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U.S. and U.N. Condemns Violence in Nigeria; Security Forces Open Fire at Peaceful Protest in Nigeria; Falz, Rapper, is Interviewed About Lagos, Nigeria Protests; 40 Million Votes Already Cast in U.S.; Joe Biden Leading in Polls; 2020 Presidential Election Final Debate; Liz Harrington, Spokeswomen, Republican National Committee, is Interviewed About 2020 Presidential Election and Trump; Interview With Melody Gardot; Interview With Author Ayad Akhtar. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired October 22, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Amanpour." Here's what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was very bad. Military men shooting at protesters.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: The Nigerian government appeals for calm amid shootings that have shocked the world and a crackdown on peaceful protests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We've got to vote like never before and leave no doubt.
DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: You can go ahead and vote today, they say. Today. Go out and vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Twelve days to go, 40 million votes already cast. The president has a mountain to climb. Can he do it? RNC spokesman, Liz Harrington, joins
Plus, Hari Sreenivasan talks to Pulitzer playwright and author, Ayad Akhtar, about his new novel, "Navigating the American Dream".
And finally, from lockdown with love. Jazz singer, Melody Gardot, on finding inspiration in troubled times.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.
The United States and the United Nations are strongly condemning the violence that's erupted in Nigeria. And these are some of the latest
images, smoke billowing into the sky amid reports of a prison in Lagos being set ablaze. It comes after security forces open fire at a peaceful
demonstration protest against police brutality on Tuesday.
Witnesses and Amnesty International say at least 12 demonstrators were killed in Lagos, which is Africa's most populated city. And across the
country, Amnesty says, a total of 38 have been killed on Tuesday alone. But the Lagos state governor denies there were any deaths. This brutality in
one of Africa's biggest cities comes amid a global uprising for justice and equal rights and powerful voices from Joe Biden to Beyonce have joined in
denouncing this violence.
Activist and renowned rapper, Folarin Falana, better known by his stage name, Falz, led one of the first protests two weeks ago and he's been
taking part ever since, and he's joining me from Lagos.
Falz, welcome to the program.
We're coming to you because you've obviously got, you know, the pulse of the people. You've got 7 million Instagram followers and you have been
organizing some of these protests and joining in. Can you tell me how this all started? What turned this city into violence?
FALZ, RAPPER: Wow. It's really crazy for everyone out here. It's a horrible, horrible time. And if this was yesterday, I probably wouldn't
have been able to take this call because I was extremely distraught. It was a horrible, horrible incident.
But it started probably about two weeks ago, roughly about two weeks ago. On the 8th of October, myself and another artist named Ronton (ph), we had
shared on our Twitter and Instagram pages that we were going to do a walk, just a march, a peaceful protest against all forms of police brutality, all
forms of police misconduct in general. And we did that with the #EndSARS.
The hashtag was already in existence. You know, this is something that was already a big thing on social media but no one had actually gone ahead to
do a physical protest. So, we decided to take that extra step. So, we went up on the 8th. I think it was a Tuesday. We went out and probably were
expecting maybe around 50 or 100 people, but when we got around about 2,000 people or so that came out on that very day. And it was huge.
You know, we did a march to a police station, which has some high-ranking officers here in Lagos and we handed in a petition just saying that the
youth as a group were very, very unhappy with, you know, the way things were going, and we were really, really furious about police brutality,
police harassment, police extortion. And, you know, enough is enough, basically. Everyone was standing up, you know, everyone was lending their
voice to this particular cause. So, from that day up until now, back to back to back it's been a different state in the country because there are
36 states in total.
FALZ: But apart from that very one on that day, we didn't even have to call for people to come out in other states. Everyone just trooped out, you
know, on their own. It's been crazy. It's been really, really crazy.
AMANPOUR: OK, Falz?
AMANPOUR: Let me just interrupt you a bit because I just want to ask you so that our viewers are clear. End SARS is the hashtag and it's the
movement. SARS, for everybody to understand, is a special police unit, right, it's the Special Anti-Robbery Squad.
AMANPOUR: What is it about them? And apparently, they are -- they're not in uniform, they're plainclothes, and for years you, have been protesting
against them. What is it that you're actually protesting? What do they do?
FALZ: It's all forms of violence. It's all forms of brutality. And the offenses that they're supposed to be protecting us against is pretty much
what the -- is pretty much the offense they end up committing. The SARS stands for State Anti-Robbery Squad but they're committing armed robbery
because we hear about numerous cases where they stop young people just because you look fresh, just because you look -- you know, you look young
and you look like you're making a lot of money, they'll stop you, they'll harass you, they'll go through your phone. And sometimes they check -- they
search for messages from your bank, for example, so they could see your bank account balance.
And when they do that, they drive you to an atm, get you to withdraw money and, you know, before they let you go. If they can't get money off you,
they lock you up. We hear about several, several cases where they've locked people up and those people have disappeared because they were eventually
killed. So, it's really, really crazy.
If you're not as lucky when you encounter them, they could shoot you on the spot. It's all forms of violence. They beat people up. They, you know,
torture people. They murder. They commit armed robbery. It's everything. It's everything. And there have been so many cases. And --
AMANPOUR: Let me just ask you a question. Let me ask you a question because you're right, this has been going on since about 2017. Now, as you
know, the state governor in Lagos has denied there were any deaths, although despite video, despite Amnesty International and eyewitness, the
Nigerian military or at least a wing of it, the army has said it's fake news, this -- you know, and they don't believe it.
But here's what your president has said, because to an extent, he says that he's heard you and these forces should have been off the street, he says.
Can we just play a little bit from his speech?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUHAMMADU BUHARI, NIGERIAN PRESIDENT: The disbanding of SARS is only the first step in our commitment to extensive police reform in order to ensure
that the primary duty of the police and other law enforcement agencies remains the protection of lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Falz, what do you make of that and what -- I mean, how much stock do you put in the pledges for police reform?
FALZ: It's infuriating. It's annoying. It's frustrating. And I think that's exactly how everyone is feeling. Because they've been reforming the
police for the longest time but we've never actually seen actual action. And they said -- I was about to say, since 2017, they've been announcing
that the SARS unit has been disbanded. They announced in 2017, announced in 2018, announced in 2019, now in 2020.
After we started these protests, they announced again. And in the same breath, announced they were replacing that unit with a new unit called the
Special Weapons and Tactics Unit. And it's just -- they just think we're stupid because you're literally just renaming this unit and expecting us to
say, oh, yey, wow, that's great.
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you something because --
FALZ: It's insensitive.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you what you're demanding. But first I want to ask you, because you alluded to, you know, the stressful situation and the lack
of safety. There are a lot of young people who we've reached out to, a lot of people who were very upset and very -- you know, like you, but didn't
want to appear on camera because they're afraid for their lives. Are you afraid for your own safety?
FALZ: I'm not afraid for my life. I'm not afraid for my life because where we are right now, I feel like I could easily die by anything else anyway,
you know, like there's a share -- man, I don't even know where to start from. We have nonexistent health care, for example. We have a seriously
high level of poverty. There's unemployment. It's in -- we're in a critical state because of how much corruption and just mismanagement of funds that
we've -- you know, we continue to see on a daily basis.
So, if I don't come out to sort of complain about the state of things, I could sit down and, you know, I could have an accident on my way to work or
something and I could die as a result of that because of the state of the health care is nothing to write home about. We don't even have proper
hospitals. Our hospitals aren't well equipped.
You know, people have to travel abroad to get properly health care. And every Nigerian -- and we keep on saying this, every single Nigerian is one
sickness away from passing away. So, what kind of life am I leaving anyway? Like why should I be afraid of dying? I'm going to die anyway, so what's
AMANPOUR: Falz, let me ask you because some of the things you're saying resonate quite strongly with what's happening in the United States,
certainly the racial uprising for justice, and obviously the need for equal health care and the like. And you know it's playing very heavily into the
presidential election right now.
I guess I want to ask you whether you feel a sense of solidarity coming from the U.S. and other places where politicians, government leaders and,
you know, singers, artists, rap artists, are basically, you know, saying that they're coming -- they're supporting you. Do you feel a sense of
FALZ: In a way, yes, and, you know, it's -- but I feel more -- it's more depressing to think about what we're going through because, you know, the
whole Black Lives Matter movement happened in the United States and it's more -- that's a more complicated issue, you know, with racism and all that
stuff. But out here, it's black people doing the same thing to their brothers. It's us. It's us on us violence. It's even more depressing to
So, it's a really, really terrible state that we're in right now. And there was a horrible, horrible massacre that went on Tuesday. And as a result,
everywhere is up in flames. There's looting. There's shooting. There's -- it's a chaotic state right now. I don't even know where we're going from
AMANPOUR: And, Falz, I mean, you know, we always have to remind everybody, you know, you're talking about the biggest city in Africa. It's Nigeria's
commercial capital. And this is a very rich country. It's had a hugely significant economy. Do you think the government will pay attention? And
what precisely are you demanding to end this situation now?
FALZ: The government has to pay attention. All we're asking for is not to be killed. All we're asking for is not to be extorted. All we're asking for
is not to be robbed by the officers that are supposed to be protecting our lives and property. All we're asking for is not to be raped. All we're
asking for is not to be beaten up. I don't think it's too much to ask.
There's so much evil that these officers are perpetrating, you know, under the police -- in the police uniform and all we're asking is this stops.
We've continued to protest against this for about two weeks straight, and the government has just continued to drag its feet. They're not really
giving any real response to what we're complaining about and it's very, very worrying to think about.
AMANPOUR: Falz, thank you very much, indeed. Thanks for giving us an update. And we understand, you know, the president is talking to the
nation. We'll see whether he delivers on any of his promises.
Falz, thanks for joining us from Lagos.
FALZ: Thank you so much.
AMANPOUR: And of course, we mentioned the United States and the election there. There's 12 days to go. And the final debate between the two
contenders could signal the end of a campaign. A staggering 40 million votes have already been cast and counting. Joe Biden is leading comfortably
in the polls and it seems the biggest battle the president faces is his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former president, Barack Obama, had a few words to say on the matter as he stumped for his vice president last night in Philadelphia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: We literally left this White House a pandemic playbook that would have shown them how to respond before the
virus reached our shores. They probably used it to, I don't know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere. We don't know where that playbook went.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
So, at this 11th hour, can Donald Trump turn it around? Our next guest certainly thinks so. Liz Harrington is national spokesman for the RNC. And
she's joining me now from Washington.
Liz Harrington, welcome to the program.
Let me first ask you what you hope will be the result of this final debate?
LIZ HARRINGTON, SPOKESWOMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I think we're going to see two completely different directions for the country. You
couldn't get a bigger contrast in this election. Certainly, when it comes to the records of 47 years of failure with Joe Biden versus less than four
years of success and history making achievements under President Trump.
This was supposed to be the foreign policy debate. We wish it would come up more because President Trump has really succeeded on that. And now. we know
just how corrupt Joe Biden was when he was supposed to be selling -- getting good deals for the American worker with China or Ukraine or Russia,
and it seems the only good deals were people involving the Biden family, Biden Inc. and China Inc. And so, these are big issues.
This election, do we want to continue with peace and prosperity under President Trump who built the greatest economy on record in 2019 which
we'll even surpass that in 2021? Do we want to continue draining the swamp or do we want to fill it back up with career corrupt politicians who have
never achieved anything for the American worker like Joe Biden? And I think that's a big choice for Americans and I think I know what they're going to
AMANPOUR: The choice is obviously very clear. You talk about draining the swamp. Speaking of, as you know "The New York Times" has reported that
President Trump has a -- had a bank account in China. And this is quite unusual, certainly. And certainly, Former President Barack Obama brought it
up last night. Just take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: He's got a secret Chinese bank account. How is that possible? How is that possible? A secret Chinese bank account. Listen, can you imagine if
I had a secret Chinese bank account when I was running for re-election? You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would
have called me Beijing Barry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Liz, he has a point, doesn't he? And let's just be clear, "The Times" is reporting the account is controlled by Trump International Hotels
Management. Tax records show it paid $188,000 plus taxes in China while pursuing licensing deals there from 2013 to 2015. Now, the campaign and the
White House says it's a dormant account. But that doesn't look great, does it?
HARRINGTON: Well, that has nothing to do with the swamp. You said 2013 to 2015. Where was Donald J. Trump? He was in Manhattan, he was building a
business empire, he was living the American dream in the private sector. Where is "The New York Times" reporting on Joe Biden's dealings, big -- 10
held for H. Hunter for the big guy which we now have confirmed the big guy, according to Hunter Biden's former business associate is Joe Biden.
We're talking tens of millions of dollars with associates of the Chinese communist party. Joe Biden, by his own admission, has never had a real job
in his life. He said he's never cashed a paycheck. He's only ever been in the swamp. He's used his public office for personal gain. That is
corruption. That's what we were running against in 2016, Hillary Clinton is the same thing. They use their power not to advance the interest of the
American people and the American worker.
Well, now we know, Joe Biden who never held China to account. They let China into the World Trade Organization. They've been ripping us off. They
wouldn't take a hard line and they won't even blame China today for the pandemic that we're dealing with because of their cover-up. Well, now we
know. Because he's completely beholden to China and there's hard, damning evidence that shows their connections and it's an absolute disgrace.
AMANPOUR: Liz, you actually sound like you're on a Fox News show right now. You sound a little bit like an anchor --
HARRINGTON: Well, unfortunately --
AMANPOUR: Even Fox News --
HARRINGTON: -- Fox News is the only news channel that's covering the real e-mails.
AMANPOUR: Even fox news would not touch this story that President Trump's --
HARRINGTON: That's not true.
AMANPOUR: -- personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tried to dump. You know that. Even the "New York Post," the key reporter --
HARRINGTON: Fox News just confirmed Hunter Biden's former business associate, who identified by name, Joe Biden is the big guy, who's
profiting off these shady foreign dealings.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you this.
HARRINGTON: And it's not just China. It's Ukraine and it's $3.5 million from Moscow. There was --
AMANPOUR: All right. You wanted to go there. You wanted to go there.
HARRINGTON: There wasn't a dossier. It was real and it all had to involve the Bidens.
AMANPOUR: OK. You wanted to go there. You know perfectly well that the White House was warned in 2019 that Rudolf Giuliani, that is the
president's personal lawyer, was "being used to feed Russian misinformation to the president. Giuliani met in December with somebody who the United
States government believes is a Russian agent." You know who I'm talking about, the Ukrainian parliamentarian by the name of Andrii Derkach.
Are you comfortable with the president of the United States being close to a person like Rudy Giuliani who also says also that he is not bothered
whether any of the information comes from Russian hacking? What does that say?
HARRINGTON: Are you comfortable that CNN used Russian disinformation from a Russian asset to leak it to subvert the peaceful transfer of power? That
reporting on the dossier was complete --
AMANPOUR: Liz, Liz --
HARRINGTON: -- complete verified Russian disinformation? Is it not? Is it not?
AMANPOUR: Liz, let's just get back to the story.
HARRINGTON: Was the dossier real? Was the dossier real? Oh, it's very relevant --
AMANPOUR: Can we get back to the current story?
HARRINGTON: -- because everything the Democrats accused us of doing is what they themselves did. Rudy Giuliani --
AMANPOUR: You know what, we always try -- we --
HARRINGTON: -- is not a Russian asset and we've heard the smear very well before.
AMANPOUR: It's the United States government who said it, not me and not CNN. The United States government has reported --
HARRINGTON: The FBI -- OK. You know what, also the United States government says, the FBI says, this laptop is not Russian disinformation.
So, what are you talking about here, this laptop is real. It's not just a laptop. There's other e-mails, there's text messages. They are real. So,
according to the U.S. government --
AMANPOUR: OK. I know that you're trying to move everybody to look at that but that's not what we're hearing from the FBI.
HARRINGTON: Why don't you want to report this? This is one of the most powerful families in Washington.
AMANPOUR: Liz, Liz, Liz--
HARRINGTON: The Biden family and you're OK, you're OK with our interests being selled out to profit --
HARRINGTON: -- Joe Biden and his family when we're suffering during a pandemic from Communists China --
AMANPOUR: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely.
HARRINGTON: -- and he's doing shady deals --
AMANPOUR: Liz, as you know --
HARRINGTON: -- with Communist China and you're comfortable.
AMANPOUR: -- perfectly well, I'm a journalist and a reporter and I follow the facts. And there has never been any issues in terms of corruption. Now,
let me ask you this. Yesterday, the FBI --
HARRINGTON: Wait, wait, wait.
AMANPOUR: The FBI --
HARRINGTON: How do you know that?
AMANPOUR: I'm talking about reporting and any evidence. I'm talking to you now --
HARRINGTON: I would love if you guys would start doing digging and start doing that verification.
AMANPOUR: Now, we're not going to do your work for you. I want to ask you a question --
HARRINGTON: That's a journalist's job.
AMANPOUR: -- contrary to what --
HARRINGTON: It's a journalist's job to find out if this is verified.
AMANPOUR: I want to ask you a question about the FBI press conference yesterday. So, the director of National Intelligence pointed to Russian and
Iranian interference. Then the FBI director, CHRISTOPHER WRAY, talked about how people should be able to have faith in the American electoral system
and in this country election. This is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: You should be confident that your vote counts. Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a
healthy dose of skepticism.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Are you -- does that make you feel good that actually he's saying that people should and can have faith in the election system?
Because it's not what your president or your candidate is saying.
HARRINGTON: No, absolutely, we want a free and fair election. We want every valid vote that's cast by an eligible voter to count, of course.
That's fundamental. And that's why President Trump has been sounding the alarm about sending ballots out, using inaccurate voter registration rolls.
I mean, you're -- I'm in D.C., we have apartments that are getting tens of ballots of people that no longer live there to the wrong address. Is that a
safe and secure election? Is that free and fair? That's what we don't like.
Democrats are changing the rules. Their using inaccurate lists. They're trying to allow ballot harvesting, which is illegal in the vast majority of
states. That threatens the legitimacy of our election when you have paid operatives going door to door and trafficking in-ballots. That's a joke.
And we shouldn't have ballots counted for weeks after election day like they're doing in California. And that is a threat to our free and fair
AMANPOUR: As you know, the Electoral Commission, the FBI, everybody's weighing in and saying people should not worry, there's no evidence of
voter fraud, and that they should be able to go and cast their ballot. I want to ask you before we go, what about the polls? What about the polls?
HARRINGTON: Well, was there fraud in Patterson, New Jersey? Because four people were indicted. That is evidence.
AMANPOUR: Liz, your own administration had its own fraud panel after the first election, and then that had to disband for lack of evidence. So,
let's just not go there. Can I ask you about the polls because that's really what I wanted to ask you? We're on the verge of the last face-to-
face encounter. The polls do not look good for the president and yet, there are hope with some, you know, uptick in registration, in some of the key
Do you believe the president has a tough hill to climb? How do you analyze what's happening right now at this moment in terms of his effort to turn
this into a victory?
HARRINGTON: We -- I can tell you, we are in a better position today than we were four years ago. We have 2.5 million volunteers who have been
working in these states, getting out, knocking on doors. The president is out there working every single day to earn American votes while Joe Biden
is taking a week off, two weeks out before an election day. He clearly doesn't seem interested in actually working to earn your vote.
We're getting our message to the people. Our polling indicates we're in a very strong position. And the media would be -- we've gone down that road
before. We've seen what happens when they buy their own bogus polling, and that's what happened in 2016. I think they're in for another surprise in
AMANPOUR: Well, how about this polling? That may be as it is, but most Americans by a healthy majority want to keep Obamacare, Affordable Care
Act, whatever you might want to call it. The president and the Republicans for the last 10 years have been trying to get rid of it and promising that
there will be some kind of replacement. There literally hasn't been a plan. Americans need their health care, now possibly more than ever.
As I said, the majority of people want to keep it, want to keep Obamacare. What do you -- I mean, it's going to come up in the Supreme Court shortly
after the election. Can you imagine taking away health care at this particular point?
HARRINGTON: No, nobody is taking away health care. The people that are threatening to take away health care are the 180 million Americans who have
private health insurance and Democrats are saying, oh, we're going to give away health care to illegal aliens, they're saying we need a public option,
which was specifically designed to destroy private health insurance. Just ask Jacob Hacker who invented it. That's a real threat to health care.
We'll see what the Supreme Court rules. President Trump has already been acting on this. We got rid of the individual mandate. We've lowered
prescription drug prices for the first time in decades. We've opened up competition across state lines. On January -- in January 2021, we're going
to have the most favored nations, new standard, which will really reduce cost. We want more choice and competition and we certainly want to protect
the private health insurance industry because most -- the vast majority of Americans have private health care and they like it and they want to keep
And everything the Democrats are talking about is a real threat, a DMV style health care system where government mandates who can go to a doctor
and where and when. That is the real threat to health care in this country and especially, the seniors and our most vulnerable with pre-existing
conditions. They will be the back of the line when you have health care rationing under a Democrat-run government plan.
AMANPOUR: Apparently not for two-thirds of the country. And all I was asking you is where is the plan that President Obama -- sorry, President
HARRINGTON: President Trump has released plans. He --
AMANPOUR: We've never seen it.
HARRINGTON: Yes, he has. Yes, he absolutely has released plans. We'll see what the Supreme Court does. But why should you have to keep this --
AMANPOUR: Anyway --
HARRINGTON: -- monstrosity of a 2,000-page bill that you have to pass it to find out what's in it when we can protect people with --
AMANPOUR: The two-thirds of the American people want.
HARRINGTON: We don't have to keep all the mandates in government that come with Obamacare. That's very unpopular by the way and --
AMANPOUR: Liz Harrington, thank you very much. 62 percent.
HARRINGTON: It is. Look at the --
AMANPOUR: Liz Harrington, thank you very much, indeed. I tried. I tried my best.
HARRINGTON: Thank you.
AMANPOUR: For the first time in nearly 100 years, "Time" magazine has replaced its logo. Vote, it says, it is time.
Now, what it means to be American in both body and soul has been on our next guest's mind for years. Playwright, Ayad Akhtar, won the Pulitzer
prize in 2013 for his candid and thought-provoking play "Disgraced" on the identity crisis among Muslims after the 9/11 terror attacks. The
conversation continues in his new book "Homeland Elegies," part memoir, part novel, it looks at the immigration experience through a son's
relationship with his father who happens to support the anti-immigrant Trump.
Here he is discussing this fraught family dynamic with our Hari Sreenivasan.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, thanks so much. Ayad Akhtar, thanks for joining us.
The narrator in this story is a Pakistani American with your name who also grew up in Milwaukee, who also happens to be a playwright, but this is
definitely a novel.
AYAD AKHTAR, AUTHOR, "HOMELAND ELEGIES": It is, if only because I wouldn't know how to write a nonfiction memoir. I mean, I was so scared to -- you
know, to get canceled like James Springer or something like that because, you know, I'm compositing and, you know, collapsing events and I'm taking
things from multiple time periods and I'm putting them into a 24-hour -- you know, I'm doing what most dramatic writers do. And in the process of
doing that, I kind of took so many liberties with the facts of, you know, sort of my parents and all of that stuff that I couldn't really
realistically call it a memoir.
And plus, I think if I wrote a memoir and tried to be true to the facts, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting as what I was able to hopefully create in
SREENIVASAN: Tell me what this book's about.
AKHTAR: I mean, I think the way I've been describing it is that I wanted to tell the story of my parents and their generation of immigrants. They
came over about half a century ago, 50 years ago. And what happened to them and their kids, meaning my generation, in the 50 years that they were here.
And what that says about what America was to them when they came and then maybe what it became over the course of that time as told by one of their
kids, myself, or the narrator who has my name in many facts of my life and who has written about them in the past and gotten in trouble with them.
So there's a little bit of there's some hijinks there.
SREENIVASAN: So, this is the opposite of a tweet. This is the opportunity for you to lay out everything in hundreds of pages.
I want to ask. There is a certain option here for readers that -- to maybe punch through some of the noise that we're always seeing, right? You're
publishing a novel like this at a time when our news cycle is so fast and furious, our alerts on our phones are always going off, and yet here you
are trying to say, give me some space, give me some time.
I mean, I think that's that's exactly what I hope the book is trying to do. It's playing by that game of sort of ensnaring the reader's attention with
the breaking news obsessions and the Instagram scroll absorption, but it's doing so in order -- there's all of the prurient, sort of sensationalist
attraction in the book.
But it's doing so to provoke a deeper conversation, I think, ultimately about how to think about our country and what's happened to our country.
And by think, I don't just mean intellectually thinking. I mean emotional thinking, because I think that literature at its best is something -- it's
a kind of form of expression that is conditioned by emotional nuance, as well as intellectual precision.
SREENIVASAN: Yes, there's a couple of big themes, for me, at least, as a reader, or a listener in this case for your audiobook.
One was identity. And I want to read a quick passage about that.
And you are -- the narrator is explaining this to a billionaire friend at a bar, as we all do, of course.
SREENIVASAN: "We were outsiders. At least my parents were, because you know what? They came from somewhere else. That's what outsiders are. And it
didn't bother them. There was a culture here. They had to learn. And they never really did, not the way those who are born into it do.
"Don't get me wrong, my father loves America, loves it more than makes sense to me sometimes, frankly. He thinks he's American, but what that
really means is that he still wants to be American. He still doesn't really feel like one. It's been 45 years, and he still doesn't really understand
what it means, because being American is not about what they tell you, freedom and opportunity and all that horse (EXPLETIVE DELETED), not really.
"There is a culture here, for sure, and it has nothing to do with all the well-meaning nonsense. It's about racism, and money worship, and, when
you're on the correct side of both of those things, that's when you really belong."
What is the correct side of both of those things?
AKHTAR: Well, it's important to remember the context of that conversation. He's speaking to a billionaire.
And it's a chapter which is really about the predominancy of wealth in this country, as not only the expression of willpower excellence, the making
money is the expression of willpower excellence, but also the kind of valorization of being. Wealth accords us in this country not only status
and legitimacy. I think it's, subliminally, the real reason that Donald Trump has any sway over the American people, is because we worship wealth
in a way.
But, also, wealth is the means to full citizenship. In order to really have an influence on the franchise and on the election, for example, it's not
your vote that matters as much as how much money you're willing to donate.
So, this is kind of a metaphor, I think, for the ways in which money has come to dominate American life in almost all ways. I mean, I think that we
are increasingly customers to reality and less citizens of a republic.
I think citizenship and civics have given away to consumerism. And that's not a new story. But I think that it's something that has gone so far that
the consequences are now socially very widespread.
SREENIVASAN: So, that leads perfectly to a passage that I'd like you to read about the power of money.
AKHTAR: "Yes, money had always been central to notions of American vitality, but now it reigned as our supreme defining value. It was no
longer just the purpose of our toil, but also our sport and our pastime.
"We discuss a movie's weekend gross before its plotline, an outfielder signing bonus before his batting average. The market had seeped into our
language. We sought upside and minimized our exposure and worried about the best investment of our sweat equity. Even suffrage was monetized. True
political power lay not in the ballot box, but in one's capacity to write a check.
"We were now customers first and foremost not citizens, and to buy was our privileged act. No longer ruled by a personified abstraction, Zeus or
Yahweh, we now appeased a material one, the economy. We feared its humors. We were grateful for its dispensations. We tended to its imagined well-
being with our ritual purchases.
"When the economy was well, we were happy people. When the economy faltered, premonitions of doom were never far."
SREENIVASAN: So, what do we lose as this shift is happening?
AKHTAR: Economic well-being cannot become the sole metric for human flourishing.
We're seeing this across universities, for example. When you have the only metric being cash flow coming into the coffers, then some of the more
intangible pursuits, the humanities or philosophy, music, whatnot, begin to get cut. It's what's happening at the University of Wisconsin, a state that
I know very well.
But, when that happens, it's not just that we're losing -- we're losing something that we like. We're losing something essential about being human.
I mean, teaching children, for example, song is not just about giving them some imprint of the national anthem or whatnot.
It's about attunement to reality, to cadence, to rhythm, to being able to sing, to express openheartedly with others in a community. I mean, these
are fundamental human capacities that we're developing at early ages, which, because we don't recognize their value on a spreadsheet, begin to
fall by the wayside.
What we're going to see, I think, if we continue to let this happen, is something fundamentally impoverished about our societies and something that
will ultimately have a significant economic impact, even though we can't track it, obviously.
SREENIVASAN: What's also interesting is the relationship that your narrator has with his father. I don't know how much of this is true for
your father in real life.
But their notions of what success is when they came, so to speak, from the old country, and what they strove for, and how, in this case, the father in
the story is aligned with the president to be and the president, Donald Trump.
AKHTAR: Well, in the first chapter, I tell the story of my father in the book, who -- my real father was also a cardiologist and a specialist of
arrhythmias and world famous and sort of treated a lot of dignitaries and whatnot.
And in the book, he -- in the middle of the '90s, he is Donald Trump's doctor very briefly and gets to know him a little bit then kind of becomes
enamored with Donald Trump. And this is the reason why, in 2015-2016, he's a supporter of the Trump campaign, even though there's all kinds of
egregious statements being made about Muslims and whatnot that should theoretically threaten his own citizenship or his own well-being in this
country, but they don't seem to.
And it's a way of sort of getting inside the intergenerational conflict, as well as the political conflict that has unfolded in this country, and also
to try to tell a story that elucidates or brings out the kind of human dimension of an attachment to Trump.
SREENIVASAN: Because one of the things that you realize as you read this is that, so often, the kind of dominant narratives want to clump immigrants
into a particular bucket. And that's just not the case.
I mean, we're a pretty complex group of people. We are getting into a complicated relationship between a father and a son. They're disagreeing on
politics. This is not one lump sum voting bloc.
I mean, it's kind of an interesting paradox that those who would espouse the values of diversity don't always share the constituents of that diverse
cohort, right, that there are lots of left-leaning, capitalist-driven, ideological -- ideologically right immigrants in this country.
And in this book, my father is one of them. Yes, it's an important -- it was an important part of the story for me to tell.
SREENIVASAN: You use one of the characters in your book, Mike, and there's sort of conversation about how, really, in a lot of ways, the left and the
Democratic Party just forgot about a huge chunk of the country that was relevant to everyone else.
And he's speaking from kind of different voices. And you can pick whichever one you like. But what was the thing that you were trying to get across to
the reader in that -- in kind of the use of Mike and how basically, for him, he's come to a -- well, he's come to a place where he can have pretty
divergent viewpoints about certain things and still go sleep at night?
AKHTAR: Mike Jacobs in the book is a successful Hollywood executive who is someone who believes that bettering the life of his fellow black Americans
is a top priority, and has come to the conclusion that paying taxes to a government built by whites is not something that he can countenance.
And so it, paradoxically, leads to him voting for Republicans...
AKHTAR: ... who make -- who have endeavored to make life worse for black Americans.
And that paradox is something that the narrator and him, he -- they get into quite a bit of conflict over this, because they're friends.
I think Mike's perspective, which is not a totally concocted perspective -- I won't say anything more about it than that -- is something that I thought
was important to include, because his analysis is very, very clear-eyed, a little cynical, but clear-eyed about -- that the ways in which race and
identity inform and shape economic decisions, and that, fundamentally, somebody like Mike, who sees the picture very clearly, recognizes that it
really is all about money, and where the money you have, where you're spending it, et cetera, et cetera.
The Democratic Party, just to get back to the prelude of your question, moved to the right. They had to. Reagan was a transformative figure.
Whether for good or whether for bad depends on your political point of view, but he was a transformative figure and changed the ideology of this
country, enshrining, legislatively, as well as mythologically, the acquisition of personal wealth as a supreme American value.
And so, in order to make a play for the political center, Clinton had to move to the right. And so it's meant that the Democratic Party has moved to
the right. And it's also meant that Goldman Sachs, which is the sort of American global diplomatic corps when it comes to economic policy, has been
in charge of economic policy, at the forefront of economic policy for two generations.
So that's -- there's a through line between Reagan and Obama that's undeniable. There's lots of variation there, but there's a clear line that
you can draw, and that line has moved away from the heartland, it's moved away from locality, it's moved away from the middle class, it's moved away
from industrial, it's moved away from an economy that makes things, it's moved away from any meaningful, helpful form of protectionism, all of those
things under the guise of international competition.
SREENIVASAN: Going back a little bit to "Disgraced," and that, if I can summarize your plan in 20 seconds, so we have got a Muslim man who, at a
dinner party with his white wife, he's fairly successful and affluent, a conversation turns to 9/11.
And he basically exposes almost a moment of pride, and that kind of leads to this -- the central tension that you throw on the audience.
In this, it's not really just the tension of that defining moment for Muslim Americans or Muslims all over the world. It really seems like it's
not just the towers falling. You're talking about a man struggling with his entire country falling.
AKHTAR: Yes. No, that's exactly right.
I mean, I think the argument of the book, if you will, that begins with a kind of -- a lecture that a college professor is talking about America and
its legacy as a colony, where, in a way, the country is still defined by its own plunder, by its own citizens plundering the nation.
And, in the book, I'm at the time barely 20 years old, and I don't really understand what this professor is getting at. And I say that it took me 15
years to understand it, and that, even 9/11, and even the difficulties for Muslims and people in my family after 9/11 did not help me to understand
better what had really happened in this country.
It wasn't until I started to see the larger picture of the suffering that all of us had been going through, that I started to get a picture of
actually what had happened to America.
SREENIVASAN: Post-9/11, post-"Disgraced," post a lot of the pushback and criticism that you have gotten in taking on these topics, in writing about
how Muslim Americans may feel, what kind of kept your faith in the country, or has it been shaken so thoroughly that you are cynical now?
AKHTAR: No, I wouldn't call myself cynical.
I mean, I think I'm hopeful about life in this country, because I'm hopeful about my experiences with others that I have here. And I think -- I come
from Wisconsin, and I spent a lot of time still back in my home state. And I do love the state. I do love the community that I come from.
I think, as an artist, as somebody who's an outsider, by not just because of identity, but also because of chosen vocation, it's my job to take a
look at things and to sort of outline them, rather than to, I don't know, celebrate, needlessly celebrate our greatness.
I think the analogy -- I often get the question, what country does it better, right? Well, why are you criticizing America? What country does it
And when I get that question in Wisconsin, I always just turn to the Green Bay Packers, and I say, well, we have got a pretty good team. We have made
it the NFC championships last year. But people had a lot of complaints about how Aaron Rodgers was calling plays and whether the head coach was
dealing with Aaron Rodgers very well
There were a lot of criticisms. You listen to talk radio, people had all kinds of opinions about -- criticize -- does that mean that we don't love
the Green Bay Packers, or that we're not trying to make the Green Bay Packers a Super Bowl contender this year?
It seems to me that the idea that somehow critiquing our country is some is -- I don't know, it's not the patriotic? I don't know. It's certainly our
generation, a younger generation who has had a different experience of America maybe than our parents have.
The mythologies that they grew up with were mythologies that translated to real change, real experiences for them. Their lives got better. A lot of
folks who were sort of my age and were really younger than me, their lives are not getting better.
And so their experience of America is very different. So it stands to reason that they would have a more critical approach to it.
SREENIVASAN: Ayad Akhtar.
The book is called "Homeland Elegies."
Thanks so much.
AKHTAR: Oh, thank you.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: And, finally, whether it's public book readings, concerts, rock bands, or the opera, many of us are
missing the joys of live performances. And, of course, all the artists on and off stage are suffering too, loss of jobs, livelihood and joy.
But it's also sparked creative brilliance from some of the greats, like Bruce Springsteen with the E Street Band. His "Letter to You" is out
And Paul McCartney is also getting ready to release a new lockdown solo album, "McCartney III."
And the American artist Melody Gardot, who's out with a new jazz album "Sunset in the Blue."
Here's a bit from one of the tracks called "Little Something," which she performed as a duet with Sting.
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(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Oh, I could listen to a lot more of that, music for the soul.
And Melody Gardot is joining me now from Paris.
Welcome to the program.
That was lovely.
I want to ask you that, were you together? It looks like you guys were together. Were you together singing that? Or how did that come about?
MELODY GARDOT, MUSICIAN: In that particular clip, yes, we were. But the incarnation of the music, unfortunately, was deterred by the circumstances
we all know so well globally around the world, meaning it was not being able to fly, not being able to come together.
So it was interesting to have a piece of music done on two different continents, especially as a duet. That's not typical for me at all in the
kind of music I have done. And we had to come up with a way to say, do we wait, or do we just give it a shot?
And so, the first time we met was there in Tuscany about two weeks ago to three weeks, I think. But we met through music. We never spoke. We
discussed. We just listened to each other's ideas on the recording and then finally met up afterwards.
AMANPOUR: And the whole album, how did it come together? Because, as you say, I mean, it's just completely unusual circumstances.
How did you -- I think you -- I think you produced it at the Abbey Road Studios here in London. How did the whole thing come together?
GARDOT: Well, this was quite an ambitious move to decide to push through during this time.
And I think our first feeling of, OK, we can do this was with a track that we released as a single to benefit health care workers. This was a single
called "From Paris With Love," where we had orchestra musicians all around the world record themselves while quarantined.
And then they sent in their performances. And we just put the music online and said, give it a shot and we will do our best to try to put it together.
Those that had the most competent sonics were chosen and then also paid.
And we, bizarrely, somehow managed to get that word out so quick that, within a week, we had some 50 countries around the world where people were
playing. And so it was this impossible global orchestra, players I have never met, that perhaps I never would have met before, and very symbolic to
the thought and the notion that we can continue to create, despite this distance.
And so that gave us a bit of ammunition. And when we moved forward, the discussions were, again, do we wait until everything is back to normal?
When is normal?
GARDOT: How do we make music during this time?
And Abbey Road had been closed. And we found out that there was going to be an opening. And so they spoke to us. We spoke to them. And they agreed for
us to be the first session back after Abbey Road had closed for the first time since World War I, which was quite phenomenal, very symbolic, again.
It's this idea of everyone coming together and giving their best effort and their best energy in a moment that kind of forces us to think that that
would be impossible.
AMANPOUR: It is an amazing thing to think about that, that it would be -- it was closed, and you were the first to go back into it.
But, also, I think you have been very cognizant of the fact that so many musicians are hurting, so many are out of work. and just the whole artistic
landscape has been devastated by this, all the performers, the backstages, and everybody, as well as the actual performers.
Is that -- that's kind of one of the reasons why you wanted to get something done, right, to keep people employed, working, a little bit of
GARDOT: Of course.
I mean, it's a trifecta, in a way, because, look, I have worked with orchestral musicians for many years, and the last two years prior to making
this record, and toured with a number of beautiful players.
These are the kind of people that do music because they love it. And they're not making seven-figure salaries, six-figure salaries. They're
supporting their families, et cetera. So, when all the philharmonics were closing, when this was all kind of falling apart, that was my first
instinct, was to look to my colleagues and say, what can we do to help?
Of course, we can't help everyone, but doing something like that can inspire others, my colleagues and the people who have opportunities to
create to do the same.
So, that was the first. We're athletes. We're used to playing every day. So there's the physical aspect that's in danger, the financial aspect, and
then just the morale, because, for some of us, in terms of music, it's arguably more important than food, in the sense that it nourishes us.
And so, when you take it away, it's as if there's nothing to look forward to, and there's only so much Bach you can play before you're tired, says my
friend from Armenia.
We must find a way to continue to create new things and create new music and, despite this inability to physically be in the same room, use the
technology we have, as I'm doing now with you to be with you...
GARDOT: ... and continue to move forward.
And that's something I have always tried to do in my own personal life, with my own history, is that, no matter what the news feels like, when you
have been handed the long list of bad things that have happened, you have to try to spin it and look at the bright side.
And the bright side is a matter of how much energy you're willing to give to push through, how much you're willing to weigh that against more serious
things. In this moment, I think it's quite easy, because we recognize that health is the most important for everyone.
And now that we have that before us, slamming us in the face in a way, OK, broadcast, take care of yourselves. Without that, there's nothing. We can
move forward and go, OK, I'm healthy, I have my body, I have my arms, I have my family. It's actually not that bad. We can continue to move
It's just the initial shockwave of not being able to do what you're used to that causes that stress, that pressure, that almost depression, because you
have been forced to change. It's not as if you woke up and decided, I'm going to move in another way. Someone's come into your life and said, in
fact, no, you mustn't do this anymore.
The thing that gave you great pleasure no longer exists.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Yes.
GARDOT: And that's the problem. It's that resistance.
We're creatures of habit.
AMANPOUR: Resistance is a good way to describe it. And music is, I guess. It really is.
Thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.
And that's it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media.
And we're going to leave you now with more of the wonderful music of Melody Gardot, "From Paris With Love."