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October 28th, 2013
03:56 PM ET

Terrorist attacks and deaths hit record high, report shows

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog co-editor

Washington (CNN) – As terrorism increasingly becomes a tactic of warfare, the number of attacks and fatalities soared to a record high in 2012, according to a new report obtained exclusively by CNN.

More than 8,500 terrorist attacks killed nearly 15,500 people last year as violence tore through Africa, Asia and the Middle East, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.

That’s a 69% rise in attacks and an 89% jump in fatalities from 2011, said START, one of the world’s leading terrorism-trackers.

Six of the seven most deadly groups are affiliated with al Qaeda, according to START, and most of the violence was committed in Muslim-majority countries.

The previous record for attacks was set in 2011 with more than 5,000 incidents; for fatalities the previous high was 2007 with more than 12,800 deaths.

Headquartered at the University of Maryland, START maintains the Global Terrorism Database, the most comprehensive source of unclassified information about terrorist attacks, with statistics dating to 1970.

START, one of 12 Centers for Excellence funded by the Department of Homeland Security, plans to release its full database in December but shared its early findings after a request by CNN.

This year is expected to outpace even 2012’s record high. There were 5,100 attacks in the first six months of 2013, said Gary LaFree, START’s director, and the wave of violence shows few signs of ebbing.

In recent weeks, Al-Shabaab, a militant group based in Somalia, attacked a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, leaving 67 dead; suicide bombers killed 81 at a church in Pakistan; and the Taliban took credit for killing two police officers with a car bomb in Afghanistan.

To find and tally attacks like those, START's computers comb through 1.2 million articles from 50,000 media outlets each month with an algorithm to help identify and eliminate redundancies. Its 25-member staff then studies, categorizes and counts each attack.

START's definition of terrorism closely mirrors that of the State Department and other experts. To be counted as an act of terror, an incident has to be an intentional act or threat by a "non-state actor" that meets two of these three criteria:

• It was aimed at attaining a political, economic, religious or social goal.

• It was intended to coerce, intimidate or convey a message to a larger group.

• It violated international humanitarian law by targeting non-combatants.

Part of the observed increase in 2012 may be due to the fact that START has improved its data collection methods and is better than ever at finding and categorizing terrorism, LaFree said. But he said the dramatic rise is not just a matter of having better data.

“We are convinced that a big chunk of this is real change in the world,” LaFree said. “We’ve seen a fairly steep upward trajectory in the total of terrorist attacks and fatalities worldwide.”

Outside of small dips in 2004 and 2009, the number of attacks has steadily increased in the past decade, according to START. The upward trend increases the likelihood that 2012’s numbers are not an aberration, LaFree said.

Counterterrorism experts not affiliated with START also said attacks appear to be occurring with increasing frequency.

“There’s just a lot of killing going on along sectarian and religious lines,” said Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department from 2009 to 2012. “And that’s a worrisome thing.”

The reasons behind the rise are complex, experts say:

• Weak and unstable states and corrupt or ineffective governments.

• Poverty and high unemployment, particularly among young men.

• Access to more lethal weaponry and increasing use of tactics like suicide bombings capable of killing scores of bystanders.

• A spike in sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, where ancient grudges give rise to modern massacres.

• The increasing use of terrorism as a tactic in war.

“The distinction between the front line and home front has largely been erased as terrorism has become a growing feature of contemporary warfare,” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser at the RAND Corp. and the founder of its counterterrorism program.

But Jenkins also cautioned that “terrorism” is notoriously difficult to define, and the increase in attacks does not necessarily mean the United States is “losing the war on terror.” He said it could just reflect a shift in strategy among Syrian rebels and Afghani radicals, for example.

Still, experts say the apparent increase in civilian casualties is alarming.

Gone are the days when terrorist groups like the Irish Republican Army or Italy’s Red Brigade would try to keep casualties low by issuing warnings, LaFree said.

“If you’re a terrorist group now and you want to get your message out,” he said, “the more people you kill, the more ‘successful’ you’ll be.”

Sectarian attacks - such as the pitched battles between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan - tend to be disproportionately deadly, said Martha Crenshaw, an expert at Stanford University and a START board member.

“Sadly, it seems to be increasingly acceptable in certain belief systems to kill as many members of the other religious community as possible,” she said. “Moral restraints seem to be eroding.”

Bombings and explosions were used in 58% of terrorist attacks in 2012, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, START’s data also show a dramatic global shift in terrorist tactics and hot spots.

In the 1970s, most attacks were committed with guns and occurred in Western Europe. In the 1980s, Latin America saw the most terrorist acts. Beginning with the 1990s, South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East has seen steadily rising number of attacks, a trend that has accelerated in recent years.

Although terrorism touched 85 countries last year, just three - Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan - suffered more than half of 2012’s attacks (55%) and fatalities (62%).

In January, Sunni suicide bombers attacked scores of Shiite pilgrims in Iraq, killing at least 73. In February, a car bomb outside a café in Mogadishu, Somalia, left 15 dead. In March, a bombing in Thailand killed 14 and injured 340 in a commercial district.

Just eight private U.S. citizens died in attacks outside the United States in 2012, all in Afghanistan, according to the State Department. In the United States, seven people died in 11 terrorist attacks last year, six of them in a shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Despite the death of Osama bin Laden and capture of other key al Qaeda leaders, the group has exported its brand of terrorism to other militant Muslims, according to START and other counterterrorism experts.

“We’ve had success in stopping al Qaeda central,” LaFree said. “But we have been unsuccessful in stopping the message.”

Afghanistan’s Taliban was by far the deadliest group in 2012, when it launched 525 attacks that killed 1,842 people.

The second deadliest group was Nigeria’s Boko Haram, a jihadist group that orchestrated 364 attacks last year that killed 1,132 people.

The next most deadly were al Qaeda in Iraq, the Communist Party of India-Maoist, Somalia’s Al-Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan’s branch of the Taliban.

Rhonda Shore, a spokesperson for the State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism, said she hadn't seen START's latest numbers and couldn't comment on the report. But she offered a staunch defense of the Obama administration’s approach to al Qaeda.

“We have made great progress in our efforts to disrupt, dismantle and defeat the larger al Qaeda organization in recent years,” she said.

“However,” she said, al Qaeda and its affiliates “continue to present a serious threat to the United States and its interests, and we must remain vigilant as we consider the range of tools and actions available to disrupt this threat.”

In April, START compiled a separate report for the State Department that counts fewer attacks (6,771) and fatalities (11,098) in 2012 than its own report because the U.S. government uses slightly different criteria to define terrorism.

Those lower numbers still represent an all-time yearly high in the number of attacks, according to START’s database.

Despite top terrorist groups’ affiliation - sometimes tenuous - with al Qaeda, some do not fit the mold created by its former head, bin Laden, and current leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, said Benjamin, the former State Department counterterrorism coordinator.

Bin Laden was motivated by an apocalyptic vision, Benjamin said, and wanted to spark a global war between Christians and Muslims.

The power struggles in many Muslim countries, on the other hand, are driven as much by political as religious concerns, according to Benjamin and other terrorism experts.

“Al-Shabaab, for example, is a fractious and disorganized group,” he said, “and the overwhelming majority of its foot soldiers don’t care about al Qaeda. They are just fighting to stay alive.”

And while most terrorism in 2012 was committed in Muslim-majority countries, LaFree and other experts cautioned against viewing Islam itself as inherently violent.

“Not so long ago, terrorism was centered in Western Europe and Latin America,” LaFree said. “It moves. And, unfortunately, it has moved into the Muslim world right now.”

Like Benjamin, Rizwan Jaka, a Muslim leader based in Northern Virginia, said that political - not religious - motivations lay behind many acts of terrorism.

“It isn’t like they woke up and said 'I’m a Muslim; I’m going to go kill someone in a shopping mall,' ” Jaka said. “In their twisted mind, this is political retaliation.”

Still, American Muslims are working to reduce Sunni-Shiite tensions, said Jaka, a board member of the Islamic Society of North America.

The Fiqh Council of North America, an influential group that issues rulings based on Sharia, or Islamic law, released a fatwa endorsed by dozens of Muslims in 2005 categorically condemning terrorism.

More recently, the Islamic Society of North America has met with African and Middle Eastern leaders to urge them to protect the rights of religious minorities and discourage terrorism.

In September, Sunni and Shiite leaders meeting in Washington announced an agreement to set aside differences and address the “dire situation of unrest, destruction, genocide and refugees” in many predominantly Muslim countries.

“All Muslims are one nation, even if the schools of thought are diverse,” the scholars’ declaration said. “Such diversity is a source of intellectual enrichment and should not be the cause of accusations of disbelief, murder, and the desecration of sanctities.”

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Afghanistan • Africa • Crime • Fatwa • Foreign policy • Iran • Iraq • Islam • Islamic law • Middle East • Muslim • Nigeria • Pakistan • Terrorism

soundoff (911 Responses)
  1. Quotem

    When South Park got threatened last week by Islamists ... it served or should serve, as a reminder to all of us that our culture isn't just different than one that makes death threats to cartoonists, it's better. Because when I make a joke about the Pope, he doesn't send one of the Swiss Guards in their striped pantaloons to stick a pike in my ass. When I make a Jewish joke, Rabbis may kvetch about it, but they don't pull out a scimitar and threaten an adult circumcision. ... it should in fairness be noted, that in speaking of Muslims, we realize that of course the vast majority are law abiding, loving people, who just want to be left alone to subjugate their women in peace. ... but the western world needs to make it clear, some things about our culture are not negotiable, and can't change, and one of them is freedom of speech. Separation of church and state is another, not negotiable. Women are allowed to work here and you can't beat them, not negotiable. This is how we roll. And this is why our system is better." – Bill Maher

    October 29, 2013 at 12:56 am |
  2. Malik Abu Nidal

    Convert or die, infidels!

    October 29, 2013 at 12:55 am |
  3. Quotem

    "The deadening influence of Islam is well demonstrated by the way in which the Musulman comports himself at different stages of his life. In his early childhood, when the religion has not as yet impregnated his brain, he shows a very lively intelligence and remarkably open mind, accessible to ideas of every kind; but, in proportion as he grows up, and as, through the system of his education, Islam lays hold of him and envelops him, his brain seems to shut up, his judgment to become atrophied, and his intelligence to be stricken by paralysis and irremediable degeneration." – André Servier

    October 29, 2013 at 12:49 am |
  4. Shangheyed

    These are just snapshots of 1400 yrs of global jihad... anywhere there is a mosque...

    The Author tries to outline reasons for the Terror ...BUT FORGETS THE MAIN REASON, THE CONVERT OR DIE CULT HAS BEEN KILLING IN THE NAME OF GOD FOR CENTUIRES.

    OLD NEWS!!!!

    October 29, 2013 at 12:47 am |
  5. Joe Swartz

    Miss President G W Bush yet???

    October 29, 2013 at 12:44 am |
    • BT

      What? lol are you kidding? No. His "war on terror" works so well.

      October 29, 2013 at 12:54 am |
  6. what now

    @sly.u r a moron. what invaders!? the muslim extremists-the terrorists- will never back down. the hatred is burning and livid towards anyone else that isnt part of there religion. if we back off they will kill us,we need to invade them. there is no ther option all they undestand is force. obama must get his head outta the sand and start winning this war. peace and sweet talk wont help

    October 29, 2013 at 12:43 am |
  7. Josh

    This article tried very hard to avoid the terror Syrian people are facing. Thanks to USA'Syrian rebels, 100k people were killed by terrorism. USA government chose to call them rebels. A name suits its friends of Saudi Arabia forgetting, delibritly, that Saudi Arabia is the head-snake of terrorism. Saudi Arabia culture produced Bin Laden and 17 of Sep11 terror attack. Yet the USA government trying to put some other groups in the mix so it does not sound like: Sunni Muslims and only Sunni Muslim are responsible for 99% of world terror. However, USA government is paying those"rebels" in Syria to kill Christians.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:26 am |
  8. Quotem

    "There is not a single world religion which doesn't hold women in contempt. Even Buddha was apparently born from a slit in his mother's side, anything but the filth and disgust of having to contemplate the female reproductive system. Yet again, anything but the vagina. Disgust for females, contempt for females, revulsion from menstrual blood and the female reproductive system. What could be more obviously man made than this, and made in a barbaric period even in the history of the male sex?" – Christopher Hitchens

    October 29, 2013 at 12:20 am |
  9. joe

    This is what happens when you give the primitives moderns weapons.

    These sub-humans are at iron age stage of evolution. They should only have knives and swords.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:11 am |
  10. sly

    the Brits called us terrorists. I admire the Arabs for fighting for their independence from the invaders.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:10 am |
  11. Copenshaw

    Nice! Allahu fckbar!!

    October 29, 2013 at 12:08 am |
  12. Quotem

    "Treason doth never prosper: what's the reason?
    Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason." – Sir John Harington

    October 29, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  13. sabo

    Terrorism at an all time high...Its
    Because we have an american president who is
    Leading from behind.
    8 years of this just gonna be too much to stomach

    October 29, 2013 at 12:07 am |
  14. Roy

    Funny reading the rants of brain dead liberals. It may be worth death to watch them march to the gallows with their head up the Dahlaibama's ass.

    October 29, 2013 at 12:01 am |
  15. MS

    So it appears that that reason for the NSA spying on average people across the globe did not prevent the one justification they have used to spy prevent terrorist attacks. A rather sick record collect to much garbage on everyday people the bad guys hide in the flood of information not yet filtered a rather easy tactic.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
  16. cpc65

    Fear is the biggest motivator. Right above lust and greed.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  17. kanwarjeet

    War benefits some – whether it be in the name of colonialism, religion, nationalism, nazism, communism, facism or even in the name of democracy. The question asked should be how these terrorists who belong to extremely poor nations can afford weapons, who are the lords of war who supply weapons to these men. There are too many twisted people in the world who have in their own vestd interest to keep the world at war – a war of any kind.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:55 pm |
  18. Wayne Burkett

    Killing is what they do. It is what they will always do. It is the Muslim way. You think like I think or you die. That is pretty simple. That is fact. That is truth. That is the way of the Muslim faith. Make the world a muslim world and then we can kill each other in peace. Ahalla akbar. God help us all.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:49 pm |
    • Ashrakay

      Historically, that has been the thought process of christianity as well.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:56 pm |
      • Jim R

        Historically-you would be wrong. Islam is a religion of death and destruction

        October 29, 2013 at 12:01 am |
      • Aazsi

        Historically, you are wrong; Islam was founded by a "prophet" who preached fear, domination and murder. Christianity was founded by Christ, who preached love-Love God above all, and Love your neighbors as yourself. Christians have only fought throughout history in self-defense.

        October 29, 2013 at 12:26 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Wayne, they have boys who'll go out with a suicide vest. We have boys who'll run drone strikes while eating cheetos and drinking diet Pepsi. Both scare the hell out me.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:57 pm |
  19. ArthurVandalay

    There must be some mistake. Obama told me many times he had Al Quieda and terrorism beaten. In fact this must just some statistical 'glitch' put out by that evil genius Bush from his ranch in Texas or these "terror attacks" were all just caused by a video that no one saw. Oh, and if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor AND Obamacaid will save you $2500 a year and not add one dime...not one dime... to the deficit.

    October 28, 2013 at 11:47 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      It'll be all right, Arthur. The Republican Party was energized by Ted Cruz. They'll overcome the constitutional difficulty associated with his Canadian birth and put him in the White House. Good times will be here again. You just send him all the money you can.

      October 28, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
      • Jim R

        Tom-way to stay on point. Let's not talk about birth certificates and Obama

        October 28, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  20. Reality # 2

    An easy and peaceful solution:

    From the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi--–

    The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:

    ( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)

    Are you ready?

    Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.

    The First Five of the 77 Branches:

    "1. Belief in Allah"

    aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.

    "2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."

    Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".

    "3. To believe in the existence of angels."

    A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.

    "4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."

    Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.

    Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.

    Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.

    "5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings
    be upon him) alone."

    Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.

    Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!

    Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.

    Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..

    From Google Translate:

    حل سهل وسلمية :

    من الدراسات من أرمسترونغ ، رشدي ، هيرسي علي ، ريتشاردسون و البيهقي -–

    في خمس خطوات ل أبطل تأثير 1400 سنة من الأساطير الإسلامية :

    ( – خطوات اتخاذ أقل من دقيقتين لإنهاء – ببساطة مدهشة ، دقيقتين لإحلال السلام والعقلانية إلى أكثر من مليار فقدت النفوس لا تقدر بثمن !)

    هل أنت مستعد؟

    استخدام " الفروع الإسلامية 77 من " الإيمان " مجموعة الإمام البيهقي المترجمة كنقطة انطلاق . في ذلك، وهو ما يفسر الفضائل الأساسية التي تعكس صحيح " الإيمان " ( إيمان ) من خلال الآيات القرآنية ذات الصلة، و أحاديث نبوية . " أي ملخص لطيفة من المعتقدات القرآن والإسلامية .

    الخمسة الأولى من الفروع 77 :

    " 1 . الإيمان بالله "

    كما يعرف أيضا باسم الله ، الرب ، زيوس ، الرب ، الطبيعة الأم ، وما إلى ذلك يجب أن تضاف إلى الخلايا العصبية التطهير الذاتي الخاص .

    " 2 . إلى الاعتقاد بأن كل شيء غيرها مما كان الله غير موجود. بعد ذلك، الله سبحانه وتعالى خلق هذه الأشياء ، وبعد ذلك جاءوا إلى حيز الوجود . "

    التطور و الانفجار الكبير أو " غي ب G- NAB " ( عند بدء الكون لإعادة تدوير ) هي أكثر ترجيحا و ينبغي أن تدرج في " المندرجة " في سبيل الله إذا كنت لا تزال تشكل " بجمعية العقارات، tionist " .

    " 3 . إلى الاعتقاد في وجود الملائكة . "

    A بندا رئيسيا لتطهير الخلايا العصبية . الملائكة / دي VILS هي الإبداعات الأسطورية من الحضارات القديمة ، على سبيل المثال HITT خائبي ، لشرح / تعريف الأحداث الطبيعية ، والاتصالات مع آلهتهم ، والطيور الكبيرة ، والرياح المفاجئة ، وحماة خلال الليالي المظلمة ، وما إلى ذلك لا " ثينجيس افسح المجال ل جميلة / UG- LY " بزيارة أي وقت مضى أو تحدثت إلى محمد ، يسوع ، مريم أو يوسف أو جو سميث . اليوم سوف نصنف الملائكة كما F- airies و " القصدير كير تكون LLS " . تصنف الحديثة دو VILS مثل دي مونس هيئة اجتثاث mented .

    " 4 . إلى الاعتقاد بأن جميع الكتب السماوية التي تم إرسالها إلى الأنبياء مختلفة صحيحا . ومع ذلك ، وبصرف النظر عن القرآن ، كل الكتب الأخرى ليست صالحة بعد الآن . "

    ومن البنود الرئيسية في حذفها. لا يوجد كتب في ولاية روح السماء (إذا كان هناك واحد ) فقط حيث لم تعد هناك ملائكة لكتابة / نشر / توزيعها . القرآن ، OT ، NT وما هي ببساطة الكتب التي كتبت من قبل البشر للبشر .

    اخترعت الأنبياء من قبل الكتبة القديمة عادة للحفاظ على الجماهير غير المتعلمة في الخط. اليوم ونحن ندعو لهم فرز الأصوات لل تناغم .

    النبوءات كما invali مؤرخة من قبل الطبيعية / الله / الله الهدايا من الإرادة الحرة و المستقبل.

    " 5 . إلى الاعتقاد بأن جميع الأنبياء صحيحا . ومع ذلك ، ونحن مأمورون اتباع النبي محمد ( عليه الصلاة والسلام
    صلى الله عليه وسلم) وحده " .

    قضى محمد ثلاثين يوما " الصيام " (أسطورة رمضان) في كهف الساخن قبل أول اتصال له مع الله الملقب الخ الله عبر " ممتزوجات افسح المجال ل جميلة " . الحس السليم يتطلب حذف الخلايا العصبية من # 5 . # 5 هو أيضا المصدر الرئيسي لل الاسلامي VI- olence أي تحول محمد "سريع ، يحركها الجوع " hallu – cinations إلى واقع فظيع لغير المؤمنين .

    المشي هذه خمس خطوات ، ونحن نضمن الانتعاش الكامل من الطرق الإسلامية الخاصة بك! !

    للأسف ، لا توجد العديد من المعلقين مسلم / القراء على هذا بلوق لذلك " مدة دقيقتين " العلاج هو عدم الحصول على لأولئك الذين في حاجة إليها . إذا كان لديك صديق مسلم ، ترسل له نسخة و تساعد في إنقاذ العالم .

    تتوفر خطوات مماثلة في طلبك للحصول على deprogramming الأساطير المسيحية واليهودية والبوذية والهندوسية و الوثنية ..

    October 28, 2013 at 11:39 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.