ones these people seek to burn, didn't vocally and physically threaten our way of life in this country so often."

      You know, I've heard that kind of sentiment before. It's called it "two wrongs make a right." And it's fallacious. Someone else's wrongdoing is not a license to misbehave. Why do Christians so often believe themselves to have such a license?

      September 7, 2010 at 11:51 pm |
  13. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ywWcbx4mOhY&w=640&h=360]

    September 7, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
  14. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VT_7CdvWY4g&w=640&h=360]

    September 7, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
  15. Brick Moon

    Conservative commentators and Christians that I've heard so far have denounced the act of burning Korans, but have defended the right to do so, inasmuch as the defenders of artists who mock Christian symbols in a vulgar manner. Maybe I haven't done enough searching, but I don't recall seeing any opinion pieces from prominent Muslims, or from US embassies in Muslim countries, denouncing the stoning of alleged adultresses in the name of Islam. And it seems that those who will publicly label Hezbollah specifically as a terrorist organization are as rare as hens' teeth.

    September 7, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Kate

      @Brick Moon

      The same could be asked about where are the Christian leaders openly condemning the Westboro Baptist Church, which the Jones' and their own little clan condone and support in the WBC's efforts dishonoring the memory of our fallen heroes and desecrating their memories.

      The Jones' are cut from the same cloth – they're nothing more than sadistic agitators looking for free publicity – and they don't care that our troops will be put in greater risk of harm as far as I can tell as a result of their actions.

      I hazard to guess that given their support and admiration of WBC, they probably will consider any of our troops killed in the ensuing violence to be a bonus.

      One can only take the silence from religious leaders to be assent and condoning the actions of Christian extremist groups. Even "Right Wing Extreme", the armed militia group that Dove dragged into this mess at one point, realized just how far off the reservation Dove and their ilk are.

      Must be a Baptist thing.

      Just sayin'

      September 7, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
    • Brick Moon

      @Kate

      Frankly, I don't know of anybody of any persuasion who has anything good to say about the so-called Westboro "Baptist" Church, consisting of about 100 members - nor their disruptive protests. But, as ridiculous and disgusting as their attitude is toward nearly everyone but themselves, I haven't heard of one of them actually murdering anybody.

      Let's do a simple Google search for the number of results for two exact phrases - "against Hezbollah" (or better, try "Muslims against Hezbollah") versus the phrase "against the Westboro Baptist." Which group do you think *should* draw the most opposition?

      That is all.

      September 8, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • Frogist

      @ Brick Moon: There's always gonna be something isn't there? If you want you can also say that since no muslims have come out against the LA riots or the exhile of the Dalai Lama or the treatment of Katrina victims, they must have wanted those too. How many things does every muslim have to do before you will accept them? I wonder if you would hold other religions up to the same standard. As for murder, you can check out Reality's stats for numbers of people murdered by Christians.

      September 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Brick Moon

      @Frogist

      For the love of frog! What does one have to do to counter Prothero’s assertion that the voices of Republicans and moderate Christians on this issue are being drowned out? You can’t turn on the radio without hearing someone “refudiating” the planned Koran burning with the same fervor as the majority of the neighbors who oppose “Park51.” Prothero specifically asked when Sarah Palin will respond — well that would be today, calling it an “insensitive and unnecessary provocation.”

      My agreeing with the author in saying that Muslims in general are not as vigilant as Christians in speaking out against those who are hijacking their religion is not a rejection of Muslims, but an exposition of the dearth of Muslims outspoken against those who are currently committing atrocities in the name of Islamic law — compared to the number of Christians who condemn those who are now doing things in the name of Christ like, uh, chanting “Death to Saudi Arabia,” donning suicide vests, and stoning adulteresses, or things like that…oh…never mind.

      There is enough self-flagellation of Christians over centuries of past atrocities in the name of religion, unlike the popular disregard of the vastly overshadowing genocides of the past century under godless ideologies.

      Why is there so much denial of the fact that, in some cases, silence does imply condonation.

      If only some would remove the log from their own eye before trying to remove the splinter from another’s. I’m comparing the volume of wood to relative egregiousness. It’s a metaphor. I stole it from a good book — which is actually banned and burned in some countries.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  16. Naor

    I would just like to remind Mr. Prothero that while many aspects of Christianity were indifferent or even openly supported Hitler, just like many Muslims are with terrorism, in the end it was predominantly Christian soldiers who stood up against Nazi Germany. Not to say it was all Christians, or that everyone who fought against the Nazi's even believed in Christianity; but it remains a fact that many of the prominently Christian nations stood up against Nazism. The problem with Islam, is I see no major Muslim groups standing up and fighting against these radical Islamic terrorists. Not only does there not exist an Islamic nation on earth that has so far stood up against Sharia Law and terrorism, they actively abide and support them. I would like to make it clear I do not believe it the job of Americans to be currently fighting the Taliban. It should be tolerant Muslims leading the fight against these fanatics. We stood up and defeated our evil incarnations (Nazi Germany), when will Islam do the same?

    September 7, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Naor: That's a somewhat odd statement you made. You seem to say they should take care of their own. Is that what you would have told the jews in Germany? Or would you have said let only Western European countries fight? By your statement, I am led to believe you would not have supported the entry of the US into WWII. I do have to dispute that it was a predominantly christian force that fought the Nazis. No one was flying a christian flag when going into battle.

      September 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  17. Iqbal khan

    Muslims were not behind 9/11 check.....
    http://rediscover911.com/2010/03/was-america-attacked-by-muslims-on-911/

    September 7, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  18. Paleologos

    Like most Leftist professors your bias comes shining through. You're all for free speech when Larry David desecrates an image of Christ or the National Endowment for the Arts sponsors similar"'art." You're silent when one Muslim sect destroys the mosque of another, which happens all the time. But let an unknown street preacher exercise free speech and he is out of bounds. Sorry Prothero, you're just a typical liberal hypocrite. But please tell us oh wise one, how does Islam's treatment of women square with your "liberal" principles? What's your position on the stoning of women, honor killings, and other Muslim practices? You're a prime example of the state-sponsored bigots who run our universities.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Paleologos: So you're saying that Jones is not out of bounds by what he is doing?

      September 8, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  19. Iqbal khan

    And deal with them nicely and logically in the best possible way, as they don't know and are ignorent.

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8NtgtG5HFc&w=640&h=360]

    September 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  20. Kate

    I have a question for the esteemed author – when are the apologies from those not involved in 9/11 "enough" to satiate the desire of the masses for Islam to wear sackcloth and ashes?

    Yes, the moderates on all sides need to speak out against the extremists on all sides, and Muslims have been doing exactly the same as every other American, including wearing the uniform and going to fight those that are theologically their brothers and sisters.

    But how much humiliation and abasement would be "sufficient" for Christians before they "forgive" those who are not numbered amongst the extremists, who reject the extremist's warped visions of Islam?

    Extremist Christianity won't be satisfied until moderate Muslims turn their entire religion on its head – in effect, turn it into Christianity to all intents and purposes.

    That kind of appeasement just ain't gonna happen. Will Christian moderates speak up against the implied demands for it? After all, they have a vested interest in it too, if only for their evangelical position, regardless of how moderate they are.

    Just wonderin'

    September 7, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
    • Sanela

      You are right, Kate. In fact, extremist Christians have written "True Furqan" ("true" Kor'an) version where Islam is preached as Christianity. You can google it.

      September 8, 2010 at 8:43 am |
    • Frogist

      @ Kate: I agree with you that we shouldn't have to constantly pay for the sins of our fathers. And I know that nothing will ever be enough for the extremists. They will always find a reason to condemn those they hate because their condemnation is not based on evidence or principle, but unfair bias. Every single muslim should not be equated with an extremist and have to defend themselves as such because of acts committed by the few. It's a double standard that christians do not have the same asked of them. People get away with much more hypocrisy in this country in the name of Christianity than they are allowed to in other religions. But I don't think we will ever escape the need to speak out against those who will use holy books to perpetrate heinous acts. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. At least there are voices out there who are willing to speak out for rationality and civility who recognize the difference between Islam or Christianity in a good person's hands and in a bad person's hands. As long as even the few exist, the fire must slowly die down. We just have to keep our heads high and our voices strong till then.

      September 8, 2010 at 1:26 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.