November 1st, 2014
03:26 PM ET

Harris on inter-spiritual struggle vs holy war

Fareed speaks with Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and author of The End of Faith, about his take on extremism in Islam. Watch the full interview on GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

But do you really think that the path to reforming Islam is to tell Muslims that their religion is the mother lode of bad ideas, that they should become atheists or symbolic followers, or nominal, I think was the word you used...


...nominal followers?

Well, I...

I mean, do you really think that 1.6 billion devout Muslims are going to go, damn, of course, Sam Harris is right, my religion is crap and I should just abandon it?

No. No. Well...and I slightly misspoke there. I didn't mean nominal followers in the sense that only Muslim atheists could reform the faith. What I meant is followers who don't take these specific dangerous beliefs very seriously and want to interpret jihad as an inter-spiritual struggle as opposed to holy war.

But do you think you're helping them or you're making it harder for them by, as I said...


...adopting the Osama bin Laden interpretation of Islam?

I'll tell you who's making it harder for them – liberals who deny the problem.

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Topics: GPS Show • Religion
September 8th, 2014
03:55 PM ET

Revisiting 'Why Do They Hate Us?'

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

Watching the gruesome ISIS execution videos, I felt some of the same emotions I did after 9/11. Barbarism, after all, is designed to provoke anger and it succeeded. But in September 2001, it also made me ask a question: "Why Do They Hate Us?"

I tried to answer it in an almost 7,000-word essay for Newsweek that struck a chord with readers. I reread the essay this past week, to see how it might need updating in the 13 years since I wrote it.

I began the piece by noting that Islamic terror is not the isolated behavior of a handful of nihilists. There is a broader culture that has been complicit in it, or at least unwilling to combat it. Now, things have changed on his front but not nearly enough…

…By 2001, when I was writing, almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress - Eastern Europe was free, Asia, Latin America, and even Africa had held many free and fair elections. FULL POST

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Middle East • Religion
April 8th, 2014
12:58 PM ET

The internal debate Saudi Arabia needs to have

By Fahad Nazer, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Fahad Nazer is an analyst at JTG, Inc. and a former political analyst at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, CNN, Foreign Policy and Al Monitor, among others. You can follow him @fanazer. The views expressed are his own.

The uproar surrounding a recent Human Rights Watch statement on Saudi Arabia’s new terrorism laws is just the latest example of the tensions that have emerged in the country between liberalism and religious moderation on the one hand, and social conservatism and religious extremism on the other.

In the statement, issued late last month, the group warned that Interior Ministry regulations include “sweeping provisions” that “authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam.” Specifically, it noted Article 1, which covers “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Unfortunately, such measures simply serve to highlight the disconnect between the conciliatory policies the government has adopted towards religion in its relations with the outside world, and the still strict policies implemented within the kingdom. And, with the tug of war between ultra conservatives and those who understand the dangers of doctrinal rigidity showing no signs of abating, one thing is clear – Saudi Arabia is being pulled in two quite different directions.


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Topics: Religion • Saudi Arabia
Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?
March 28th, 2014
04:50 PM ET

Is Asia facing a new wave of religious extremism?

By Maha Hosain Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Maha Hosain Aziz is a professor of politics (adjunct) in NYU's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, a senior analyst at geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and advisory board chairwoman of Afghanistan’s first university e-mentoring program (New Silk Road Generation). The views expressed are her own.

Asked to name organizations tied to extremism, most people would likely list the usual suspects – Islamist militant groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban. But a spate of recent attacks has highlighted a growing problem that is threatening to destabilize parts of Asia, and it hails from what might seem to many a surprising source – a militant strain of Buddhism.

In Sri Lanka, for example, reports surfaced in January that eight Buddhist monks were involved in an attack on two churches in the southern town of Hikkaduwa. Another group, the Buddhist Power Force, is said to have been targeting Muslim minorities, and has pushed to ban headscarves, halal foods and other Muslim businesses. In July 2013, Buddhist mobs reportedly attacked a mosque in the north-central town of Dambulla; in August that year, a mosque was attacked in Colombo, sparking clashes between Buddhists and Muslims that left at least a dozen people injured. Sadly, the response from the Sri Lankan government, distracted as it is by the ongoing fallout since the end of the civil war with the Tamil Tigers, has been muted at best.


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Topics: Asia • Islam • Myanmar • Religion
January 16th, 2014
09:17 AM ET

Why religious freedom matters

By Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Robert P. George and Katrina Lantos Swett serve as chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively, of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed are their own.

National Religious Freedom Day, being marked today in the United States, reminds us that freedom of religion or belief is a pivotal human right, central to this country’s history and heritage. It is also recognized as such by the United Nations and other international bodies. Yet the issue frequently sparks debates that too often generate more heat than light.

That the mere mention of religious freedom triggers such powerful emotions, in the United States and overseas, helps explain why this critical right has not been accorded the centrality and respect it deserves, especially as a component of U.S. foreign policy. But whatever the reason, the United States must still look closely at the issue – and why it is key to successful U.S. foreign policy.

Back in 1948, the United Nations affirmed religious freedom as a core right in Article 18 of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." Further affirming this right, the governments of 156 nations in 1966 signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  The ICCRP, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, includes language similar to Article 18.


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Topics: Religion • United States
January 11th, 2014
08:00 AM ET

Why Iraq is in turmoil

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

By Fareed Zakaria

Here's a startling statistic: more than 8,000 Iraqis were killed in violent attacks in 2013. That makes it the second most violent country in the world, after its neighbor Syria.

As violence has spread and militants have gained ground in several Middle Eastern countries, people have been wondering how much this has to do with the Obama administration and its lack of an active intervention in the region. The Wall Street Journal and a Commentary magazine opinion piece have both argued this past week that the Obama administration's decision to withdraw troops from Iraq is directly responsible for the renewed violence in that country. They and others have also argued that because it has stayed out of Syria, things there have spiraled downward.

Let me suggest that the single greatest burden for the violence and tensions across the Arab world lies with a president – though not President Obama – and it lies with an American foreign policy that was not too passive but rather too active and interventionist in the Middle East. The invasion and occupation of Iraq triggered what has become a regional religious war in the Middle East. Let me explain how, specifically.


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Topics: Fareed's Take • Iraq • Middle East • Religion
The two faces of India
November 12th, 2013
10:23 AM ET

The two faces of India

By Katrina Lantos Swett and Mary Ann Glendon, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is Vice Chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Mary Ann Glendon is a USCIRF Commissioner. The views expressed are their own.

This month, the world’s second most populous nation has resumed its annual commemoration of end-of-year holy days. India’s Hindu population, along with Jains and Sikhs, has celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. Muslims are marking Al Hijra, the Islamic New Year, and Ashura on November 14. Next month, Christians will celebrate Christmas.

Taken together, these holidays are a testament to India’s remarkable religious diversity. Besides its Hindu majority, India includes the world’s third largest Muslim population, 25 million Christians, and Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Jews, and others. As the world’s largest democracy, India officially tolerates this diversity.   India’s prime minister is Sikh and the ruling Congress Party head is Catholic.

Yet on the ground, in a number of key areas across the country, there exists a second, markedly less benign India.

Pew’s Religious Restrictions Report finds that India scores “high” on government restrictions and “very high” on social hostilities indexes. In addition, a Pew survey of nations with significant Muslim populations excluded India, as local survey houses feared that questions on religious identity and belief could put interviewers’ safety at risk from local authorities or residents.


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Topics: India • Religion
Dawkins: Religion no moral compass
September 27th, 2013
05:53 PM ET

Dawkins: Religion no moral compass

By Jason Miks

GPS digital producer Jason Miks sits down with renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, author of the Selfish Gene and An Appetite for Wonder, to discuss readers’ questions on religion, its role in society and whether children can be described as “Christian.”

A number of readers noting your skepticism over religion’s role in society ask whether an absence of religion would leave us without a moral compass?

The very idea that we get a moral compass from religion is horrible. Not only should we not get our moral compass from religion, as a matter of fact we don’t. We shouldn’t, because if you actually look at the bible or the Koran, and get your moral compass from there, it’s horrible – stoning people to death, stoning people for breaking the Sabbath.

Now of course we don’t do that anymore, but the reason we don’t do it is that we pick out those verses of the bible that we like, and reject those verses we don’t like. What criteria do we use to pick out the good ones and reject the bad ones? Non-biblical criteria, non-religious criteria. The same criteria as guide any modern person in their moral compass that has nothing to do with religion.

So the moral compass of any person is very much a part of the century or even the decade in which they happen to live, regardless of their religion. So we live in the early 21st century, and our moral compass in the early 21st century is quite different from 100 years ago, or 200 years ago. We are now much less racist than they were, much less sexist than they were. We are much kinder than non-human animals than they were – all sorts of respects in which we are labeled with a moral compass. So something has changed, and it certainly has nothing to do with religion.


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Topics: Religion • Science
June 30th, 2013
12:02 AM ET

Sullivan on Catholicism and same-sex marriage

"Fareed Zakaria GPS" this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with commentator Andrew Sullivan about this week’s Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage and religious resistance to the idea of same-sex weddings.

The opposition you still face does come largely from the religious community, from the Christian right. You're a believing Catholic. What do you say to them?

Read Kennedy's decision. The core of it is about human dignity. And that is a...

He used that word nine times...

Yes. And, you know, dignity is a very important word in Catholic theology. Once you’ve understood a person, a human being has human dignity, there are certain things that will not and cannot be morally done to that person. And I think what he revealed was how gay people before that had been denied that dignity, even by their own church. And I think it's a tragedy that the Catholic hierarchy has taken this position.

But one recalls that the new pope was in favor of civil unions in Argentina, that the new pope comes from a country where same-sex marriage is legal, for the first time. So he knows this.

But yes, I would say the religious arguments are more based in fear than in the actual teachings, that they're based upon stray texts that actually don't mean what you think they mean and that Jesus himself only said one thing about marriage, which is that you can't divorce. And we live in a country where countless people are divorced. And that doesn't seem to threaten the religious liberty of Catholics. And it's as fundamental an issue.


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Topics: GPS Show • Religion
May 30th, 2013
10:43 AM ET

Why the Baha’i 7 matter

By Katrina Lantos Swett, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Katrina Lantos Swett is the chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The views expressed reflect those of USCIRF and not CNN.

With Iran’s presidential election looming next month, ongoing uncertainty about the status of its nuclear program, and questions about the degree of its involvement in Syria’s civil war, it’s easy to forget the domestic repression some groups face under its theocratic regime. But as Baha’i communities across the globe mark a disturbing anniversary in Iran, the birthplace of their faith, they are determined that the rest of the world should also know about the hardship and discrimination they are faced with every single day.

Throughout the month, Baha’is have engaged in a global campaign titled simply “Five Years Too Many,” on behalf of the so-called Baha’i 7 – the Baha’i leaders imprisoned in Iran for the past five years on account of their faith. I was honored to have the opportunity to address gathered supporters earlier this month when the campaign came to Washington, D.C.


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Topics: Iran • Religion
Why God doesn’t go away
March 27th, 2013
09:41 AM ET

Why God doesn’t go away

By Paul J. Zak, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Paul J. Zak is a professor at Claremont Graduate University in California and author of 'The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity.' The views expressed are his own.

I carried a lot of crosses as a Catholic altar boy. I also learned to mumble phrases in Latin and breathed in enough incense to choke an elephant. There is something serene about being behind a ritual. It lets you observe and reflect. And wonder why in the world people show up.

Roughly six percent of Americans report that they are atheists or agnostics according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll.  But, that means that over 90 percent believe in a God. Pew also reports that 80 percent profess a religious affiliation and half of those with a religious affiliation regularly attend church. So what motivates 120 million Americans to attend a church, synagogue or temple?

I began running experiments searching for a biochemical basis for moral behaviors in 2001 and found in a decade's worth of research that the molecule oxytocin motivated people to return kindness when they were shown kindness. Given my Catholic background and later skepticism that only Catholics would get into heaven (if such a thing exists), in my experiments I only asked college participants the most cursory questions about their religious beliefs. Guess what? Few college students are religious at all – and I found no difference in oxytocin functioning or prosocial behaviors between believers and nonbelievers.


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Topics: Religion
Pope Francis – global centrist
March 17th, 2013
08:02 PM ET

Pope Francis – global centrist

By Stephen Selka, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephen Selka is assistant professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Indiana University. The views expressed are his own.

That one of the biggest hopes for the new pope’s tenure is that things will change goes without saying. No one needs to be reminded of all of the challenges that the Roman Catholic Church is facing, including declining membership and the mishandling of sex abuse scandals. At the same time, the church has maintained a conservative stance on Church doctrine for decades, and that is not likely to change anytime soon under Pope Francis.

For many, especially the approximately 40 percent of Roman Catholics who live in Latin America, what is most obviously appealing about the new pope is that he is from Argentina. South America, of course, is part of the broader global south, a region that Andrew Chesnut, professor of Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, recently referred to as “the future of Christianity” in an interview with the BBC.  Indeed, the southern hemisphere is where the majority of Catholics reside – around 70 percent, in fact. Beyond that, however, it is a place shaped by very different religious currents than those in Europe and North America. In the north, since the middle of the twentieth century, for example, Catholicism and Christianity in general have had to contend with a proliferation of new religious movements and a growing skepticism towards religious authority. In the global south, the major challenge that the Catholic Church has faced during that same time period has been the growth of Pentecostal Christianity.


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Topics: Religion
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