Muslim superhero comics meet resistance in U.S.
The Muslim-themed comic series 'The 99' has been blasted by a small group of critics of Islam in the United States.
October 5th, 2011
02:09 PM ET

Muslim superhero comics meet resistance in U.S.

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) - Naif Al-Mutawa anticipated a struggle when he launched an Islam-inspired comic book series that he hoped would become a symbol of toleration.

He worried about the comics being banned in Saudi Arabia - which wound up happening, briefly – and he expected to be challenged by conservatives in Islam, since Al-Mutawa wanted to buck the trend of Islamic culture being directly tied to the Koran.

But it wasn’t an Islamic cleric that stalled the series, called “The 99,” after the 99 attributes of Allah, which the superheroes are supposed to embody.

It is the American market, and the voices of Islam’s Western critics, that have caused the most problems for “The 99,” says Al-Mutawa, who is the focus of a PBS documentary airing next week.

In 2010, President Barack Obama called the comic books, which debuted in 2006, “the most innovative response” to America’s expanding dialogue with the Muslim world, which Obama has encouraged. The series features 99 superheroes from across the globe who team up to combat villains and who embody what Al-Mutawa calls basic human values like trust and generosity.

But Al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti-born clinical psychologist and graduate of Columbia Business School, says a vocal minority have raised surprising questions about American tolerance of Islam.

Meeting resistance

The idea for “The 99” started during a conversation in a London cab between Al-Mutawa and his sister. It took off, although slowly, after Al-Mutawa raised $7 million from 54 investors across four continents.

The first issue was released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in 2006. The comic book was quickly banned in Saudi Arabia and Al-Mutawa received threats of fatwas against him and his project from clerics. But Saudi Arabia eventually lifted the ban and the television adaptation of “The 99” will be aired there this year.

Al-Mutawa and his team have now raised more than $40 million in venture capital for the project.

But when word leaked that The Hub, a Discovery Channel cable and satellite television venture, purchased the series and planned to air it in the United States, the response from conservative bloggers and authors was swift.

A burqa-wearing superhero?

Pamela Geller, founder of the Atlas Shrugs blog, called the series, part of the “ongoing onslaught of cultural jihad,” and created a counter-comic strip that made the 19 hijackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks the superheroes.

New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, meanwhile, urged readers to “Hide your face and grab the kids. Coming soon to a TV in your child’s bedroom is a posse of righteous, Sharia-compliant Muslim superheroes - including one who fights crime hidden head-to-toe by a burqa.”

According to Al-Mutawa, the criticism spooked The Hub. “All of a sudden we couldn't get an airdate and I was asked to be patient and we have been,” Al-Mutawa said. “But it has been a year and the actual push-back died down.”

Mark Kern, Senior Vice President of Communication for The Hub, told CNN that “‘The 99’ is one of the many shows we have on the possible schedule, but at this time, no decisions have been made about scheduling.”

Al-Mutawa isn’t shy about responding to the criticism his comics have received in the U.S. “There is nothing different from them and the extremists in my country,” he says. “They are just as bad. They are just intellectual terrorists.”

Geller, author of the book “Stop the Islamization of America,” called Al-Mutawa’s statement “ridiculous victimhood rhetoric.”

“He is the one mainstreaming oppression and discrimination,” Geller says. “I work for equality of rights for all people. So which one of us is the intellectual terrorist?”

Geller also takes issue with Al-Mutawa’s assertion that “The 99” exemplifies “moderation” and “toleration,” pointing to a “burqa-wearing superhero.”

But Al-Mutawa says criticisms of burqas are evidence that, “for some people anything to do with Islam is bad.”

“How cliché is it that characters created to promote tolerance are getting shot down by extremists,” he says.

Chronicling the ordeal

Al-Mutawa’s frustrations are chronicled in the new documentary “Wham! Bam! Islam!,” which will air on PBS on October 13 as part of the Independent Lens series.

The film’s director, Isaac Solotaroff, began shooting before the comic was released.

He said that one of the most surprising aspects of the story is how “a very small group of people who scream very loud, have a disproportionate share of the public discourse when it comes to culture.”

Echoing Al-Mutawa, Solotaroff calls it a case of the tail wagging the dog. He says that initial concerns of censorship in the Middle East began to change as the project progressed.

“We were waiting for a fatwa from a cleric in Saudi Arabia, Solotaroff says,” when it ended up being the U.S. market that has been resistant to “The 99.”

“Realizing that The 99 will not survive if focused solely on the Middle East, Al-Mutawa must now target an international and predominantly non-Muslim market,” reads the website for “Wham! Bam! Islam!”

Citing The Hub holdup, Solotaroff says the project is now stuck in the most important market” for “The 99.”

Al-Mutawa is also trying to gain distribution for his TV series in France and other countries, but his main focus remains the United States.

“One way or the other,” he says, “‘The 99’ will get on air in the U.S.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Books • Islam • TV

soundoff (525 Responses)
  1. Scotty2010

    Better be careful; those people will kill you for including their religion in a comic.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  2. Seema

    And we call Muslims fanatics , a man has the courage to attempt something so radical that will change the future thinking of the kids of this culture and all we can do is complain.
    It is certainly the end of democracy in the US if there is no free speech, what are you afraid off that people may actually find some truth in it and reject the beliefs you hold on to.
    One world ,one god

    October 7, 2011 at 8:26 am |
    • Sathyavrath

      You would be right if the fight between free speech and intolerance was contained in the US alone and was US centric.

      The fault line of this clash of civilisation is not religious at all. Both Muslims and Non Muslim make the incorrect assumption that Islam is a religion, it is not: Islam is a political ideology and it has global ramifications. If Muslim countries permit alternative view points and tolerance then I think we can have an equitable debate on the values and erosion of free speech in the US. But the Muslims in the US have NEVER, EVER protest against Muslim injustice against non muslims in muslim countries.

      In the recent bombing of a church in Indonesia that killed 2 people, and the death sentence of man in Iran who converted; the silence of the muslim countries and muslims in the US to condemn such intolerance was totally deafening.

      That makes their pitch for "Understanding" and bonhomie in the US patently false and deceptive. In fact, they use the tools of democracy, like free speech, as a weapon against western civilization.

      October 7, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • MarkinFL

      None of which has ANY bearing on free speech rights in THIS country.

      October 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • Santiago Matamoros

      It's taqiyya intended to entice the gullible and placate the uninformed, not something to be lauded.

      October 8, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Santiago Matamoros

      Well said, Sathyavrath!

      October 8, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Red

      @Santiago Matamoros, if you can VALIDATE this with actual EVIDENCE, go right ahead.

      Other should READS THE COMIC before wailing to condemn it. The first issue is available in English for free download. at the website. http://www.the99.org/

      October 9, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  3. FedUpOhioLib

    Idiots abound. There is nothing functionally different from a Burqa and Ninja garb. Nothing.

    October 7, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • Santiago Matamoros

      FedUp needs "ed" up (as in educate himself):

      The hijab/abaya/burqa/etc. are not just coverings, they're symbols of the most hateful and intolerant ideology in the history of Man.

      October 8, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Red

      No question. And Batina the Hidden looks just as Bad-ass!

      @Santiago Matamoros, you are an ignorant coward. You arrogantly ASSUME you know what you're talking about, but whimper when you FAIL to validate your claim. Instances where the things like the hijab and burqa being forced on a woman DO NOT COUNT. That is the thing; generally speaking, wearing either should be and IS A CHOICE in many Middle Eastern countries. Only in countries that enforce their extremist view is it forced. Do you even KNOW what you're talking about? Have you ever even MET and known any Muslims? Have you even READ the comic in question?

      Clearly the answer is no. I suggest you DO read it and point exactly WHERE it spouts such extremist views. http://www.the99.org/

      October 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  4. gliese42

    The Byzantine empire fell when they let in muslim immigrants who said they came in peace and the same thing is happening in America. God bless America

    October 7, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  5. musicalchef

    Wouldn't it be easier to fight crime in a burqa than a bustier like Wonder Woman's? (I love Wonder Woman, but can you really expect a woman to run, jump, and fly and still keep everything from popping out?) Plenty of male superheroes have their heads, faces, and bodies covered by their costume and no one complains! Batman, anyone?

    And I've seen pics of more of this guy's superheroes; there are a lot of women there and only one's wearing a burqa, but for some reason people are freaking out about it.

    October 7, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • gliese42

      musicalchef@ read the history of middle east and Europe and you will understand

      October 7, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  6. jay

    comments are pre-screened before they post? why my comment is not up?

    October 7, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • Santiago Matamoros

      That was happening earlier this week; perhaps they're screening for certain keywords.

      (As in, everything that doesn't kiss the genocidal pedophile Muhammad's posterior.)

      October 8, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  7. hesalive

    Satan loves a religion that denies the divinity of God's majestic, risen Son. Islam is most certainly Satanic chatter meant to separate you from your savior. Reject Him in this life, be rejected in the next one.

    October 7, 2011 at 6:32 am |
    • nad

      Islam is a wicked evil religion and no doubt in any one's mind.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • Rick

      wow, another anonymous empty proxy threat. hesalive...your god is as impotent as your threats. now, go home and get your shinebox

      October 7, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Rick

      nad: i bet t here is plenty of doubt about your statement among the people who follow the religion. islam is an evil wicked religion, but christianity, as evidenced by hesalive's proxy threat is what, godly?

      October 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • kendallpeak

      Hesalive's statement is simply a statement of faith. Rick your statements are intentionally personally directed insults, so your accusation of impotence really are better directed to yourself. I thought you atheist claimed to follow logic? You're lack of intelligence is revealing.

      October 8, 2011 at 7:21 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      rick; Yoy make the most stupid and ignorant entries here, you are such a "pendejo."

      October 10, 2011 at 4:11 am |
  8. ahmad

    Jesus in the Glorious Quran

    The Quran tells us many wonderful things about Jesus. As a result, believers in the Quran love Jesus, honor him and believe in him. In fact, no Muslim can be a Muslim unless he or she believes in Jesus, on whom be peace. The Quran says that Jesus was born of a virgin, that he spoke while he was still only a baby, that he healed the blind and the leper by God's leave and that he raised the dead by God's leave. What then is the significance of these miracles? First, the virgin birth. God demonstrates His power to create in every way. God created everyone we know from a man and a woman. But how about Adam, on whom be peace? God created him from neither a man nor a woman. And Eve from only a man, without a woman. And finally, to complete the picture, God created Jesus from a woman, without a man.

    What about the other miracles? These were to show that Jesus was not acting on his own behalf, but that he was backed by God. The Quran specifies that these miracles were performed by God's leave. This may be compared to the Book of Acts in the Bible, chapter 2, verse 22, where it says that the miracles were done by God to show that he approved of Jesus. Also, note that Jesus himself is recorded in the Gospel of John to have said: ‘I can do nothing of my own authority' (5:30). The miracles, therefore, were done not by his own authority, but by God's authority. What did Jesus teach? The Quran tells us that Jesus came to teach the same basic message which was taught by previous prophets from God – that we must shun every false god and worship only the One True God. Jesus taught that he is the servant and messenger of the One True God, the God of Abraham. These Quranic teachings can be compared with the Bible (Mark 10:18; Matthew 26:39; John 14:28, 17:3, and 20:17) where Jesus teaches that the one he worshipped is the only true God. See also Matthew 12:18; Acts 3:13, and 4:27 where we find that his disciples knew him as ‘Servant of God’. The Quran tells us that some of the Israelites rejected Jesus, and conspired to kill him, but God rescued Jesus and raised him to Himself. God will cause Jesus to descend again, at which time Jesus will confirm his true teachings and everyone will believe in him as he is and as the Quran teaches about him. Jesus is the Messiah. He is a word from God, and a spirit from Him. He is honored in this world and in the hereafter, and he is one of those brought nearest to God. Jesus was a man who spoke the truth which he heard from God. This can be compared with the Gospel According John where Jesus says to the Israelites: ‘You are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God’ (John 8:40).

    At the end i would just like to say Muslims and Christians have so much in common, why fight on the differences and lets sit together and see what is common among us, i can understand the hatred among our Christian brothers and sisters, but Islam does not preach hatred and violence, due to few terrorists you cannot judge Islam, like due to Adolf Hitlers and other black sheep of the Christian community, we cannot judge Christianity.

    I see many Christians abusing Muhammad, but my friends how much you may abuse Muhammad, we cannot and will not abuse Jesus Christ at all.

    Acts of few should not be judged to be acts of all. I have lived with Americans and have to say, one of my best friends were Christians, people who cared for me and helped me. I still and will not judge you, who am i to do so. Again as a Muslim we are not allowed to judge people by the acts they commit and the lives they live, GOD only will judge them.

    October 7, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • hesalive

      Jesus' last words from the Cross: It is finished.

      October 7, 2011 at 6:33 am |
    • gliese42

      You will never accept trinity because christians believe the father, son and the holy spirit and the Bible never quotes 88 virgins in heaven

      October 7, 2011 at 7:36 am |
    • steveinmo

      You can't truly believe in him if you only consider him a prophet and not the Son of God, God in the Flesh, and the One setting on the right hand at the seat of Judgment. To say anything else is a lie and deception. I believe in Mohamad, as an antichrist, a devil, and false prophet.

      October 7, 2011 at 7:40 am |
    • nad

      What kind of an ideology causes a man to show no remorse for murdering others?"slay them wherever you catch them" (Qur'an 2:191).

      October 7, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • nad

      Never try to trick us with a kiss buddy, the light and the dark are two opposites directions.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • Sathyavrath

      Firstly, you're animosity towards non-abrahamic religions is apparent by your slip. You ask that Christians and Muslims should seek common ground.....as if Hindus, Jains, Bhuddists, Pagans and everything else can be dissed easily. This is intolerance and hatred at its most subtle. We are not fooled. Secondly, you say that as Muslims will not curse or revile Jesus Christ. That is a stretch my friend, there is nothing to abuse or revile Jesus Christ. As a non believer in religion I have read both books, and found Jesus Christ exceptionally virtuous that Mohammed cannot even hold a candle to. Mohammed life would not hold muster in today's society and would be jailed for crimes against humanity. Islam and the Koran explicity advocates the killing of infidels and non muslims. It is there for all to read and cannot be taken out of context. Islam is not a religion of peace, in fact it is not a religion.It is a political ideology and this point is now apparent.

      October 7, 2011 at 10:06 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      When Jesus was being baptized the word of God was heard saying (paraphrased): "This is my Son in whom I trust" (Matthew 3:17) If you think you and all other Islamists believe in Jesus then why to follow Mohammed and the Quran? If you and all Islamists really believed in Jesus, you would detach yourselves from Islam.
      Jesus is the Son of God, not just a regular human prophet; besides that, only Israel had prophets who delivered the messages God gave them. Mohammed was not Israelite, therefore, he could not have been a prophet of Jehovah (God).
      In order to be saved, humankind only needs to believe in God and in the fact that Jesus is His Son and accept Him as his savior. No other deity or pedophile self-styled stand-up prophet is needed to reach God upon our death. Therefore, Islam and all other non-Christian cults are useless, worthless and detrimental to humankind.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:32 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Ahmad you may not “abuse Jesus,” as you mentioned but there have been many other Islamists/Muslims who have said derogatory statements insulting Jesus in this and other places. But you should know that they are not insulting Christians but they are insulting God Himself. Nevertheless, they are forgiven; it is written in Luke 12:10 that blasphemy against Jesus is forgiven. If someone insults Islam or Mohammed, what is the penalty? Isn’t it death instead of forgiveness?

      October 10, 2011 at 3:23 am |
  9. Phil

    I certainly don't support jihad or terrorism, or sharia, or anything of the sort. But to be fair, our (American) comics are distributed throughout the world, would it really be the end of the world if we read just one from another country?

    October 7, 2011 at 5:34 am |
    • Marc

      Appaerntly, yes.

      October 7, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  10. Peter Pimplepopper theThird, of the Boston Pimplepoppers

    Now let's not get too nasty about the burqa. The burqa is really just the opposite of a hat. In the West, a hat usally is worn to hide a lack of hair. In the Middle East, a burqa covers up the astounding hairyness of their women. Same idea, just in reverse.

    If France took a close look at their women, they would never have banned the burqa. Islamic women would really be better off with atheism and a hefty supply of Nair.

    October 7, 2011 at 3:33 am |
    • jay

      I am not a bigot person. But I get nervous when I'm near people wearing burgas as it also used to conceal bombs sometimes. You just never know when you get unlucky.

      October 7, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • John Briffaux

      Actually France is not the only European country to have banned the burqa. Many others have had this law before France. The majority here in Europe are for this law banning the burqa and see nothing wrong with it. Muslims that do not accept this law and go against it only increase the sentiment of nationalism. Its quite simple, you accept and follow the laws of the land on which you live and if you are not of with it then you can always leave and go live in your own country.

      October 7, 2011 at 8:19 am |
  11. rick

    I'd read it. And I like Glenn Beck.

    October 7, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • Red

      Then here it is!

      First issue is available for free to download in English. http://www.the99.org/

      October 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Sikandar

    Are CNN comments the new American cesspool of collective thought? Encouraging to see the extremist and close-minded morons stuck in 9/11 while the rest of the world moves on.

    October 7, 2011 at 2:23 am |
    • Kiljoy616

      Lame cesspool comics with no imagination at all so where is the crazy mentally challenge mohamed? Why are the male character not in a black sheet over their head.

      October 7, 2011 at 2:53 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Sikandar: Even if your murderous fellow Islamic brothers had not murdered 2756 people on 911, everything that is Islamic- related is harmful to the USA and to all other countries still free from the oppression of Islam. So do not play the ignorant, gullible, innocent and naive victim of some kind of discrimination. It is no secret Islamist want to oppress every country and impose by force the totalitarian ideology called Islam. You better get used to this opposition and more to come in the future. We do not want Islam in the USA; we will legally oppose it through our court system before Islamic judges take over judgeships. We will repel Islam but not with the violence that Islamists used such as beheading all those who rejected it.

      October 10, 2011 at 2:46 am |
  13. Kevin

    Wow, people are crazy! Seriously? They didn't even read it yet. And, we let nuns dress a certain way and they are seen as holly, why is a burqa so bad?

    October 7, 2011 at 1:19 am |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Nuns do not blow thenselves up in the middle of a crowd of people; and nuns at least show their face, unlike Muslim women who can only show their eyes.

      October 7, 2011 at 1:39 am |
    • Red

      People fear what they don't understand. Or what they THINK they understand, but only see the extremist view. Really people.

      The comic is available in English free for download. I suggest people actually READ IT before the condemn it

      October 9, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  14. Jon

    They raised 40 million in capital? There will not be a penny in profit. We have our our priorities messed up and the USA is almost dead from this tolerance for others when there is no tolerance for us from others. Obama has time to comment on this trash too? We are lost as a nation.

    October 7, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • Sathyavrath

      Puts a renewable energy or clean tech Start Up's business model that is trying to raise US$10mm in Series A funding in perspective does'nt????

      October 7, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • mic

      what tolerance ..? our armies ara all over the world and that's exactly why are we lost : lack of tolerance.

      October 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • Red

      Read the comic before you spout off. http://www.the99.org/

      October 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  15. Jose M. Pulido

    Again, beware of Islamist hypocrites here who pose here as Islamist women who claim to be so happy to be oppressed by their Islamic government. The majority of Islamic women are quietly and desperately yearning to be free from the slavery of their ideology called Islam. They are probably thinking: “When will we be free?” “How long do we have to stand this Islamic suffering?” But Islamist women are not allowed to speak their minds, not even to drive a car.
    Islamic governments are backward, totalitarian, fascist and oppressing to men and especially to women. Therefore, it is foolish to try to deceives the free world by claiming to be women who are so happy with being enslaved, abused, mistreated and murdered by the Islamist ideology.
    There may be some Islamic women participating here but they are forced by their husbands to say something positive about Islam.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:24 pm |
    • Frank

      Jose, you should not speak about things that you do not know. Give the guy a break.

      October 7, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  16. Jose M. Pulido

    Beware of Islamist hypocrites here who pose here as Jewish-Christians with Americanized names who claiming to favor Islam. They are likely to be Arab/Islamist/Muslim potential terrorists trying to defend that dying but still harmful ideology called Islam.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  17. Jose M. Pulido

    Islamists, especially the ones who claim to be directly descendants of Ishmael and Esau are losers since the time they lived; to make life worst for them and for many other countries, child molester Mohammed concocted that horrible ideology called Islam and they adopted it (by force not by choice).
    The only way for Islamists to break God's curse against them caused by Esau’s foolishness and be forgiven by Him, is for Islamists to admit the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and not just a self-styled stand-up prophet like pedophile Mohammed.
    Humankind, including Islamists/Muslims need to accept Jesus as their savior in order to have everlasting life after we die. But Islamists should know that no one will force the neither behead them if they reject Jesus as Islamists did and still do to all those who reject Islam and Mohammed. Now thay want to bring another silly Islamist superhero to America.

    October 6, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Rick

      Free people do not need saviors, pendejo

      October 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Jose M. Pulido

      Rick: Speak for yourself, not for others "pendejo."

      October 10, 2011 at 2:59 am |
  18. Happy2bmuslima


    October 6, 2011 at 10:48 pm |
    • Awkward Situations

      Don't you mean submission to the will of men?

      How does it feel anyway, all the men in your society telling you how to be a woman? I suppose the whole battered wife syndrome works real well for your religion as well. How much of your sanity will you have to give up until you realize your lover is your abuser? I feel sorry for you ladies. You probably don't have a choice – acid in the face is a big deterrent after all!

      I hope you are able to get rid of the shackles the men and your religion put you in. You're a human being and you deserve to be treated better than that. I await your full response of absolute denial and rationalization.

      October 7, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Awkward Situations

      btw.. CAPS lock not necessary!

      October 7, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • Jose

      Yea sister I converted to Islam and I have never heard anything about killing any people in the mosque or with friends. I don't know how people get these ideas that all we talk about is killing non believer.

      October 7, 2011 at 12:20 am |
    • nad

      Islam is from the devil.Jeus said 'I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life'. (John 8:12)

      October 7, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • ritu

      why cannot you read your book and explain to the world that it treat others as infidel . beating of women etc etc

      October 7, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  19. AlienShark

    nobody needs this guy or his comic.

    October 6, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Red

      The millions of people who read this comic looking for positive role models in Muslim culture say otherwise.

      I suggest you do the same.

      October 9, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  20. Vick

    Geeze, people. This guy tries in effort to bring about tolerance through his work. All of his characters come from various walks of life and are trying to change the world for the better. Don't rely on the fear of the few that are ignorant and biased. Make your own judgements.

    October 6, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
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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.