My Take: How real interfaith dialogue works
November 27th, 2010
07:00 AM ET

My Take: How real interfaith dialogue works

By Dave Schechter, CNN

I’ve thought for some time that if more Americans had personal contact, even friendships, with their fellow Americans who are Muslims there might be less mistrust and misunderstanding about the role Islam plays in their lives.

The years have convinced me that interfaith dialogue, particularly the one-on-one variety, is a more viable way to break down barriers between people than large-scale efforts.

Now, before we go any further: Yes, within a worldwide population of more than 1 billion Muslims (which include a few million in the United States) there are those who, for a variety of reasons, hate the United States, would do it harm or support such action.

But when the subject comes up, the American Muslims I’ve met - whether they were born here, emigrated from traditionally Muslim nations or converted from other faiths - remark how America, even amid the tensions of recent years, affords them the freedom to live, work, study and raise their children, as their neighbors do, and, importantly, worship in the way they choose, as their neighbors do.

Young people tend to be less-jaded and, as such, more open to getting to know “the other.”

As an example, I’ll point to our daughter (we’ll call her “M”), who recently made a trip home from college and brought along a friend (we’ll call her “A”).

“M” is proud of her Jewish heritage. “A” is equally proud of being Muslim; so much so that she wears a hijab. They make quite a pair and not just because they have a similar sense of humor.

Their friendship started when “M” and “A” were paired up for a project in their mass communications class at a small state university in the South. On their way to the library, “A” asked if “M” would have a problem working with her because, well, she’s Muslim.

We, “M’s” parents, figured she laughed and said something like, “Let me tell you, . . .”

There was the trip to Spain and Morocco that M and her mother took as part of a delegation of Christians, Muslims and Jews, which included visits to mosques in both countries. There was the visit to the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine that her parents subjected her and her siblings to while on vacation. There are her mother’s myriad interfaith activities, ranging from her work at a 24-hour faith-based cable television channel to a Jewish-Muslim women’s baking group.

That initial conversation lasted some two hours.

The two young women must have made quite a sight when they attended the Jewish festival in the city where they go to school. “M” wore a t-shirt that read “Shabbat. Just Do It” with the swoosh logo. “A” wore, well, her hijab. There were stares, but these young women did not care.

The point is that, as friends, they talk about each other’s religion and respect the role it plays in each other’s life.

“M” once declared interfaith activity to be her mother’s domain. Now we, her parents, chuckle at that memory and take pride in having a daughter who looks past stereotypes. When you get to know the “other” it becomes harder to accept generalizations and easier to look at the individual.

I hesitate to conclude with a comment by the President of the United States, knowing how his own religious heritage has at times been a point of controversy, but in India recently President Obama made the following relevant comment in a speech to college students:

“Whatever may be your religion we can treat each other with respect as per some of the universal principles. Young people like you can make a huge impact in reaffirming that you can be a strong observer of your faith without putting somebody else down. How you respond to each other is probably as important as any speech a president makes. It's necessary in a world that's getting smaller, where more and more people of different backgrounds, race and ethnicities are interacting, innovating and working.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Interfaith issues • Islam • Journeys • Opinion

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. neuroticfaith

    Going to church every Sunday and listening to the same philosophy over and over again is brainwashing. Indoctination of children is brainwashing. I'm sorry, it's just psycology.

    November 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm |
    • Darlene

      Well said Mark!

      Patrick and Neurotic:

      How can you say brainwashing in one breath and then say , do not teach your children anything about God? Is that not also brainwashing by not telling them anything about God, or teacing them to be athiest by the absence of?
      What is wrong with telling them about God? If when they get older, and can reason things out for themselves, perhaps they will make the choice on thier own, to not believe, just as you did. Then again, they may decide to believe.
      Its thier choice, and to withold is wrong.
      At least balance out by giving them a choice, either or.
      A Godless society is what Jesus di say would happen. It is one of the signs of his soon return, which I know you all don't believe either. Well, to each his own

      November 29, 2010 at 8:56 am |
    • Jason

      "Going to church every Sunday and listening to the same philosophy over and over again is brainwashing. Indoctination of children is brainwashing. I'm sorry, it's just psycology."

      @neurotic: "Psychology", actually. At any rate, I thus expect you to not instill any values in your children. To do otherwise would be "brainwashing", apparently. Apparently neither spelling nor reasoning are your strong points.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  2. C. Cantu

    The main problem with Islam are most of Muslim clerics (ayatollahs, mullahs, muftis, ullemas, imans, sheiks, etc.). Muslim clerics are the main instigators of all violence, hate, terrorism and intolerance around the world. They created a modern version of the Inquisition but much highly effective, deadly, sinister and oppressive. Islamic clerics are the real power in every Muslim society or country. They control Islamic laws and their interpretation, the sharia tribunals, police the people(muttawa), demostrations, family gatherings, even government and military leaders. In addition thy are preachers of anti-Christian values and against universal moral standards and rights. Moderate Muslims and even moderate clerics are victims of these brainless and ruthless people.

    November 28, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  3. Justina

    Summary of interfaith: Nothing is true and therefore nothing is important. A total meaningless trash.

    November 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  4. Curious

    neuroticfaith said:

    The reason for this is that the more dominant religions mentioned on this blog (Christianity, Islam) teach (brainwash) their believers to feel compelled to convert those around them and to not accept the religion of others. It is basically a religion designed virus. They spread their beliefs like a disease on pain of hell. Islam and Christianity are two deseases that will never be able to coexist in the same body. The answer to world peace is either total take over by one religion or agnosticism.

    On the Christian front...why is it you people always refer to us as "brainwashed"? We believe what we believe because it is what the God we worship, Jesus Christ, tells us what is to be believed. We make a choice whether to believe it or not. How is that being brainwashed?
    Are you "brainwashed" because you choose not to believe, based on the fact you can't accept that faith is what is needed to be a Christian?
    Or, is it the fear of what may happen to you if you do believe, but do not accept Jesus as your savior, that you will go to hell? Have you been brainwashed to believe there is no God, no hell, no devil, that everything began from nothing? Or, did you make those choices on your own?
    The answer to world peace is LOVE. Regardless of all of the religous hype and beliefs, LOVE is the answer. Follow that up with respect, and mayby it'll work.

    As far as your other statement, about Islam and Christianity coexisting in one body, I agree. As Christians we are told in the bible to spread the Gospel Of Jesus. Sorry that is seen as us being brainwashed. We are just concerned out of love, that some will perish, based on the teachings we follow from that Gospel, if mankind does not turn from thier sinful ways and love of self.

    November 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • nathan

      see thats the thing we dont want to hear about it if we do we will ask. you wouldn't want to hear the views of wicca or taoism would you? and the out of love i dont buy it with most missionaries i have met enough to know its not always love that they do it for. besides that why bother competing being aggressive about it makes you look bad if your peaceful show it by respecting all religions and not spreading the word to people who dont ask for it you show a side that most people never see and might want to hear about it just out of raw curiosity. also missionaries always pick the worst time to come to my home but thats not too importent

      November 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  5. Paddington

    M-ur-der like this? http://www.jesus-is-lord.com/cath.htm
    For a glimpse of the atrocities co-m-mitted by the Roman Catholic religion, check out the Antichrist Slideshow or do a net search on the Inquisition or the Crusades. During the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic ins-t-itution kill-ed millions. Why? Primarily to suppress any and all opposition to her heresies. Side "benefits" included taking the material wealth of its victims and showing the pope's power. The Catholic Inquisitors tortured, cr-ip-pled, b-u-rned, and impr-isi-oned millions of people. Whatever happened to love your enemies? (Matthew 5:44)

    Before we get to specific problems with Catholic doctrine, let's review how this bl-o-odthirsty or-g-anization treated a man who simply wanted to get the Bible into the hands of the common people. In the late 1300s John Wycilf translated the scriptures from the Latin. Some 40 odd years after his death, the Catholic religion dug up his bo-nes and burned them calling him an arch-heretick. In the 1500's William Tyndale sought to translate the Bible into the language of the c-o-mmon people, English. He could not gain approval from the Catholic religon so he worked as an ou-t-law on the run in Europe, translating the Bible. He was eventually captured, condemned and exe-cuted in 1536. It is because of people like these men, Tyndale and Wycliffe, that we have the scriptures today. If the Catholic religion had its way, we'd still be in ignorance about the Bible and ensl-a-ved to the pope. Time fails me here to tell of other marytrs like John H-u-s, John Rogers, etc. who were ki-lled by popish persons.

    Then they wonder why people broke away from this "church"? The also didn't bow to p-a-pal authority, and were kil-led too.

    November 28, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      Rank Death Toll Cause Centuries
      1 63 million Second World War 20C
      2 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C
      40 million Genghis Khan 13C
      4 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C
      5 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C
      6 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C
      20 million Joseph Stalin 20C
      8 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C
      9 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C
      10 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C
      11 15 million First World War 20C
      15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C
      13 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C
      14 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C
      10 million Xin Dynasty 1C
      16 9 million Russian Civil War 20C
      17 8 million Fall of Rome 5C
      8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C
      19 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C
      7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      OT atrocities:

      •Exodus 32: 3,000 Israelites killed by Moses for worshipping the golden calf.
      •Numbers 31: After killing all men, boys and married women among the Midianites, 32,000 virgins remain as booty for the Israelites. (If unmarried girls are a quarter of the population, then 96,000 people were killed.)
      ◦Joshua 8: 12,000 men and women, all the people of Ai, killed.
      ◦Joshua 10: Joshua completely destroys Gibeon ("larger than Ai"), Makeddah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir. "He left no survivors."
      ◦Joshua 11: Hazor destroyed. [Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews (1987), estimates the population of Hazor at ?> 50,000]
      ◦TOTAL: if Ai is average, 12,000 x 9 = 108,000 killed.
      •Judges 1: 10,000 Canaanites k. at Battle of Bezek. Jerusalem and Zephath destroyed.
      •Judges 3: ca. 10,000 Moabites k. at Jordan River.
      •Judges 8: 120,000 Midianite soldiers k. by Gideon
      •Judges 20: Benjamin attacked by other tribes. 25,000 killed.
      •1 Samuel 4: 4,000 Isrealites killed at 1st Battle of Ebenezer/Aphek. 30,000 Isr. k. at 2nd battle.
      ◦2 Samuel 8: 22,000 Arameans of Damascus and 18,000 Edomites killed in 2 battles.
      ◦2 Samuel 10: 40,000 Aramean footsoldiers and 7,000 charioteers killed at Helam.
      ◦2 Samuel 18: 20,000 Israelites under Absalom killed at Ephraim.
      •1 Kings 20: 100,000 Arameans killed by Israelites at Battle of Aphek. Another 27,000 killed by collapsing wall.
      •2 Chron 13: Judah beat Israel and inflicted 500,000 casualties.
      •2 Chron 25: Amaziah, king of Judah, k. 10,000 from Seir in battle and executed 10,000 POWs. Discharged Judean soldiers pillaged and killed 3,000.
      •2 Chron 28: Pekah, king of Israel, slew 120,000 Judeans

      •TOTAL: That comes to about 1,283,000 mass killings specifically enumerated in the Bible.

      November 28, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • nathan

      you cant really use the numbers from the bible considering
      A, they could have added number of killed or subtracted
      B, it is proven to have made a very bad history book
      C, the stuff above was motivated by religious words or teachings of some kind ex. slavery and the Muslim campaigns (probly some of the Asian ones but i dont know enough about their religions enough to speak on their behavior)

      November 28, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  6. nathan

    good job you just started a religious fight. the religions of the world will never get along because they cant accept that the others exist and that they have followers

    November 28, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • Jason

      Yes they can. Hence, interfaith dialogue, which is far more common than you think. You really should open up that small world view of yours.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  7. Leo

    Can anyone define what god is? It is CERTAINLY not just what created the universe according to what is said up here. A type of black hole could have created the universe and it would shatter what people think of when the word god is used.

    What is GOD?

    November 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • neuroticfaith

      God is a compilation of all that we cannot understand. Things we cannot understand are things like why do we die, is there a such thing as souls, how did the universe get started, are there other demensions, what is dark matter, etc. As human beings, we make an attempt to apply a name or definition to all things in our lives. We don't like to admit that there are things we don't understand. This is a part of our nature. Therefore we make things up in order to fill in the gaps of information. With this mindset, we come up with things like religion and the traditional idea of the Judaic god, who is basically a reflection of ourselves (the idea that we are made in god's image). We must remember that religion and the idea of a god (or gods) came about in a time when science, and even the confident idea that we can figure things out in this world, did not exist. God and religion are what we came up with to satisfy our need to know things, until we can come up with the answers ourselves. if we ever do.

      November 28, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      God is a man-made fairy tale, is whatever the shamans/charlatans say it/he/she is.

      November 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  8. Thinker

    Kelly Garrett said:
    Humanity does not need a universal god, it needs a universal philosophy that allows all the have their gods. It is called henotheism...different paths to the same destination.

    That would be impossible. There would still be grief. Who's God is better, what path is the enlightened one, with everybody crashing at the same place. That would be all about self. No need for a God for that.

    November 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  9. neuroticfaith

    Interfaith talks will never work, unless all involved agree to not bring up the subject of religion. Otherwise, we would have to call it interfaith debates. Many of the comments on this blog don't support the idea of talks. They just affirm their own personal, specific beliefs by mentioning things like being "covered in the blood" of Jesus. I would love to believe that interfaith peace could be achieved. However, there are people out there who are just too stubborn and obsessed with their own beliefs to ever possibly be able to accept others' beliefs. The reason for this is that the more dominant religions mentioned on this blog (Christianity, Islam) teach (brainwash) their believers to feel compelled to convert those around them and to not accept the religion of others. It is basically a religion designed virus. They spread their beliefs like a disease on pain of hell. Islam and Christianity are two deseases that will never be able to coexist in the same body. The answer to world peace is either total take over by one religion or agnosticism.

    November 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  10. Muneef"786"

    Maybe some lessons can be learnt here about life and earth?


    November 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  11. Faisal

    Muslims are terrorists, END OF STORY.

    November 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      Wow, short story, read me another fairy tale.

      November 28, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
  12. Iqbal khan

    Check this out...

    November 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  13. Jeri

    Also, as one who has done Interfaith work...I will admit that it is difficult. It is difficult because you never want to come across, when explaining your religion, that it is better than another. You also don't want to ever make anyone feel like that they should be questioning their own beliefs. However, when people who are confident in their beliefs meet and do work for the common good of man....it is the most rewarding feeling. It is difficult, I will say it again. But few things are as rewarding as making friends with Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hare Krishnas, etc when you are a Muslim. And again...until you clear your mind of stereotypes and hatred, you won't believe how much a like we all are. Try it sometime....you might actually like it, learn something and make a new friend. (Scary things, I know).

    November 28, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
  14. Eric G.

    Believers do make me chuckle. Regardless of religion, they all believe without evidence because they were taught to do so. Maybe the next time they have one of these meetings, we can put a big box in the loby where they can drop off any evidence that their belief in god is based in fact or reason.

    November 28, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Jason

      Ok, and you believe space, time, matter, energy, physical laws, etc all poofed themselves into existence or have somehow just "always existed". If you invoke the same about God, that's my point here. Everyone has their own crazy, so get off your high horse.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  15. Leo

    What about all of the people with 'faith' and the people who subscribe to the scientific method? And no, you can't fully subscribe to the scientific method and believe that humans have the answer to how the world was created or who/what god is. If you have doubts, you are probably in the 'faith' category.

    I think this article is not bad, it makes some good points because extremely devout Christians are every bit as scary as extreme Muslilms. It does say that god is a jealous god, which means no one else can be considered valid.

    The rest of us believe all of this is a moot point cause it's just words written by man. We'll come to that bridge sooner than you think.

    November 28, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Eric G.

      Not sure about your statement. Are you saying that using the scientific method requires faith?

      November 28, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Leo

      I should have used VS. What about all of the people with 'faith' VS the people who subscribe to the scientific method?

      They are mutually exclusive, you can not use 'faith' and the scientific method at the same time.

      "faith means not wanting to know what is true." nietzsche

      November 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • Jason

      "faith means not wanting to know what is true."

      Yeah...I wouldn't go around quoting that. Not one of his brightest opinions.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  16. Blessed Geek

    Jesus is lord and god. It depends whether you are his/her side. Jews and muslims and other infidels better accept/receive the lord of salvation, the only way, only truth, the only life. Or else!

    Mohammed is the last and final and over-riding rasul. Whatever Moses and Jesus or Abraham had said is true. But, but the old holy books are false – they do not reflect the true sayings of Jesus or Moses or Abraham. Believe and accept the words of Mohammed, or else!
    O Joseph Smith, hear our voice and supplication, for we have strayed and listened to voices of unfamiliar spirits of wolves in sheep's clothing. Yours are truly the true and final oracle from of old. We must accept your oracle, or else!

    Behold, like a travelling salesman (aka TSP) I roam and stand at doors and knock. Whoever opens the door is a naughty boy/girl, willy nilly opening doors to strangers – you will surely spend your eternity in regret.

    At and interfaith conference – everyone says, "Yes, yes, we must have dialogues. We must accept each other's differences. We must exercise patience and understanding."
    But silently, each of them are thinking, "Hmmm ... what am I doing here. Wait till the lord returns like a thief in the night, when jesus stands besides the mahdi, when krishna rains his display of power, etc .. Then you will bow and kneel to my true god."

    November 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Blessed Geek

      Your true god is just as laughable and fake as the rest of them. Don't flatter yourself.

      If not, tell me why yours is the one true god. But no bible verses. I line my birds cage with bible pages. My parrot is not speaking in tongues. LOL

      November 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Jeri

      Wow....My God isn't a scary God and he also doesn't say that anyone who isn't a Muslim is going straight to hell. Do you really believe that all of the people in the world who aren't Christian are doomed straight to hell?? There's nothing like fear mongering to force someone into belief. It's a good thing Muslims believe Jesus is the Messiah....because according to you, I think we'll be safe!!! Thank God!!!!!!

      November 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      I am the wayward, the food and the pipesi cola.
      Whoever drinks of me and eat from my plate of flying spaghetti
      shall never thirst or hunger again.

      Blessed are the geek for they shall inherit the World W Web.
      You are the baking soda of the earth, the lightsabers of the world, a peculiar people, a new world order.

      November 28, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Horace River

      Jeri, of course your God says anyone not a Muslim goes straight to hell- at least your guy Mo says so. Check it out in the hadith of Bukari Volume 4, Book 52, Number 72 – " Narrated Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba: Our Prophet told us about the message of our Lord that "Whoever amongst us is killed will go to Paradise." Umar asked the Prophet, "Is it not true that our men who are killed will go to Paradise and their's (i.e. those of the Pagan's) will go to the (Hell) fire?" The Prophet said, "Yes."

      November 28, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  17. Culturemulch

    That trip to Spain and Morocco was NOT a delegation of Christians, Muslims and Jews – it was a delegation of people.

    November 28, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  18. Jordan

    So why don't most American Muslims condemn the Muslim terrorists from the Middle East?

    November 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Eric Lucas

      All the ones I know do. Not all have chosen to speak public ally about it. But then not every Christian church has spoken public ally on the matter. Some choose to keep their thoughts private.

      November 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Jeri

      Jordan, we do!!!! If the governments of the entire free world cannot combat terrorism, do you really think the opinions of TRUE Muslims will be able to combat them? C'mon...be realistic. Also, please be conscious of the fact that in many extremist Muslim countries, anyone who stands up to tyranny will be killed. Terrorism and extremism are like fighting shadows...you can't see these people to even begin to combat them.

      Offer up a solution for all of the good Muslims...what is it you expect us to do? How can we solve a problem that military and governments cannot??

      November 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  19. Garthe Kindler

    The only thing this article conveys is the author's naivete. He may sincerely believe in interfaith dialogue and may even believe his sentiment is shared by muslims. However, should those muslims he's met ever become the political majority, he'll learn how quickly the dialogue will change and he will be consigned by them to the status of dhimmitude prescribed by the Quran. And his daughter's muslim friend, "A", this girl must be ignorant of her own religion. As a muslim, she must accept that the Quran is the inviolable, immutable word of God. The Quran commands in Sura 5.51: "Believers, do not take Jews or Christians as friends They are but one another's friends. If anyone of you takes them for his friends, then he is surely one of them. God will not guide evil-doers." By befriending a Jew, this muslim girl is disobeying God. And it is obligatory for all muslims, not just fundamentalists, to fight until islam is the dominant religion and the entire world submits to Allah. In other words, no muslim can sincerely or honestly believe in interfaith tolerance and dialogue. Such a sentiment is quite literally against his or her religion. Before any more people comment about how warm and fuzzy they feel reading this feel-good pap, they should take the time to investigate islamic ideology and discover that Jews, Christians, and muslims DO NOT worship the same God.

    November 28, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Nadia

      Brother garthe you r so misinformed. Quran can never be used in parts. You have to read what has been said before and after. This chapter came when the battle of the ditch happened. in which the jews broke the treaty so it was for that perticular trible not for every jew in the world like you say. So please stop spreading hatred and lets work always as one.

      November 28, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  20. C130vet

    I have yet to see an interfaith group or "dialogue" include Pagans; I have seen on one occasion an interfaith group explicitly exclude Wiccans. Therefore I must conclude that they are hypocrites; to be truly "interfaith" they must include all religions. Also, the word itself implies the exclusion of athiests and agnostics.

    November 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Eric Lucas

      Methinks you need to check out a Unitarian Universalist congregation.

      November 28, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Jason

      "I have yet to see an interfaith group or "dialogue" include Pagans"

      I have yet to know of any pagans or hear about any interest of dialogue between them and other faiths.

      "I have seen on one occasion... Therefore I must conclude that they are hypocrites"

      Ok, so we've established that you've never [successfully] taken a course in basic logic.

      "To be truly "interfaith" they must include all religions."

      Uh, no. That isn't a requirement at all. Not any more than an international organization having to be represented in every single nation of the world.

      "Also, the word itself implies the exclusion of athiests and agnostics."

      Yeah...because it's for interfaith dialogue. And from what I've seen, there's more hope for a mature respect and tolerance between members of different faiths than between atheists and religious people. I quite enjoy conversing with people of different faiths. The spiritual experience is a beautiful thing that we can have mutual respect for.

      December 20, 2010 at 10:49 am |
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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.