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Mohammed Hafez on Martyrs Without Borders

Mohammed Hafez, author of Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of Martyrdom, says the overwhelming majority of suicide bombers in Iraq are non-Iraqi volunteers. He says the war has unleashed a new generation of Muslim militants who care little about national boundaries. They're driven instead, he says, by the ideal of defending Muslims whoever and wherever they are.

Hafez is a visiting professor of political science at the University of Missouri in Kansas City. He's also the author of Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers.


Other segments from the episode on July 23, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, July 23, 2007: Interview with Mohammed Hafez; Obituary for Tammy Faye Messner; Review of the television shows "Saving Grace" and "Damages."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Mohammed M. Hafez, author of "Suicide Bombers in Iraq,"
on the strategy and ideology of martyrdom in Iraq

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The number of suicide attacks in the Iraqi insurgency has already surpassed
the number of suicide operations by all previous insurgent groups combined,
including Hezbollah, Hamas and Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers. That's according to
the new book "Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of
Martyrdom." My guest is the author, Mohammed M. Hafez.

He says the embrace of martyrdom is a sign of our failure in the war on
terrorism. We have failed to deprive radical Islamists of fresh recruits and
we've failed to undermine the cult of martyrdom. In his book, Hafez analyzes
the ideology, theology and psychology behind suicide attacks in Iraq. He's
the author of a previous book about Palestinian suicide bombers. Hafez is a
visiting professor of political science at the University of Missouri in
Kansas City.

Mohammed Hafez, welcome to FRESH AIR. How has Iraq set new records in terms
of suicide bombing? Give us some statistics.

Mr. MOHAMMED HAFEZ: Well, if we look at the rate of suicide attacks in Iraq
beginning in 2003 up, I believe, till April of this year, according to data I
have access to, we have about 674 suicide attacks. And I would say that's
probably a conservative estimate. There are estimates out there that reach up
into the thousands. Prior to 2003, Iraq never experienced a single suicide
attack, and so the contrast between pre-invasion phase and after the invasion
is really a stark one.

GROSS: And you say it's mostly foreign jihadists who are the suicide bombers
in Iraq. What is the evidence of that?

Mr. HAFEZ: Well, the data that I've collected mainly--at this point we have
about 139 names of suicide attackers in Iraq. The predominant nationality of
those comes from Saudi Arabia. But even if we're looking at the whole list,
of the 139 names, we have about 18 Iraqis. That's, I believe, about--well,
I'm not good at math so I'll let you guys figure that out. But essentially it
seems to be a foreign phenomenon, just looking at the numbers or the names
that we have seen.

But it must be made absolutely clear that the insurgency as a whole is an
Iraqi insurgency. So 90 percent, if not more, of the insurgents in Iraq are
Iraqi-born, raised in Iraq and are fighting an Iraqi struggle. But the
suicide bombers appear to have come mainly from outside.

GROSS: How do you interpret that?

Mr. HAFEZ: Well, I think the war on terrorism, and certainly the war on
Iraq, have radicalized the new generation of Muslims. What we are doing,
whether in the war on terrorism or in the war in Iraq has not really worked to
win the hearts and minds of Muslims, and many people in the Muslim world view
our actions in Iraq as a transgression, as a form of aggression not only
against Iraq, but also against Islam, and I think that is the narrative that
helps explain why many, you know, young people have volunteered to fight and
die in Iraq.

GROSS: So what is the goal of the foreign jihadis who come to Iraq?

Mr. HAFEZ: This is a complex issue. I mean, there are various types of
jihadis that come to Iraq. There are those you could consider nationalists
that have come to Iraq largely prior to the invasion to help the Iraqi army
defend against the invaders. I think many of those have either gone back or
were killed or just simply--some of them did stay and ended up joining the
insurgency and joining the more radical factions.

But there are some foreign jihadists that came that were really kicked out of
Afghanistan. This was a byproduct of our war in Afghanistan, which I think
many of us would accept is a just war. What happened is, a lot of the jihadis
that were training in Afghanistan, they were forced to look for a new safe
haven. Many of them could not go back to their home countries, and so Iraq
really fell into their lap. This was a great opportunity to extend their
jihadist career, to establish a new safe haven. And it is those people that
have really led the newcomers to wage this campaign of suicide attacks against
the Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces, Shiite civilians.

GROSS: So the jihadis from other countries who have come to Iraq, is there a
goal to create a failed state in Iraq so that they have a home for jihadis of
other, you know, of different countries, the way Afghanistan used to be.
Afghanistan was the home of al-Qaeda. It was the training base for militant
Islamists from, you know, from around the world.

Mr. HAFEZ: I think that is the chief strategy behind their campaign of
suicide attacks. When we look at the suicide bombings, most of them target,
first and foremost, Iraqi security forces and the police; and secondly, Shiite
civilians. It is only the third sort of category that attacks the American
forces. So what that tells me is the goals is not so much to drive the
occupation out but to collapse the Iraqi regime, deprive the Iraqi state of
having sole control over military field, the political field.

And these foreign jihadists, because they are interested in establishing a
state in Iraq--a state is perhaps a strong word, even though they have
declared a state there. They are seeking to establish a safe haven in Iraq
and they know they cannot do that if there is a thriving, central Iraqi state
with a strong military, with a strong police, and with a strong security
services. So they know that they have to go after the state in order to be
able to survive and set up a safe haven as they had in Afghanistan.

GROSS: You know, as we're discussing jihadists from other countries who have
come to Iraq, one of the well-represented countries is Saudi Arabia, and you
say that many of the suicide attackers have been Saudis. Why do you think
proportionately so many Saudis are in Iraq and have become suicide bombers

Mr. HAFEZ: I think there are many reasons. One has to do with the simple
fact of proximity: Saudi Arabia is close, it's a neighboring country to Iraq.
And really when we look at the other categories, people have come from Kuwait,
Syria, Jordan, there seems to be--the proximity tends to attract some of those

But I think more profoundly, the Saudis have a tradition of participating in
foreign jihads, and this is the case since the Afghan struggle against the
Soviet Union, the Afghan that was supported not just by the Saudis but also
the Pakistanis and the United States. Saudia Arabia has spawned this culture
of promoting the defense of Muslim lands from occupations. So they promoted
this in Afghanistan, they certainly promoted it in Bosnia, in Chechnya, and
even some have volunteered in distant places like Tajikistan and Kashmir. But
it is this culture that has set the stage, I think, for some of these young
people to say, `Well, why in Afghanistan and in Bosnia and Chechnya, but not
in Iraq?' That contradiction really was something that the Saudi government
could not surmount.

Also the fact that Saudi Arabia is really a Wahhabi country, and the Wahhabis
with their extreme--I would call it a Sunni supremacist philosophy, if you
will. The fact that, in Iraq, the new government is predominantly Shiite
really is problematic for them.

GROSS: Palestinian suicide bombers, their targets were Israelis. But in
Iraq, you have Muslim suicide attackers attacking other Muslims. How do the
Muslim suicide attackers justify killing other Muslims in that way?

Mr. HAFEZ: This is really the most puzzling aspect of my research. In
Islam, Muslims, first and foremost, are not supposed to kill themselves,
because suicide leads to eternal damnation. Secondly, Muslims are not
supposed to kill civilians. And thirdly, Muslims are not supposed to kill
fellow Muslims. All three are grave sins that lead one to hell. Yet these
suicide bombers, many of them claim to be Islamists--that is, you know, the
bearers of the Islamic tradition--indeed engage in all three. They kill
themselves, they kill fellow Muslims and they kill civilians.

So what the jihadists have done is look at exceptions in Islamic history to
justify the actions of what they're doing today. One exception arose in early
Islamic history, when invaders used Muslims as human shields, and so people
were really struggling with this. `What do we do? Is it OK for us Muslims to
go kill these Muslims that are serving as human shields in order to get at the
invaders?' And the answer was, `Well, if there is no other way to fight the
invaders other than to kill these Muslims, and if we don't fight the invaders
the Muslims would ultimately lose, then it is, in these instances, permissible
to do that.' But the scholars during that time really noted this as an
exception to the rule, not the general principle upon which Muslims should

But what al-Qaeda in Iraq has done is really taken that rule and say, `Well,
if we look today, the Americans are in the middle of markets, they are in the
middle of our cities. The Shiites, as a whole, give them political cover,' so
they have turned this literal sense of a human shield into an allegory or into
an analogy, if you will, of the Shiites today shielding the Americans by
providing them political cover, legitimacy and say because they do that, it is
certainly permissible to kill Shiites and Shiite civilians. So that's just
one example of how they are able to circumvent the sort of clearly established
rules in Islam against killing civilians and killing fellow Muslims.

GROSS: Are some of the insurgents in Iraq justifying attacking other Iraqis,
either in marketplaces or Iraqi security forces, by saying, `Well, they're not
really Muslims. They're infidels because, you know, they're collaborating
with the Americans'?

Mr. HAFEZ: That's correct, and they use two specific arguments. One,
against the Shiites and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces, they say
the Shiites are not really Muslims. They are heretics. And what they do is
they go back to historical disagreements between Sunnis and Shiites to point
out that the Shiites are really a minority in Islam, they're a heretical sect,
and therefore, because they are not Muslims, the general rules, or the general
prohibition, of Muslims shouldn't be killing Muslims doesn't apply to them.
So that's one way of how they justify these attacks.

But I think more importantly, they also use the fact that many Shiites
initially, and even, I'd say, to this point, have not really resisted the
American occupation and, indeed, have benefited from it. And so what they
would say is the Shiites are collaborators, as a whole. As an entire
community or an entire nation, they are collaborating with people that invaded
our country or invaded a Muslim land, and because they collaborate with
infidels, that they themselves become infidels. And there is a Quranic
passage that says those who take the Christians and Jews as their superiors or
as their guardians, they are of them, which means that they are no longer
Muslim. And again, that's the context in which they are able to justify some
of the attacks against Iraqi fellow Muslims.

GROSS: My guest is Mohammed Hafez, author of the new book "Suicide Bombers in
Iraq." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Mohammed Hafez, and his latest book is called "Suicide
Bombers in Iraq." He wrote a previous book about Palestinian suicide bombers.

You write about some of the psychological and tactical advantages of suicide
attacks, and you describe suicide attacks as basically cheap smart bombs
because the suicide attacker can just target himself, or herself, at exactly
where they want to be, you know, where they want to bomb to go off. What are
some of the psychological advantages, do you think, of suicide attacks?

Mr. HAFEZ: Well, psychologically, it sends a powerful message that what you
are confronting--that is, let's say, the US or the Iraqi security forces--what
you are confronting are a cadre of people who are not deterred by death. `We
are so determined to achieve our goal that we are willing to die for it.' That
is a very powerful message, and it can be demoralizing to US soldiers, to
Iraqi security forces and to civilians.

The other message that I think it sends is the deterrence effect. What it
tells people who are thinking of joining the Iraqi security forces is you
better not because we have blown up recruitment centers in the past and we
have blown up Iraqi police in the past and we have killed them, shot them in
the head and things of that sort.

It also sends a message to other nations, like we've seen in the Spain
attacks, although that wasn't a suicide attack, but the suicide attack would
have a similar effect of telling other nations that if you join the fray in
Iraq, you will be next. And that was really, I think, what was intended with
the British bombings. You attack there and you tell the British people that
if you weren't in Iraq, you wouldn't be suffering this. And so there is that
element of strategic communication that is connected to these suicide

GROSS: You mentioned something else that I thought was very interesting, that
suicide attacks shame the enemy. What do you mean by that?

Mr. HAFEZ: Generally speaking, in terrorism, the immediate attention is
focused on the victims and the atrocity that has been committed against
innocent civilians, particularly women and children. In a suicide attack,
this is somewhat reversed. What happens is the immediate attention is focused
on the suicide bomber because the act itself is unique or is seen as
unprecedented, although now we have over 1,000 suicide attacks around the
world, it is somewhat seen as unprecedented because, you know, after all, who
would kill themselves to kill others. I mean, it sounds crazy and it looks
odd and morbid. And so rather than focusing on the victims, you end up
focusing on the suicide bomber.

And invariably when you focus on the suicide bomber, then people begin to ask,
`Well, what leads people to kill themselves? It must be the oppression of the
victims or the countries that represent the victims. It must be the sort of
the hopeless in life that is created by oppressive conditions by occupations,
etc.' So the attention is focused away from the victims towards the attacker
and then the attention is then focused towards the country and the conditions
of oppression that led people to blow themselves up.

GROSS: Have you met any would-be suicide attackers?

Mr. HAFEZ: None that would say that they wanted to engage in suicide
attacks. And I think many people that volunteer actually volunteer to go
fight, not necessarily to carry out a suicide attack, although I'm sure there
are some that volunteer for a suicide attack. But I think generally people go
to Iraq because they want to fight. And then while they are there, the option
of suicide attack arises, and there are certain dynamics that might produce

But I did interview a Jordanian who, interestingly, was very secular. I mean,
you know, he prayed and adhered to some of the Islamic traditions, but he
struck me as more secular than Islamist. He was really into expensive cell
phones. He was into the latest video clips that came out of the, you know,
the singing and the dancing and all that. And he wanted to volunteer to fight
in Iraq in 2003 before the war ended. That is, you know, it was an entire
month and there were a lot of people volunteering, and many governments
actually did not stand in their way during that time, but particularly Syria
allowed many of the volunteers to go.

And so I met him, and we talked in 2005, I met one of those people. And we
were talking and asking what motivated him to do that, and the motivation was
not really religious. It was more nationalistic, that we saw the Americans
invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11. I mean, he even doubted
that the bin Laden was after 9/11 but that's another story. But it was more
than nationalism, this sense of arrogance that was taking place. How could
one country just, without any justification, invade another. And he really
wanted to register his objection by volunteering.

GROSS: Do you think that the suicide attackers in Iraq have taken suicide
attacks to a new level, have come up with different strategic approaches than
their predecessors in other countries?

Mr. HAFEZ: Definitely. When we look at other conflicts, let's say Hamas
against Israel or Hezbollah against Lebanon, or the Tamil Tigers against the
Sri Lankan government, the goal was always about national liberation or about
sort of driving out foreign forces from a territory that you think is yours.
But in Iraq, it's really much more about producing sectarian warfare, and we
haven't really seen suicide attacks deployed in that way in the past. So that
is certainly an innovation on their part.

But also, in those other conflicts, the victims were always "the other." And
in the Tamil Tigers it was the Sri Lankans, the Sri Lankan government, that
is. In the case of Hezbollah, it was Israel. In the case of Hamas, it was
Israel. Even in the case of al-Qaeda, the mother organization, bin Laden and
his cohorts, the attack was always the West. But in Iraq it's really fellow
Muslims. It's one to create sectarian bloodletting between Sunnis and Shias,
and I think that shows the danger of this ideology of martyrdom, that it is so
flexible, so malleable, that you could take it and twist it in different ways
to apply it in different contexts.

GROSS: Well, now, you say that in Iraq you think there's two separate
insurgencies; one of the insurgencies just wants to get the United States and
coalition forces out of Iraq. What's the second insurgency?

Mr. HAFEZ: Well, the second insurgency really describes the al-Qaeda
strategy of trying to collapse the political system and create a failed state
so they could survive. When I talk to Iraqis, they always--they make that
distinction, actually...

GROSS: So that they'll have a home, so they'll have a failed state to make
their home?

Mr. HAFEZ: Correct. Absolutely. In the way that they had a home in Sudan
at one point, in the way that they had a home in Afghanistan at one point,
where you have either a failed or a weak state that is dependent on outsiders
or that it cannot prevent outsiders from setting up shop in their territory.
But when I interview Iraqis, they make that distinction. They make the
distinction between what they call the honorable resistance on the one hand
and the indiscriminate violence. And they, the Iraqis, are the ones that
often blame the al-Qaeda folks for the indiscriminate violence. So that
distinction really comes from them and not from me.

GROSS: Mohammed Hafez is the author of "Suicide Bombers in Iraq." He'll be
back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Mohammed Hafez, author
of the new book "Suicide Bombers in Iraq: The Strategy and Ideology of
Martyrdom." He's also a visiting professor of political science at the
University of Missouri in Kansas City. The group al-Qaeda in Iraq is behind
many of the suicide bombings in Iraq. I asked Hafez if, when al-Qaeda in Iraq
was created, it was connected with bin Laden's al-Qaeda.

Mr. HAFEZ: Most experts that follow this closely would say that Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi, who started the al-Qaeda in Iraq, initially was in Afghanistan and
he may have even had connections or contacts with people like bin Laden and
Zawahiri and some of the men around them, but generally Zarqawi had a
different strategy from bin Laden, and that led him to create his own training
camp separate from the al-Qaeda camps. So bin Laden had a Faruq camp and some
others, and Zarqawi had a camp called--in Herat, Afghanistan--I think it's
called the Tawhid wa'l-Jihad camp or sometimes it's called Jund al-Sham camp.
There are disagreements on what the actual camp was called.

But essentially they were two separate groups. Bin Laden was focused on the
far enemy, attacking the United States and its Western allies, and Zarqawi was
really interested in attacking Jordan and Israel, what we call the near enemy.
After 2003, when essentially the far enemy became the near enemy, when the
United States invaded Iraq, that distinction really made--it no longer made
sense, and many of the jihadists then began to work against the United States,
and that set the stage for the use of the title al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Let me just add more one fact--and I hope I'm not confusing the audience--but
initially Zarqawi went to Iraq, he did not set up a group called al-Qaeda in
Iraq. He set up as group called Tawhid wa'l-Jihad, which again shows that he
was separate from al-Qaeda.

GROSS: So really, the invasion of Iraq united jihadi groups against the
United States?

Mr. HAFEZ: Yes. Not just the invasion of Iraq. I think the whole war on
terrorism did that. Prior to 9/11, the jihadist movement, if we could speak
of it as one unit--and I think we can never really do that, but let's just for
the moment speak of it as one unit--the jihadi movement was split between
those who wanted to fight the United States and those who said no, the
priority should be getting rid of, say, the Egyptian government, the Syrian
government, the Jordanian government and what have you.

After 9/11, when the United States sort of launched this war on terrorism that
essentially fought a war against all radical Islamic movements, the
distinction between the far enemy and near enemy no longer made sense, because
a lot of, let's say, the Algerian jihadists, began to see the United States
give money and military support and political support for the Algerian regime
to repress the radical Islamists, even though Algerians, generally speaking,
never attack the United States. Same thing you see with the Philippines, with
Indonesia and others. I mean, it's just--generally speaking, all Islamist
movements saw that the United States was fighting a war against them even
though, initially, they did not want to fight the US. And I think that's one
of the failures of the war on terrorism, is our inability to distinguish
between those who are radical but don't want to kill us vs. those who are
radical and do want to kill us.

GROSS: Can I ask what country your family is originally from and if that has
helped you in your research to understand anything that you've been

Mr. HAFEZ: Sure. I was born in Kuwait, but I'm actually of Palestinian
parentage, so I never really lived in Palestine, and for a long time I had a
Jordanian passport before I became a US citizen. So if that is not entirely
confusing to you, I don't know what would be. But, essentially, I am of
Palestinian heritage but really, I've lived in America most of my life.

But because I come from that part of the world, I often can engage--sort of
present myself as sort of this spokesman of the Arab and Muslim cause in
America. So I often, when I interview people, I say, `The American public
does not know why people are volunteering to Iraq,' or `The American public
does not know why people are dying, killing themselves in order to kill
others.' And when I present it in that way, it is not threatening, it is not
interrogating, but it's merely saying that I want to be the channel through
which you could convey your motivations to the American public, and I've found
that to be really a very effective research strategy.

GROSS: And I guess there's a lot of truth to that. You do want to understand
what motivates them.

Mr. HAFEZ: Absolutely. And I don't presume to know what motivates them
before I interview them. Yes. And I think I bring, also, a kind of cultural
sensitivity that may not be easily developed in new researchers. Don't get me
wrong. I don't want to claim that only Arabs can research that part of the
world. And there are many Americans, native-born Americans and Europeans that
study that part of the world and understand it very well. But I think for
newcomers, there is a kind of a nuance that is often missed, and a kind of
understanding of the suffering and the historical sense of humiliation that
many Muslims feel but is really not palatable to newcomers to that area, and
it is that sense of humiliation that underpins this culture of martyrdom that
has really come about since the early 1980s and developed in the '90s and now
we're seeing come to full fruition in the new millennium.

GROSS: We only have a minute or two left, so I'm going to ask you a really,
really big question and ask you for a really short answer. So let's see how
we do. You know, Americans and Congress are debating what to do in Iraq. Now
that we're there, how do we get out? Do we get out as quickly as possible, or
do we need to keep a presence there to prevent Iraq from falling apart even
further. If we stay, we remain just the kind of target that they're looking
for, you know, that the insurgents are looking for. But if we pull out, do we
stand a greater chance of leaving a failed state behind us, just the kind of
place that the al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists are looking for.

Mr. HAFEZ: I think, in Iraq, the commitment there, what is required to make
Iraq into a viable state--forget a successful, thriving state, but a viable
state--it is going to require a tremendous commitment in terms of troops,
resources, money and ultimately sacrifice, in terms of sacrificing American
lives. If the American public is willing to make that commitment over the
next seven to 10 years to try to get Iraq right--because up to now we have got
it completely wrong--if we are willing to make that long-term commitment, I do
think it is worth it. But we also have to know that it is going to require
tremendous sacrifice. Not just in terms of money, resources and costs, but
also in terms of American lives. I think it is worth it.

But if we are not willing to make that commitment, if we are only looking for
a quick, you know, till September, or another year or two years, I think that
then it is--the only option is for us to substantially reduce our forces and
to seek new strategies. Because this is not a job that's going to be one or
two years or even five years. It is going to be a long-term struggle, and if
we're not willing to make that long-term commitment, then might as well begin
reducing forces now. Let's not waste any more American lives.

But the consequence of that is the jihadists will indeed declare their
victory, and they have reason to do that, and it does mean that Iraq will slip
deeper into civil war, perhaps even a genocidal civil war. And it does mean
that the region will be destabilized, because Iraq will be an arena for a
proxy war between various factions in the region. And so it's not an easy
thing to say that we need to stay, but it's also equally problematic to just
simply leave.

GROSS: Well, Mohammed Hafez, thank you very much. I wish you a safe trip to
the Middle East and thank you for talking with us.

Mr. HAFEZ: Thank you for having me.

GROSS: Mohammed Hafez is the author of "Suicide Bombers in Iraq."

Coming up, we listen back to a 2004 interview with Tammy Faye Bakker, who
became Tammy Faye Messner after remarrying. She died Friday of colon cancer.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Tammy Faye Messner discusses her book "I Will
Survive, and You Will, Too"

Tammy Faye Bakker was considered the first lady of televangelism in the 1980s.
She died Friday of colon cancer at the age of 65. We're going to listen to an
interview I recorded with her in 2004. Tammy Faye and her first husband, Jim
Bakker, helped build Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network and the
Trinity Broadcasting Network. The Bakkers' own empire included the
PTL--Praise The Lord--Network, their televangelist variety show, "The PTL
Club," and Heritage USA, the world's first Christian theme park. Their empire
fell apart in 1987 after Jim Bakker was in the headlines for committing
adultery. He was later convicted of financial fraud.

In 1993 Tammy Faye changed her last name to Messner, after marrying Roe
Messner, who built Heritage USA. Over the years she became something of a gay
icon, as paradoxical as that may seem. The week before I spoke with her, she
hosted a drag bingo AIDS benefit. Here's an excerpt of our 2004 interview.

In your book, you say that Jim Bakker used to watch the Johnny Carson show and
felt that Christians needed their own talk show. Why?

Ms. TAMMY FAYE MESSNER: Well, because we needed to be able to talk about
God, just like Johnny Carson talked about the things of the world. And so he
asked Pat Robertson if the children's show became something that was going
somewhere and really helping, if we could one day do a Johnny Carson-type
show. And after we had done the children's show for about two years, Pat
finally let Jim do the first "700 Club." That's what they named it.

GROSS: It's almost like talking about God the way Johnny Carson talks about
celebrities, because that's what he really talked about was celebrities.

Ms. MESSNER: Well, who's the greatest celebrity?

GROSS: Well...

Ms. MESSNER: God, or--it was wonderful. We talked about God as, you know, a
real person, not as God up in the sky or God somewhere else around. He was
God that was right there with us. And that's what Christians believe, that he
is right there with us, part of our lives every day, and that's what our talk
show was about. And we talked with other people. We have Christian
celebrities, too, that we, of course, brought into the picture.

GROSS: How did you start raising money on the air?

Ms. MESSNER: Well, we had to raise money, you know. We didn't have
Coca-Cola, we didn't have all the commercials that all the other stations had,
that the secular stations had. So we had to figure out a way to buy airtime,
pay employees and do all those things that a regular television station has to
do. And so the only way to do that was to raise money.

GROSS: You ended up making a lot of money and having just several beautiful,
beautiful homes.

Ms. MESSNER: Now how do you know that, really, Miss Terry?

GROSS: Reading about you.

Ms. MESSNER: Yeah, you read--you probably heard about it in the rag
magazines. But our home that they said was such a mansion was not a mansion.
It was an old house that we bought and redid. We had a small home in Palm
Springs because it was the only place that we could go to get away. And we,
at one time, had a small home in Gatlinburg, which was just a little cabin.
And so those were our homes.

GROSS: But really, I mean, you did have what I think everybody agrees was a
pretty opulent lifestyle during that period.

Ms. MESSNER: We had a very nice lifestyle, we did. But, you know, it was
given to us by our board of directors and, you know, we didn't ask for it.

GROSS: OK, I guess the larger question is: Were you comfortable living in
that kind of opulent lifestyle, knowing that a lot of the money was coming
from listeners who probably weren't living anywheres close...

Ms. MESSNER: Terry, we worked so much that I never thought about it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MESSNER: Our whole life, my husband, Jim Bakker, worked almost 24 hours
a day. And he worked so much and I worked so much that we just never thought
of it. The thing about money is this, in my estimation: When you have money,
you never think of it; when you don't have money, it's about all you think
about. And we had enough to where we didn't have to worry about money, but we
never thought about the fact that we were getting paid too much or too little
or too whatever. We never thought about money, and that's God's honest truth.

GROSS: Some of the televangelists have preached quite loudly against certain,
quote, "sinners," and have suggested that they should be very marginalized in
our society, particularly here the way--some of the televangelists--like Jerry
Falwell, for instance--have preached against homosexuality. You, on the other
hand, have actually become very close to a lot of gay people and are something
of a cult figure among certain people. Yeah.

Ms. MESSNER: Well, they were very, very--well, I think--I did a show back
when I was doing "Tammy's House Party." And I did a show, not even knowing it
was going to ever turn into anything special, Terry. I did a show with a gay
man who had AIDS, and my heart went out to him because I felt like people were
treat--that no one would hug him, no one would even get near people that had
AIDS at that time. And they were so looked down upon, and I felt that was
wrong to be looked down upon for a disease and be blamed for a disease. And I
felt Jesus would have gone to that person and put his arm around them and love
them and cared for them. And so that's why I did that show. And that show
turned out to be something that I never dreamed in the world would change my
life someday.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you've met gay men who do you in their drag show?
You know...

Ms. MESSNER: Oh, yes, many of them.

GROSS: Yeah? Uh-huh?

Ms. MESSNER: Oh, yes, and they do me better than me. I love it. I think
it's so fun.

GROSS: Since you obviously have friends who are gay and you have something of
a gay following, what's your reaction when televangelists preach that gays are
doomed to sin, that we should protect our youth from gay people, that gay
people should be marginalized, they shouldn't be allowed to marry, they
shouldn't be allowed to teach?

Ms. MESSNER: I think that preachers should be allowed to preach the word of
God. I don't think they ought to pick on certain people or certain sins. But
the gay people and I--and I love the gay community--we have agreed to
disagree. I am not a homosexual, and the gay people know that I don't believe
in the homosexual lifestyle. But we have agreed to disagree on that and go
ahead and love each other and care about each other anyway.

GROSS: Now, there was a documentary made about you a couple of years ago.

Ms. MESSNER: Yeah, "The Eyes of Tammy Faye."

GROSS: Right. And it was made by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, who also
made the movie "Party Monster." What impact did that movie have on your life?
It was a very sympathetic portrait of you and...

Ms. MESSNER: Well, to me, it was a very--it wasn't as sympathetic as it was
truthful. They delved in and got the truth of the situation as it happened.
See, I didn't even--when I went to--when they asked me to do this, I said,
`No, I will not go back. You cannot go forward looking in the rearview
mirror, and I can't go back. It hurts too bad. I finally got my life, you
know, back on track and I'm not going back.' But they convinced me to go back
with them.

And I traveled with them for almost two years doing things--or they followed
me and the things I was doing. And they talked to the people that had been
part of my life, and they got down and got to the bare--where the rubber meets
the road. And they did not--they said, `You are not going to be able to see
this till everybody else sees it. You are not going to be able to know what's
in it, you are not going to have any power over anything that we tape or do.
Are you willing to do that?' And something within me, and I have to think it
must have been God, said it was OK to do it. And so I trusted Randy and
Fenton, and thank God that I did because it changed my life.

GROSS: How did it change it?

Ms. MESSNER: It changed my life by people seeing me as a real person, other
than a cartoon figure that I had been pictured as by so much of the media.

GROSS: Talk a little bit more about the cartoon figure. This...

Ms. MESSNER: Well, you know, I had always been pictured as a little-- fluffy
little bubble head with big long eyelashes and big jewelry that didn't have a
brain in her head. People realized that I'm a relatively intelligent person,
I'm a person with deep feelings, I'm a mother, I'm a grandmother, and that
I've done a lot in life and I have had a lot of life experiences. And that's
what they were able to show through "The Eyes of Tammy Faye."

GROSS: Tammy Faye Messner, thank you very much for talking with us.

Ms. MESSNER: Well, thank you, Terry. It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Tammy Faye Messner, formerly Tammy Faye Bakker, died Friday of colon
cancer at the age of 65. Our interview was recorded in 2004.

Coming up, David Bianculli reviews two new cable shows. One stars Glenn
Close, the other Holly Hunter. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Bianculli reviews "Saving Grace" and "Damages,"
two new cable TV shows

It's a good TV season for strong, complicated women, at least on cable. The
season premier of Kyra Sedgwick's "The Closer" on TNT last month attracted
more viewers than any scripted show in that network's history. Tonight, after
an episode of "The Closer," TNT unveils another drama with a strong female
lead, "Saving Grace," starring Holly Hunter as a troubled detective. And
tomorrow night, another cable network, FX, presents Glenn Close in a new drama
series playing a powerful and ruthless attorney. TV critic David Bianculli
has this review.


It's becoming more and more of an open secret that, for women, especially
those too mature for the cover of Maxim magazine, some of the best and most
challenging roles in Hollywood these days are to be found on TV. And as the
broadcast networks waste more of their time and money, especially during the
summer on mindless reality shows, cable TV is the new place to be.

Glenn Close stuck her toe in the water last year, joining the FX drama "The
Shield" for one season as the latest boss of rogue cop Vic Mackey. She was
wonderful and clearly had a wonderful time. For now she's signed up as a
series lead.

So has Holly Hunter, whose TV roots go as far back as the 1989 tele-movie "Roe
vs. Wade." In "Saving Grace," Hunter plays Grace, an Oklahoma City detective
whose life is a mess. Series creator Nancy Miller counts on Hunter's
likability to keep us involved and sympathetic even as the opening episode
quickly piles on one vice after another. Grace smokes, she drinks, she burps.
She has aggressive, passionate, unemotional sex with a married man. Oh, and a
little later on she drives drunk, runs into a pedestrian and kills him.

Even for a cable drama out to shock, that last one is going too far. It turns
out, it is too far. It's a dream, or a vision, or a warning. Something that
comes to Grace, she discovers, courtesy of a divine intermediary. That's
where Leon Rippy, a familiar face from "Deadwood," comes in. He plays Earl, a
smirking, mocking, tobacco-chewing angel. Yes, "Saving Grace" is another of
those guidance-from-beyond dramas. It's a lot better than "Touched by an
Angel" and close to, though not yet as good as, "Joan of Arcadia." God visited
Joan personally in that series in the guise of many different people. In
"Saving Grace," God sends Earl, who speaks to Grace but doesn't always give
her a straight answer.

(Soundbite of "Saving Grace")

Ms. HOLLY HUNTER: (As Grace) If there's a God, tell him to bring it on.
I've got some questions for him.

Mr. LEON RIPPY: (As Earl) Let me guess. You want to know why there's evil,
betrayal, tragedy and death.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) Basically, yeah.

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Doesn't work that way.

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) Well then tell me how it works. Angels, heaven, God,
death, whole deal. Explain it to me. Heaven first.

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Well, the whole pearly gates thing's is more like an
opening in the clouds. This gospel choir of angels singing you into glory.
No throne. God sits on a monster Harley. Whenever you hear it thunder, he's
starting that baby up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HUNTER: (As Grace) (Word censored by station), Earl.

Mr. RIPPY: (As Earl) Wait. Look. I'm sorry. It's just, you guys always
ask the same questions. I can give you the answers. Then there's no room for

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: You have to have faith to hope "Saving Grace" is leading somewhere
worthwhile. It's interesting that Grace brings physical evidence of the angel
to a forensic scientist, played by Laura San Giacomo, but so far, it's not at
all credible what she, or Grace, does with that information.

Over on "Damages," there's a lot less required in the area of suspension of
disbelief. Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a lawyer who's so tough and devious
and maybe even unscrupulous, she's like a female J.R. Ewing with a law
degree. When you're opposing her in court or negotiating for a settlement,
she's as formidable as they come. And even when you're on her side working
with her, she's just as hard-edged and just as cold. A young talented actress
named Rose Byrne co-stars as Ellen, a hotshot new lawyer who was recruited by
Patty, kind of the way Tom Cruise was hired and steamrollered in the movie
"The Firm." At first, it appears that Patty may look upon Ellen with a kind of
maternal instinct--until Patty reveals, with typical iciness, her true
feelings about being a mom.

(Soundbite of "Damages")

Ms. GLENN CLOSE: (As Patty Hewes) Do yourself a favor, Ellen. Don't have
kids. I read an interview once with a Nobel Prize winner, a physicist,
genius, married six times. He said, `Don't have kids. It ruins your
ambition, keeps you from what you want in life.' He said to have wives
instead. You can leave wives. You can't leave your own kids.

Ms. ROSE BYRNE: (As Ellen Parsons) Thanks. I'll keep that in mind.

Ms. CLOSE: (As Patty Hewes) My son came out of me perfectly healthy. Ten
fingers, ten toes, everything works. I've managed to keep him alive for 17
years, but I'm not a good mother.

Ms. BYRNE: (As Ellen Parsons) I'm sure you are.

Ms. CLOSE: (As Patty Hewes) Kids are like clients. They want all of you all
the time.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Both the acting and the writing on "Damages" manage to be
delightfully surprising. The leading ladies are excellent, and the show
starts off with a host of strong recurring players. These include Tate
Donovan as Patty's right-hand man; and Ted Danson, as one of her wealthy,
arrogant courtroom targets. Glenn Close and Ted Danson worked together on a
fabulous TV movie, "Something about Amelia," 23 years ago. A generation later
they're teaming up again, and once again going where the best work is. This
summer it's cable.

The creators of "Damages," Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, surprised
me several times in the series pilot. They took the plot and the characters
places I wasn't expecting them to go. I'm very grateful for that. Being
surprised by a scripted TV drama these days is a rare treat, so "Damages"
qualifies as one, too.

Meanwhile, over on the broadcast networks, even finding a scripted TV drama is
a rarity. Basically, I've taken the summer off from broadcast TV because,
basically, broadcast TV has done the same thing.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

We're podcasting now. You can download our show by going to our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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