A PAKISTANI cabinet minister has offered a £60,000 reward for the death of the man behind the anti-Islam film which has sparked violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Railways Minister Ghulam Ahmad Balor said he would pay the $100,000 reward – equivalent to just over £61,000 – out of his own pocket.
He also urged the Taliban and al-Qaeda to perform the "sacred duty" of helping locate and kill the film-maker.
His remarks were made the day after at least 20 people died in Pakistan during clashes between anti-film protesters and police.
Yesterday, thousands took part in further demonstrations against the film in the country's capital, Islamabad, with protests also taking place in Bangladesh, Nigeria and Kashmir.
The exact origin of the poorly produced film called Innocence of Muslims – which portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a fraud, a womaniser and a child molester – is unclear. However, the man alleged to be behind the film – California-based Nakoula Basseley Nakoula – is currently in hiding.
More than 1500 people, including women and children, yesterday rallied in Pakistan's capital in a fresh demonstration.
Advertisements are being broadcast on Pakistani television showing US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemning the film in a bid to get the message across that the US government was not involved in the film.
Scores of people were injured yesterday as police and demonstrators clashed in Bangladesh. Police fired tear gas and used batons as violence erupted when authorities attempted to halt protests.
Thousands also protested in Nigeria's largest city, Kano. The crowd marched from a mosque to the palace of the Emir of Kano, the region's chief spiritual leader for Muslims.
About 200 students in Srinagar, the main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir, chanted "Down with America" and "Long live Islam" in a peaceful protest. Some carried a placard that read "There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger".
In Libya yesterday at least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded as the militia blamed for killing the country's US ambassador were driven out of the city of Benghazi. Military police and activists were met with little resistance as they stormed the compounds of the Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia.
After sweeping through Ansar's bases, however, the crowd went on to attack a pro-government militia, believing them to be Islamists.
This triggered an armed response in which at least 11 people were killed and more than 60 wounded. Ansar al-Sharia is suspected of being behind the attack on the US consulate earlier this month, which killed ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US embassy staff.
Although the storming of the consulate was initially thought to have been a spontaneous reaction to the film protests, US officials later said they were investigating whether it was a planned attack.
A spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia – which denies any role in the consulate attack – yesterday said it had evacuated its bases "to preserve security in the city".
Why this film is a godsend for al-Qaeda
By Abdel Bari Atwan
Editor-in-chief of the London-based newspaper Al Quds al Arabi
For almost two weeks, protests have raged across the Muslim world, first against a film, produced in the US, and latterly against a series of cartoons published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Scores of demonstrators have been killed and wounded, while in Benghazi the US ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats were murdered.
Innocence of Muslims portrays the prophet Mohammad as a child-molesting womaniser, while the cartoons include – among obscenities – an image of a naked Mohammad on all fours, and one in which he says "it's tough being adored by idiots".
Clearly these insult Muslims and their god, since Mohammad is his messenger. In addition, the Hadith forbids the depiction of Allah, Mohammad and, indeed, any living being. This is why Islamic art presents geometrical patterns rather than figures.
The Western media has been obsessing about 'freedom of speech'. I condemn unreservedly the violence, but would point out that many demonstrations passed off peaceably – these did not make the front pages of newspapers. As a Muslim living in Britain I can understand the anger and what lies behind it.
Many Muslims are deeply concerned by a rising tide of "Islamophobia" – a prejudice which focuses on our religion. The world's 1.6 billion Muslims frame themselves in terms of their religion first and race or nationality second; this is why any insult to the Prophet is considered an insult to each individual in the Muslim nation, or umma.
Cartoons and films have long been used to demonise minorities. In the West, most minorities are, rightly, protected by legislation from vilification. Muslims feel they do not, sometimes, benefit from the same protection.
In France, the law prohibiting "public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity" was used to prosecute John Galliano when he made anti-Semitic remarks in his local café. Why is this unambiguous statute not applied to the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo?
Unrestrained expressions of prejudice result in dehumanisation and the sense that the target is of inferior social value. Hence this statement (in his defence) by the US soldier who raped and murdered a 14-year-old Iraqi girl before killing her entire family: "I didn't think of them as human."
Of course Muslims worry about this. And while most would rather ignore insults with quiet dignity and go about their daily business, a minority chose to demonstrate. Deliberate provocations, such as the film and cartoons, are a godsend for extremists and have been exploited by the most radical, violent group of all – al-Qaeda.
The film had been available online, largely unnoticed, since July 1; an intensive campaign to foment protest began on September 8 when clips from it were posted on the website of a Salafist cleric, subsequently going viral and culminating in an explosion of fury on September 11.
In Benghazi, al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Shariah harnessed the anger of protesters already out on the street and orchestrated the attack. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's September 11 internet address included a eulogy for his Libyan deputy, Abu Yahya al-Libi, framing the murders as revenge for his death. The al-Qaeda flag has proliferated during the protests, becoming an instantly recognisable expression not only of anti-Western feeling but of a new kind of pan-Arabism based on Islam.
Clearly, these are dangerous developments, but it is important to keep them in context – surveys suggest that only 0.007% of the Muslim population have participated in the protests to date, a tiny fraction of the numbers involved in the "Arab Spring".
Yet we must question the motives of those who disseminate offensive material and the judgment of those who defend their right to do so. Are we really testing the limits of freedom of speech here, or the freedom to abuse?
After Bin Laden by Abdel Bari Atwan is published on October 3 by Saqi books