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Asia

Anger grows over film in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Pakistani authorities have blocked access to the controversial anti-Islam film 'Innocence of Muslims' and beefed up security around US diplomatic missions fearing a backlash from religious groups against the film.

At the end of last week, the Pakistani government blocked all internet links providing access to the controversial US-made film titled "Innocence of Muslims."

The Afghan government also ordered a ban on YouTube, a video sharing site, to prevent Afghans from watching the movie, which had been denounced by most Muslim countries as an "insult to Islam and its prophet." Internet search engine Google confirmed that YouTube itself has blocked the movie in India.

The low-budget movie sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries, including Libya and Egypt. Religious parties in many South Asian countries also held protest rallies against the movie and the United States. In Pakistan some 3,000 university staff and students demonstrated on Monday (September 17) in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

More than 6,000 protesters in the eastern city of Lahore have plans to hold a long march to Islamabad, according to the local police. Demonstrators in the port city of Karachi shouted slogans like "down with America," "we will sacrifice our lives to safeguard the honour of the Prophet" and "hang the film maker," outside the US consulate.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, protests escalated, with demonstrators setting cars on fire, pelting stones at a US base and shouting anti-American slogans such as "death to America!"

Yemeni protesters break a window of the US Embassy during a protest about an anti-Islam film (Photo: Hani Mohammed / AP / dapd)

There have been violent protests against the movie in many Muslim countries

The Pakistani government said that it had increased security around the US embassy in Islamabad in view of possible violent protests from hard-line religious groups.

"We have beefed up security for possible threats to the US embassy," Khurram Rasheed, a Pakistani police official, told the media earlier.

YouTube ban

Pakistan's Telecommunication Authority (PTA), said in a statement that it "has proactively blocked and is vigorously preventing all access to the anti-Islamic video placed on the worldwide web via YouTube, the 'Innocence of Muslims,'" adding that "the authority is in close liaison with all the service providers for immediate blocking of the provocative video."

Similar attempts by Islamabad to ban social networking sites in the past have been resisted by many Pakistanis.

Farah K Siddiqui, a communications expert and active microblogger, told DW that it was "idiotic to block any forum," in the 21st century. "What the government does not realize is that by trying to stop people from accessing certain internet material, they will make it more attractive to Internet users."

"Banning information does not work these days. People always find alternative ways to access information," he added.

Sensitivity

Cover of Salman Rushdie's 'The Satanic Verses'

Rushdie was not allowed to attend a literature festival in India this year

Negative comments about or satirical depictions of Islam or its prophet Muhammad anger Muslims around the world. Any pictorial representation of the Prophet Mohammad is considered un-Islamic and blasphemous.

In 1989, Iran's former religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa prompting the calling for the death of British author Salman Rushdie for writing a controversial novel, "The Satanic Verses," which Muslims believed demeaned Prophet Muhammad.

In 1993, Bangladeshi author Tasleema Nasreen wrote a novel, “Lajja,” which offended many Muslims on the Indian sub-continent. The author had to go into hiding in India because of death threats by Bangladeshi Muslim groups.

Muslims protested widely in 2005 when a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published satirical cartoons depicting the prophet of Islam by the Danish artist Kurt Westergaard.

Maturity of reactions

Dwayne Ryan Menezes, scholar of religious history at the University of Cambridge, told DW that more than films like "Innocence of Muslims" themselves, it was the reactions to these movies which undermined inter-faith harmony.

"The approach the religious choose to deal with such offensive films speaks more about the strength and maturity of their faith than their retributive aggression. A much better approach would be to patronize and heap publicity on the works that promote their religions in the correct light and serve to help the cause of inter-faith harmony," said Menezes.

Supporters of Pakistan's religious party burn representation of US flag in Quetta

Many protests in Pakistan are directed against the US

Pakistani poet and scholar Iftikhar Arif told DW Muslims should be mature in their reaction. He said that the inter-religious harmony in pre-Partition India should be an example for the rest of the world.

"Hindus and Muslims lived in peace for centuries. Muslims always respected Hindu saints and religious figures and Hindus also reciprocated. This should be the way people of different faiths behave with each other," Arif said.

Arif added that most religious people, whether they belong to Islam, Christianity or any other religion, were very sensitive about their faiths. "The reaction is not peculiar to Muslims. When Martin Scorsese made 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' many extremist Christian groups protested against Scorsese and the film," Arif said, adding that the people who made this latest film were aware of the response their work might get from the Muslim world and that they should not have "unnecessarily provoked" people.

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