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From ‘Desert Warrior’ to ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ a controversial YouTube video is both catalyst and scapegoat

September 19, 2012 Leave a comment
In early July, a YouTube user known as “Sam Bacile” posted a trailer for Innocence of Muslims, a vicious spoof of the Prophet Muhammad. The fourteen-minute video wasn’t a particularly good advertisement for anything — in fact, it failed to mention the title of the film. And for some time, it was all but ignored. Then, in September, dubbed Arabic versions began to appear in the Egyptian media. Protests broke out in several countries, denouncing both the video and the Pope’s upcoming visit to Lebanon. And in Benghazi, Libya, armed attackers set fire to the US Consulate, killing US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
YOUTUBE SAID THE VIDEO WAS ‘CLEARLY WITHIN OUR GUIDELINES,’ BUT IT TOOK THE RARE STEP OF BLOCKING IT IN EGYPT AND LIBYA
The response was sudden. YouTube said the video was “clearly within our guidelines,” but it took the rare step of blocking it first in Egypt and Libya, then India, Indonesia, and other countries, sometimes after legal threats. YouTube itself was banned in some countries, most recently Pakistan. Although still available elsewhere, the English-language version was reposted several times with information about the protests or a simple “thumbs up for free speech.” The White House asked YouTube if it would review the video and remove it if necessary. Outlets from The Wall Street Journal toGawker tried to dig up information about Bacile, a mysterious figure who turned out to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian on parole for bank fraud. While the video is certainly drawing ire, it’s not clear that protests provided more than cover for the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. Unnamed US officials have told CNNthe Consulate faced a “clearly planned military-type attack,” and that “the video or 9/11 made a handy excuse.” It’s also been suggested that the attackers used these protests as a diversion. Whatever happened, we’re left with the question of how a poorly produced YouTube video can spark global controversy and be credited with causing the death of a US official. The trailer for Innocence of Muslims is on par with a lesser Ed Wood film, its cast solemnly debating sexual ethics in face paint and pasted-on beards. Outdoor scenes were clearly shot in front of a green screen, making actors appear to float above stock footage of a desert. If anything, though, the poor quality makes it more effective propaganda. It may not be revealing, thought-provoking, or competent, but Innocence of Muslims is indubitably insulting, depicting Muhammad as a hypocritical and bloodthirsty philanderer in a truly terrible costume.
IF ANYTHING, THE TRAILER’S POOR QUALITY MAKES IT MORE EFFECTIVE PROPAGANDA
Since the trailer gained infamy, it’s become evident that almost no one involved knew it was meant to be about Islam. Casting calls show that it was described during filming as a period piece called Desert Warrior, with Muhammad given the name of “Master George.” In the trailer, he’s usually referred to as “Master,” and any direct references to Islam are clumsily dubbed in after the fact. It’s easy to believe the actors when they say they were misled. At the same time, the undubbed parts of Innocence of Muslims wouldn’t be nearly as effective if they didn’t play off existing fears and beliefs about Islam, including the frequently repeated claim that the Prophet molested children. The film fits into a long narrative about protests over the depiction of Muhammad. But unlike The Satanic Verses, which has also drawn criticism from Muslims, there’s no larger message or artistic flourish behind the trailer. And unlike the famous Danish political cartoons from 2005, Innocence of Muslims wasn’t professionally published or circulated much outside YouTube. Instead, it’s a disposable piece of internet trolling, created for the sole purpose of generating outrage. It’s just gained an extraordinarily wide audience.
ANY REFERENCE TO ISLAM IS DUBBED IN, BUT THE WHOLE TRAILER PLAYS ON COMMON FEARS AND STEREOTYPES
Given how unsympathetic Bacile / Nakoula is, it’s become easy to blame Innocence of Muslims for tension that may have already been building. When White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pushed for the video to be taken down, he told The Washington Post that “this is not a case of protest directed at the United States writ large or at US policy.” Recent events, he said, were “in response to a video, a film, that we have judged to be reprehensible and disgusting.” One YouTube user who re-posted the film described it as the movie “that caused Muslims to kill United States ambassador, J Christopher Stevens,” succinctly summing up popular perception. As others have pointed out, it’s also simplistic. Coptic Christians like Nakoula have a tense relationship with Muslims in Egypt, and they’ve faced violence before. Both Egypt and Libya are still in the midst of major political transitions. And rising food prices could be contributing to unrest worldwide.
THIS IS NOT A CASE OF PROTEST DIRECTED AT THE UNITED STATES WRIT LARGE OR AT US POLICY.
In some ways, Innocence of Muslims is the culmination of the internet’s role as a great leveler. YouTube can place tiny, self-published projects on equal footing with those made by traditional media outlets, and an anonymous or pseudonymous troll can claim to havestolen data from the FBI or hold Mitt Romney’s tax returns hostage. But the novelty and reach of online culture can also make it easy to exaggerate its importance, something that’s seen both in protesters’ insistence that the trailer is somehow condoned by the US and in the belief that Innocence of Muslims caused an attack that was likely planned for months. Even if YouTube bans Sam Bacile and his trailer, the numerous repostings, dubbed versions, and translations highlight the near impossibility of silencing offensive material once it has been released into the remix culture of the web. And the violence that followed is a reminder of how powerful online video can be at promoting an idea… or inciting populist outrage.
Source: http://www.theverge.com/2012/9/17/3346428/innocence-of-muslims-protests

Anna Gurji & ‘Innocence Of Muslim: Horrified Actress Writes Letter Explaining Her Roles’

September 18, 2012 Leave a comment

The Huffington Post  |  By 

Anna Gurji Innocence Of Muslims

Anna Gurji starred in “Desert Warrior,” the film that was dubbed over and became “Innocence of Muslims.”

Anna Gurji is one of the actresses who starred in “Desert Warrior,” a movie that was supposed to be about tribal battles prompted by the arrival of a comet on Earth. Unfortunately, “Desert Warrior” was given a heavy dose of dubbing and post-production editing. The film is now known by a new, infamous name: “Innocence of Muslims.”

The anti-Islam movie, which now centers on a negative portrayal of Muhammad, has led to riots around much of the Arab world. After a series of bizarre twists involving false identities, the man behind the project has been identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a man with a criminal past that includes convictions on federal fraud and methamphetamine charges. Nakoula was taken in for questioning early Saturday morning, but was not under arrest.

In a letter posted on author Neil Gaiman’s website, Gurji makes explicit that she was not privy to Nakoula’s plans.

“There was no mention EVER by anyone of MUHAMMAD and no mention of religion during the entire time I was on the set,” she writes. “I am hundred percent certain nobody in the cast and nobody in the U.S. artistic side of the crew knew what was really planned for this ‘Desert Warrior.'”

The actress said that when “people [ask me what my reaction is] after seeing that,” she only has one word to offer: “shock.”

“Two hours after I found out everything that had happened I gave ‘Inside Edition’ an interview, the duration of which I could not stop crying,” she continues. “I feel shattered … It’s painful to see how our faces were used to create something so atrocious without us knowing anything about it at all.”

While Gurji fears for her safety, she has not gone into hiding. “I don’t know what else to do but speak the truth,” she said. “I will not go into hiding (since I have nothing to hide), because if we don’t speak the truth, there is no world worth living for.”

Alan Roberts, a softcore porn director, has been identified as the project’s director. It appears as though he was also duped into thinking he was working on “Desert Warrior.”

SOURCE:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/17/anna-gurji-innocence-of-muslims-letter_n_1890041.html?ir=World&ref=topbar

Terrorism alert: ‘Punjab is home to banned organisations’

August 4, 2012 Leave a comment

By Rana Tanveer

LAHORE: The city witnessed two explosions in 2011 which left 13 people dead and 112 injured. More than 250 were killed in 18 terrorist activities in 2010.

In the first incident, on January 25, at Ghora Chowk, Urdu Bazar, a suicide bomber killed 10 people and injured 85. The second incident, on February 3, a bombing, killed three people and injured 27 near Haider Sayeen shrine.

Shahbaz Taseer, son of late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer and US citizen Warren Weinstein were kidnapped for ransom during the year.

Shahbaz was abducted from Gulberg on August 27, while Weinstein was picked up from his Model Town residence.

Security officials have claimed that Al Qaeda operatives are behind both abductions.

The police have still no clue to the whereabouts of Amir Aftab Malik, son-in-law of Gen (retd) Tariq Majeed, who was kidnapped at gunpoint on August 25, 2010.

Some defence analysts hold the view that the operations in Tribal Areas have effected the network of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which had resulted in a lull in incidents of terrorism. They say there is no evidence to conclude that the terrorists have changed their policy permanently.

Prof Hasan Askari Rizvi said overall incidents of terrorism had decreased but noted that some high profile attacks had occurred. He said the reduction was due to the operations being conducted in Tribal Areas. Rizvi added that TTP apparently lacked training facilities as many suicide attackers had been arrested last year. He said recruitment of suicide bombers had likely been denied by the operations in Tribal Areas.

Rizvi said Aiman al Zawahri had claimed to be behind the kidnapping of Weinstein. He said it was evident that Al Qaeda and TTP were involved in these high profile kidnappings.

Rizvi noted that last year several banned organisations, like Sipah-i-Sahaba and Jamatud Dawa, were allowed to continue their activities. He said although these organisations were limited to the Punjab they could surprise and harm to the security establishment, which currently is patronising them.

He said because the Punjab was relatively more conservative and had more of an ‘anti-India’ element than other provinces, these banned organisations had settled here. He said intelligence agencies were using these organisations to put pressure on the US and the Pakistani government against drone attacks and granting Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India. He said these organisations were also opposed to the military for its role in the war on terror.

A Counter Terrorism Department police officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that terrorists had suspended operations in the settled areas. He said it was evident from intelligence reports that many TTP leaders and operatives were alive and in regular contact. He said even Lahore was not free of TTP operatives.

Source : 

Published in The Express Tribune, December 30th, 2011.

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Tracing the Roots of Religious Extremism – Dr Tahir Kamran

July 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Tracing the Roots of Religious Extremism – Dr Tahir Kamran

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Pervez Hoodbhoy – Tracing the Roots of Religious Extremism

July 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Pervez Hoodbhoy – Tracing the Roots of Religious Extremism

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During Ramadan, Pakistani militants collect money for terrorism

July 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Authorities take action, analysts say

By Zia Ur RehmanPrint

KARACHI – As the holy month of Ramadan begins, charitable fund-raising appeals are getting under way across Pakistan. But security analysts and social activists are concerned about terrorist groups posing as charities seeking to take advantage of zakat donations.
  • A Pakistani security officer seals the Karachi office of Jamaat-ud-Dawa in December 2008. Pakistan put the Islamist charity, regarded as a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, under monitoring. As Ramadan begins, authorities are cracking down on militant groups who pose as charities but use the money to fund terrorism. [REUTERS/Athar Hussain]A Pakistani security officer seals the Karachi office of Jamaat-ud-Dawa in December 2008. Pakistan put the Islamist charity, regarded as a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba group, under monitoring. As Ramadan begins, authorities are cracking down on militant groups who pose as charities but use the money to fund terrorism. [REUTERS/Athar Hussain]

Zakat is an Islamic tradition of donating money during Ramadan to help the needy. Although legitimate charities do remarkable work, militant groups rake in billions of rupees to fund terrorism instead of helping the poor, charity activists say.

However, law enforcement made it much harder for jihadists and fraudulent welfare organisations to raise money in 2011, they agree.

Zakat collection a lucrative business

Because Ramadan emphasizes helping the poor, activists of political and religious parties, including outlawed militant organisations, do whatever they can to maximise the amount they raise, said Faizan Jalil, a Karachi-based journalist who covers terrorism.

They take advantage of the generosity of Pakistani Muslims, who annually contribute billions of rupees as part of zakat and fitrana, donations of food at the end of Ramadan, Jalil told Central Asia Online, citing various reports.

Naive Pakistanis unwittingly donate to terrorist fronts in the name of Islam and humanity, Shah Wali, an aid worker helping flood victims in Badin District, said, stressing the need to raise public awareness.

Every citizen should demand the credentials of the person seeking a donation before giving him or her money, Wali told Central Asia Online. Doing so will thwart phony organisations from receiving money and defaming Islam, he said.

Banned jihadi charities working with new names

Banned militant organisations linked with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al-Qaeda pose as charities, said Raees Ahmed, a security analyst who closely monitors jihadi organisations. During Ramadan, banners and posters appealing for zakat collection appear in different parts of the country, he told Central Asia Online.

Last year, after imposing restrictions on charities linked with banned militant organisations, Pakistani authorities thwarted much of their Ramadan fund-raising.

However, the recently formed Difah-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), an alliance of religious parties, has opened new vistas for banned militant organisations.

The Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil-led Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM) and Maulana Abdullah Shah Mazhar-led Jammat-ul-Furqan (JuF), banned militant outfits linked to the TTP and al-Qaeda, have started working under the new names Ansar-ul-Umma and Tehreek-e-Ghalba Islam, Ahmed said, adding they are active under the DPC.

Militants fighting in Kashmir and Afghanistan are brazenly raising funds and recruiting potential fighters throughout Pakistan, the daily Express Tribune reported July 9.

Al-Badr Mujahedeen, a breakaway faction of the Hizb ul-Mujahedeen group, organised a two-day “Shuada Conference” July 8 in the Swan Adda area of Rawalpindi to seek recruits and raise funds, the report said, adding that the faction’s supporters from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistani-controlled Jammu and Kashmir attended the conference.

Most banned outfits have many covers for their operations and the first response to a ban is to start operating under a new name, said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank.

“Changed names of charities also mask their links with militant organisations,” Rana said. “The proscribed JeM (Jaish-e-Muhammad) becomes active as Tehreek-e-Khuddam-ul-Islam, while collecting funds and campaigning as Al Rehmat Trust, the charity wing of the organisation. Similarly, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) renamed itself Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and is carrying out its activities as Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool, while Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation oversees the group’s charitable projects and fund-raising.”

The long-standing ban has rattled the network of the Al-Rasheed Trust (ART) and Al-Akhter Trust (AAT), charities linked to TTP, JeM, HuM, al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. In February 2007, the Interior Ministry banned the ART and AAT, sealed their offices nationwide and froze their assets. Authorities also blocked an attempt by the ART to continue working under the name Al-Amin Welfare Trust.

Still, legitimate organisations continue to complain that terrorists are misusing Ramadan to raise funds for subversion.

Government takes action

This year, the government is planning again to order law enforcement agencies to block banned militant groups from raising money during Ramadan, Central Asia Online has learned.

In August, the Sindh and Punjab governments cracked down on 25 and 22 banned organisations, respectively, ordering them to shut down or to stop seeking donations.

Among those on the list are:

  • TTP
  • al-Qaeda
  • HuM
  • JuF
  • JeM
  • Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan
  • Lashkar-e- Jhangvi
  • Tehreek-e-Nafaz- e-Shariat Muhammadi
  • Hizb ut-Tahrir
  • LeT

“So far we didn’t receive any special directive in this regard, but authorities are updating the list of banned organisations involved in spreading militancy and carrying out subversive activities,” said Abdul Rasheed, a senior police official in Karachi’s west region.

Law enforcement agencies will monitor the activities of banned extremist outfits and stop them from Ramadan fund-raising, as they did in 2011, said Rasheed.

Political parties including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, through their respective charity fronts, the Khidmat Khalq Foundation, Bacha Khan Welfare Trust and Al-Khidmat Foundation, also raise funds but are not linked to any extremism, he added.

A public awareness campaign, especially during Ramadan, is necessary because most Pakistanis do not know whether various charities are legitimate, he said.

SOURCE: http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/pakistan/main/2012/07/20/feature-01

 

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