Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Aspects of Amanpour

Christiane Amanpour is reputedly the world's highest-paid reporter. She reveals the inside track on filing from war zones

By Julie Ferry  /  THE GUARDIAN, LONDON

Christiane Amanpour

PHOTO: EPA

Christiane Amanpour, CNN's chief international correspondent - and a woman said to be the world's highest-paid reporter - greets me at the network's London office with a businesslike handshake and apologies for having to eat lunch through the interview. We are here to talk about Amanpour's new documentary series God's Warriors. In the programs, which took seven months to make, she reports on the growing overlap between religious fervor and politics and profiles those within Christianity, Islam, and Judaism who view themselves as part of the battle for cultural supremacy and political power.

In the flesh, Amanpour, 49, seems a world away from her image as a hardened war correspondent. The tall, imposing figure who has become a fixture on our TV screens, is relaxed and friendly. In many ways this documentary is a departure for her - a move from fast-paced reporting of the world's danger zones to a more reflective program.

"I feel that everyone wants a peek inside religion and extreme religion at the moment," she says, "because we just don't understand it. Every time I open a newspaper or turn on the TV there is something about religion and people are looking for information. Through the documentary we wanted to actually show how very fervently religious people believe that it is their duty to change the culture and politics to reflect God's will. Each and every one of them really believes that they have the direct line to God. How can you argue with these people?"

Amanpour was born in the UK (her mother is British) but spent her first 11 years living in Tehran before returning to the UK to complete her education at a convent school. She then moved to the US to start university. On summer holiday from her liberal arts degree at the University of Rhode Island, she was desperate to secure work in journalism and a program editor at BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight took a chance on her - she was soon on her way to a reporting career. Post-university she took up a job at the local Rhode Island TV station before hearing that English accents were de rigueur at the then-fledgling CNN. Stints reporting the fall of the Berlin Wall, the first Gulf war and the Balkans conflict quickly followed.

Having covered so many world-changing events, I wonder whether Amanpour has her own vision of a road map for peace today?

"If I was queen of the world? I would do everything I could to bring rapprochement between the Palestinians and the Israelis in the case of Islamic and Jewish extremism.

I would also try to encourage democracy in a way that doesn't necessarily come by being imposed by the gun, but is helped by a democratic world that understands each nation and culture is different and that democracy won't look the same everywhere. In the case of extremism you need brave politics and brave politicians who need to understand the greater good and not to play to the people who scream the loudest."

Does Amanpour ever reach a point at which she doesn't want to dig any deeper, when the truth feels too frightening?

"No, I find information empowering and lack of information makes me feel afraid. Does knowing what I know make me feel secure? No. But it does mean I have the tools to be forewarned, if not forearmed. I also think that one of our big problems, as a society, is ignorance. For example, the US military is caught in Iraq without enough translators - end of story. They don't have enough people in the entire military who speak Arabic and it is a vital tool."

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