ABC News' Christiane Amanpour: Not your ordinary Christmases

The international journalist offers insights into the worlds that filled her childhood and give her a unique perspective on the Middle East

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor

 

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arming many of the combatants, is tolerance still possible?

Filming the ABC Special at Luxor Temple. Photo by Shawn Baldwin, ABC News

“We have more in common than what divides us,” says Amanpour. “But, of course, over recent years, what divides us is more in the forefront — and is being used, I think, by those who would use religion as a political weapon.

“I grew up in Iran until the Islamic revolution in 1979 and it was not yet fundamentalist. The regime was not one that used Islam as the law of the land. Women were free. There was poverty and the difficulties of the oppression that poverty brings. Also it wasn’t a democracy.”

Her parents sent her to boarding school when she was 11, but still she came home for holidays.

“For me it was not difficult,” she recalls. “We went to church, the faiths were respected and actually, you know what, there are still Christian churches in Iran and there are still Jewish Synagogues” – although thousands of Iranian Christians and Jews have since escaped the country. Her own family fled amid the chaos of the Iranian Revolution and the imposition of strict Muslim law administered by ulema – the Shi’ia clergy from local mosques – and rigidly enforced by religious police. Brief trials lacking defense attorneys, juries, transparency or opportunity for the accused to defend themselves were held by shari’a-enforcing Islamic judges. Amnesty International documented 2,946 executions in the first two years for everything from drug and sexual offenses to “corruption on earth.”

But this was not the Iran that Amanpour grew up in. Hers was an Iran rich in thousands of years of history and culture and diversity.

“One of the things that I find phenomenal is that it was, in fact, an ancient Persian king, Cyrus the Great who defeated the Babylonians and enabled Jews to come back and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem.” Indeed, that story is told in the Bible’s books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah.

“This is very important,” says Amanpour. “Today people forget. People don’t focus on that kind of stuff because so much of the division that separates us. The differences have dominated our consciousness.”

How did such a culturally diverse upbringing affect her as an adult? How would she describe her own personal faith as a result of such a childhood?

“Well you know,” she says, somewhat reservedly, “Without wanting to be too – as you know, faith is a private thing. However, just to say that I have grown up with these three great Abrahamic monotheistic faiths.

“The first-ever monotheist was Zoroaster from ancient Persia, so I have all of that in my blood and in my bones and I do practice and I am teaching my son the traditions of faith, Jewish and Christian, and because his father is Jewish and my mother is English and Catholic,

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