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Syrian Sheikh Condemns ISIS Execution; Turner Prize Winner on Art, Identity; Imagine a World

Aired November 21, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): This weekend, we focus on faith in the face of violence. After ISIS executed yet another Western

aid worker, a prominent Sunni imam from Syria told me that Muslims must speak out even louder now against the terrorists.


MUHAMMAD AL-YAQOUBI, SYRIAN MUSLIM CLERIC: ISIS has no nationality. Its nationality is terror, savagery and hatred.


AMANPOUR: Also ahead, what drives those to fight for ISIS? A search for identity and need for certainty? We get a fresh perspective on

identity from an award-winning artist.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program. I'm Christiane Amanpour.

This week we had the tragic news of another brutal public execution by ISIS; the decapitation of aid worker Peter Abdul-Rahman Kassig, sent a

shock wave of revulsion around the world, not least the Muslim world.

On Monday, a top Syrian cleric told me that Abu Baker al-Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, is going to hell. Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi says the most

urgent task for Muslims right now is to spread the real truth about ISIS and its limitless horrors.

As ISIS tries to portray itself as the group for all Muslims, it claims oaths of allegiance have been pledged to its leader, Abu Baker al-

Baghdadi from Algeria all the way to Yemen. And ISIS is still locked in a fight to the death with Kurdish militia in the city of Kobani. More on the

human cost of that battle later in the program.

But first, Sheikh al-Yaqoubi has signed has signed a fatwa against Baghdadi. He preached at one of the most important mosques in the Middle

East, the Grand Omayyad Mosque of Damascus, and this weekend he's leading prayers in Indiana at the funeral of Peter Kassig, who was himself a

convert to Islam.

I spoke to the sheikh earlier this week from Washington.


AMANPOUR: Sheikh al-Yaqoubi, welcome to the program. Thanks for joining me tonight.

Thank you very much. It's a horrible day to speak about killing when we have to appear only to denounce this unfortunate event.

I believe we have to speak loud and we unequivocally condemn all terrorist actions, especially now that an American innocent citizen, Peter

Kassig. I think we have to speak loud and very clear that Muslims and Islam have nothing to do with this.

AMANPOUR: Yes, Sheikh al-Yaqoubi --


AMANPOUR: Sorry, I hate to interrupt you; I know you're offering your condolences.

But I really do need to ask you, then, how is it then that they have so many recruits that they are going gangbusters through Iraq and Syria?

AL-YAQOUBI: Indeed, you're absolutely right. This is the main question. The ideology always existed. People from the beginning of Islam

accused even the cousin of the Prophet of Islam. This is Ali, the fourth caliph, accused him of being non-Muslim and they killed him.

And we need to work really, step our work to fight this ideology and also to deploy this ISIS from any means to recruit.

And here I should highlight the fact that we signed -- and I cosigned a letter to al-Baghdadi, which refuted the ideological foundation of ISIS,

banning every Muslim from joining it and making it clear that this is non- Islamic, anti-Islam, and we must put an end to it.

AMANPOUR: Now, Sheikh, many of your fellow leaders and many Muslim leaders have said precisely that, that it is not Islamic and it's not a

state. It shouldn't be called Islamic State.

However, it is doing all this in the name of Islam. It is gathering recruits.

Tell me what you think is the purpose of the increasingly violent nature of these beheadings of Westerners -- and the latest was very, very


AL-YAQOUBI: Indeed. Indeed, it is very violent and I believe they just want to show hatred.

These people, by the way, they are not Syrians. These people are bringing terror, savagery and hatred from all around the world, just in

order to take revenge, they claim, in the name of Islam for the Syrian people who have been killed for 3.5 years.

Syrian people have nothing to do with these people and gangsters who have come from around the world. This is why I believe we need to topple

the Assad regime. And this is the key point here. As long as the Assad regime continues its atrocities against the Syrian people, you see more

recruits and more savagery happening and taking place.

We need to put an end to this and otherwise we might see just ISIS invading Damascus. And this is the worst of everything that could happen.

AMANPOUR: Now you say toppling Assad has to happen in order to stop this. But what they are saying is that they are the only group that is

avenging, as you mentioned, all the civilians that are being killed by the Assad regime, that they are the only ones doing what everybody is just

talking about.

Again, that may or may not be true.

But how does one punch through that identity, that ideology that they seem to be using to effect right now?

AL-YAQOUBI: We need more work, Christiane. There is not much work or not enough work on the ideological level to convince Muslims around the

world. I need -- we -- I think we need in every Friday sermon that the ulama speak out loudly, telling Muslims around the world, these people do

not represent Islam and their claims are just based on falsehood.

AMANPOUR: Again, I want to talk about this gruesome video, and you've probably seen them all over the last -- this is the fifth Westerner who's

been beheaded in a very short period of time.

The usual step is to put yet another Westerner alive alongside the one that they're killing, to say this is next.

But they didn't this time. They haven't done that to John Cantlie, who we know is in ISIS captivity.

What do you read from that?

AL-YAQOUBI: Well, probably they don't have any more, but I believe here that the most important point -- they're trying to send the message --

they want to send it through the state -- is they want to fight the world. They are challenging the world. They absolutely are hit, and severely hit

now and they are desperate and they want to fight to the end.

The problem with these people is they don't care if they are killed because they think they are martyrs. They're going to be in hell, of

course; every Muslim knows about this.

AMANPOUR: You wrote a letter to al-Baghdadi, who is the head of ISIS.

He's not going to listen to you, is he? And his followers aren't going to listen to you.

AL-YAQOUBI: Well, we don't care if he listens or not. What we care about is Muslims around the world who should listen and see the facts,

which we are presenting in this letter, to refute and destroy their ideological bases and foundation of ISIS.

We care about Muslims around the world. We don't care about him. He's going to hell. And I'm sure he's going to be -- to be killed, even by

his -- some of his followers sooner or later. There's no -- there's no end unless we stop people from joining ISIS. This is what we aimed at in our

letter to al-Baghdadi.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that the current campaign against ISIS, the airstrikes or the building up of the Iraqi forces, for instance, is having

an effect?

They've taken Baiji back. They've taken -- the Iraqi forces have taken back some territory.

Is that having an effect, do you think?

AL-YAQOUBI: Definitely.

And the killing of Peter Kassig and Steve and James before is just an expression of the desperate situation they are finding themselves in after

being hit.

But of course there have been mistakes and we need, I think, to step up the strategy on the ground to fight ISIS on the ground. They have

headquarters; they seized major cities and they are invading. They're recruiting a lot of people. They have a huge army. They have an

intelligence network. And all of that should be destroyed on the ground.

AMANPOUR: How do they manage to keep their credibility when they behead a Muslim?

Peter Kassig had converted to Islam. Now we don't know, under pressure or what, but his own parents call him Abdul-Rahman, not Peter


AL-YAQOUBI: There's no justification because here is the point. They consider anyone who works for democracy as a heretic. They consider anyone

who works with non-Muslims as an apostate. So there is no justification. They're just against the world. They're against Muslims, they're against

everyone. They have their own group.

You know what, ISIS has no nationality. Its nationality is terror, savagery and hatred. And when hatred spreads like this and takes over the

hearts of people, you see the results, as in this video and other videos.

Let me express my deepest condolences to Peter's/Abdul-Rahman's parents and family members, friends, and to the American society as I

expressed before my condolences when Steve and James also were murdered in that savagery way and also to the Syrian families because many Syrians have

been killed also, together with Peter and before by the regime and by ISIS.

And I hope that an end to this conflict soon will be put and serious action can be taken on the ground to get rid of the Assad and get rid of

ISIS and unify the country, unite the country again to fight terrorism.

AMANPOUR: And I guess finally, in this plea that you've just made, what is going to stop the world thinking that if we get rid of Assad, this

kind of savagery is what is going to replace it?

AL-YAQOUBI: Syrians are not like this. Syria is an example of moderate Islam and tolerance; Jewish people, Christians, Shiites and all

sects live side by side.

And we need this long history to come back and Syrians are ready to heal their wounds and put their hands together against all odds and come

out as a democratic nation, bringing freedom and dignity to the Syrian people and fighting terrorism wherever it exists in the world.

AMANPOUR: Sheikh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.

AL-YAQOUBI: Thank you, Christiane, it's a great honor. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, an award-winning artist most famous for his female alter ego offers a different view of the tensions in today's

world. Grayson Perry takes on tribal identity -- next.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

Grayson Perry is the maverick British artist known perhaps for his cross-dressing and his shocking ceramic vases depicting subjects like death

and child abuse that won him the 2003 Turner Prize.

Now firmly part of the art establishment, whether he likes it or not, Perry is turning his attention to the issue of identity in a new exhibition

called, "Who Are You?" at the National Portrait Gallery here in London.

From tapestries to sculptures and pots, he's created portraits of diverse individuals all trying to define who they are. And of course, the

issue of identity crops up a lot in discussions about politics, immigration and terrorism, the very issues that we often tackle here on this program.

So I sat down with Grayson Perry this week and got the refreshing perspective of an artist.


AMANPOUR: Grayson Perry, welcome to the program.


AMANPOUR: Good to see you.

You are right now, if I might say, obsessed by identity.

What is it that triggered that?

PERRY: Well, it's such a sort of fuzzy term. I mean, I'm always interested in the things that are right in front of us all the time in

mundane everyday life but we don't think about.

So I've done a series about taste and class and now I'm concentrating on identity because it's something that crops up, particularly in political

discussions quite a lot.

But I'm never quite sure what people mean by it. So I --


AMANPOUR: And what have you discovered?

PERRY: Well, it's all several things, really. I mean, I think the main thing is that it's a performance over time rather than this fixed

thing. And so all of our identities are like a kind of cast we hold back and we bring forward the cohorts as we need at any one time.

And we're not the same person from moment to moment quite often.

AMANPOUR: And yet, that seems to be exactly what's happening right now, certainly in British politics, on the continent, in France, elsewhere,

the idea of identity, what makes us British. You see the far right group UKIP making inroads into the political spectrum here.

Your -- one of your drawings or one of your investigations was about a convert here, right?


AMANPOUR: To -- she's wearing a hijab.

PERRY: Yes, that was Kayleigh (ph) and that, I think we researched who would be the most likely candidate for converting to Islam in Britain.

And it turned out to be a 26-year-old white Christian woman. And that was -- well, what would be in it for that woman?

And I think Kayleigh (ph) put it very well. It was about an escape from the pressures of modern consumerism and the sexualization of women in

modern society.

And by going into Islam, she's got this very supportive, very female supportive cast in the mosque.

AMANPOUR: And yet, I wonder if you found it kind of -- sort of she only got half the story because we're speaking in the aftermath of yet

another brutal killing by ISIS. And they are also all about identity, look at me. We are the great Islamic --

PERRY: I think there's a lot of macho identity involving -- I think when I look at the problems of the world, often my first thought is, oh,

men again. You know, men, violent young men often, who have -- they live in a world where there's no outlet for that kind of old warrior mentality.

And in Britain they take it out in the traffic. But if you give them a gun and they're in some of this less -- the poorer parts of the world,

then they cause havoc.

AMANPOUR: Peter Kassig, who was just killed, the latest, he wrote a letter to his parents, saying, going into Syria to do humanitarian work,

this could be a game-changer for me. It's about my identity. It's about changing who I am.

PERRY: Yes. I think we all have somewhere in our minds, we probably have at least one kind of role model floating around and maybe he had some

sort of heroic, do-gooder type of hero in his mind, I don't know.

One of the things I've found around identity was people want certainty. I mean, that's the attraction of religion, of course. I mean,

that's why all these ISIS guys -- you know, whatever you think of what they're up to, they're certain. And that's always a terribly dangerous


AMANPOUR: You are proudly and openly a transvestite. That's what you call yourself. You dress up. You have an alter ego, Claire (ph).

What are we meant to understand from that and why?

What -- ?

PERRY: Do you have to understand something?

I mean, that's quite interesting. I do it for myself and what you think is up to you. If you think I'm a pervert or just a charming

eccentric, fine.

But me, no, I'm a transvestite. I enjoy dressing up and I'm an artist as well and I've found it a kind of useful part of my identity to use it --

but I was accused when I won the Turner Prizes of dressing up just for the publicity. But I've been doing it since I was 12. By then I was 43.

So -- but it is useful. Yes, it gives me a brand, in the crowded cultural landscape of the contemporary art world, it's good to have a


AMANPOUR: And currently you have, as I said, "Who Are You," this exhibit.

One of the big centerpieces is called "The Comfort Blanket."

What is this about?

Some people said it as a bit like mongrel Britain.

PERRY: I wanted to make a piece about British identity. And this friend of mine, who had escaped the Hungarian invasion by Russia in the

'50s and her mother would always call Britain her security blanket.

And I loved this idea that Britain was this big, enveloping kind of quilt that you could wrap yourself up in as an identity and also as a safe

haven. And so I wanted to make this great big blanket that you could wrap up the new British citizenship in, and with all the things that we love and

love to hate about Britain.

AMANPOUR: One of the other big things you have just done is a big article for "The New Statesman," called "Default Man." It's basically

about middle class, white men.

PERRY: Well, they're everywhere, aren't they?


PERRY: But they actually only make up a relatively small proportion of the population. I mean, if you throw in middle age as well.

AMANPOUR: Middle age, I forgot.

PERRY: You know, that's probably about 10 percent of the population and yet they dominate the media and the politics and business as well. And

these people are disproportionately representing our society.

And I wanted to look at them like an ethnic minority almost and kind of really pinprick (sic) what it is about these strange people, because

they act as if they're normal. That's always a dangerous word, normal, because they like to think they're individuals. They got there on their

own merit. But of course they got there because of their tribal identity.

And so I wanted to sort of pull that apart and look at the kind of things that they take for granted.

AMANPOUR: Do you think people would be surprised, just by the way you appear, to know that you're married to a psychotherapist?

PERRY: People -- you know, they see me as a transvestite and a -- most transvestites, there's the same number of gay transvestites as there

are gay men, the same proportion. The rest of them are heterosexual and probably married. And so it's not a surprise to me, a transvestite who's

married. Most of them are and have children and deal with it.

AMANPOUR: What inspired you to your art, to who you are?

What about your childhood? What about -- what happened?

PERRY: Well, my childhood, I would say, was acultural. No books, no paintings, little music, yes. So I don't come from a background that's

very cultural at all. I just enjoyed making art.

And I think that's actually been an advantage, not having that kind of expectations about what an artist is.

AMANPOUR: So what is next for Grayson Perry?

PERRY: Well, I've been working with an architect designing a house. So that's a kind of a shrine to an imaginary woman. I've always been

interested in religious architecture.

And so I wanted this house, which will be a holiday let, to be in the form of something that looks very close to a chapel.

And then I thought, well, every chapel needs a deity or saint or something like that. And so I wrote a long epic poem about a very ordinary

woman's life and what happened to her and then this whole chapel was dedicated to this woman called Julie. So it's Julie's House.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's great. Women around the world are going to thank you.

PERRY: Yes, oh, I hope so. And --

AMANPOUR: Because there is a, as you know, a -- pretty much a global war on women, no matter where you look.

PERRY: Yes, I mean, I find it shocking.

I mean, it's -- I think it's -- it's the one issue, I think, that a lot of the other issues would fall into place if they dealt with it.

But it's like we go back again, most of the problems in the world are created by men and so that's the problem we should really be focusing on.

If you think about the global economic crisis, over-adrenalized young men, over-adrenalized young men seem to cause most problems. I've been one

myself. I know. I'm talking from experience, yes. And I know that a lot of my problems came from being an over-adrenalized young man --


AMANPOUR: You won't get any argument from me on that.


AMANPOUR: Well, always challenging, always fascinating, great stuff. Thank you very much indeed.

PERRY: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And what greater sense of identity is there than home?

So what happens when you're forced to abandon yours and flee for your life?

Coming up, the story of a Syrian refugee boy, trying to survive in an alien world.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine a world where your only hope of survival is in a foreign land. That, of course, is the plight and

sometimes the fortune of the refugee. Turkey's foreign minister says that his country may have to take in another 3 million Syrian refugees in the

months ahead if President Assad's army or ISIS fighters advance around Aleppo.

For over three years, the country has been struggling to cope with the influx, many of whom end up on the streets of Istanbul, which is where CNN

camera man and producer, Joe Duran, catches up with some of them one recent chilly night.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Living under a bridge in Istanbul far from home in Kobani, which they left two months ago, this woman and her children

have traveled from war-torn Syria, looking for a safer and better life.

Life away from home may be safer, but it's not much better. It's hard. Some here find odd jobs, others have resorted to begging as their

only means of survival. That, though, is illegal.

Etha (ph) and his family fled Aleppo more than a year ago after his father was killed. They now live in a park.

ETHA (PH) (from captions): There, there is shooting, they are shooting with guns. ISIS is there.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): He's 6 years old, just a child, but he's the family breadwinner now, making about $10 a day while fighting off a

constant stream of abuse, like this woman with refugee fatigue, shooing him off or the police, about to take away his very livelihood.

ETHA (PH) (from captions): Police took it.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): One flute is taken and Etha (ph) has little choice but to spend half the money he's earned this day on a new one.


AMANPOUR: Brave little boy.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always see the show at, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you

for watching and goodbye from London.

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always watch our show online at, and follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.