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Film Sparks Long-Simmering Frustration In Pakistan


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

In Pakistan, a government minister is offering a $100,000 bounty for anyone who kills the maker of a video that denigrates the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The offer came one day after many cities in Pakistan were engulfed in violent demonstrations over the online video. At least 23 people were killed and 200 others injured.

NPR's Jackie Northam is in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. She joins us now. Good morning, Jackie.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So what can you tell us about this offer of a reward?

NORTHAM: Well, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour is the cabinet minister in charge of Pakistan's railway system, and he said he would pay this bounty to anyone who murders the person responsible for the anti-Islam video, which he calls blasphemous. And he invited both the Taliban and Al-Qaida to help. Bilour knows his offer is not legal. He says he's ready to be hanged for it.

He doesn't actually name the person who made the video but it's presumed he's talking about Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. And he's the 55-year-old man in California who has been linked to the online film.

Now, Pakistan's government is distancing itself from these remarks. And, Linda, frankly, as one of my favorite Pakistan watchers points out, Bilour should instead be concentrating on his day job, because the whole railway system in Pakistan is in shambles and more than $3 billion in debt.

WERTHEIMER: There were many violent demonstrations throughout much of Pakistan this past week over the video. What is the situation there today?

NORTHAM: I've been out for the most of the day and the streets are quiet today. There were some demonstrations yesterday, but they were much smaller and certainly much more peaceful. There's been a lot of backlash from Friday's protest. The weekend newspapers, and particularly the English language ones, are filled with stories and editorials about how badly the government handled things.

You know, it decided to make Friday a public holiday so people could come out and demonstrate, it said peacefully. But many analysts and people in the street said the government should have known better and it should have had better security in place. The police were completely overwhelmed by the mobs that turned out.

And conversely, there are questions about where were the Muslim leaders in all of this? You know, many of the demonstrators belonged to various religious organizations, including some hard-line Islamist groups that are banned here. And there's concern that Muslim clerics may have either encouraged the violence or just simply turned a blind eye to it.

WERTHEIMER: Presumably, many people wanted to voice their concern about the video peacefully. How do they feel about what happened?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, there's a lot of introspection here in Pakistan at the moment, because there are many people feel this isn't the way to deal with this inflammatory video, and that the mobs who turned out Friday were just taking the bait dangled by the people who made and distributed the film. That people turned out to protest this video that was made in the U.S., but all they did was damage their own property and kill their own people.

And many people feel that the violence on Friday just humiliated the country. You know, and that Pakistan has so much more to deal with. There are so many other problems here. Linda, there's a political cartoon in one of the newspapers today, which I think sums things up. It's a picture of a cannonball and written on it are the words: Corruption, Lawlessness, Poverty, Security, Nepotism, Prices. And then you see the fuse to the cannonball is sparking wildly. And underneath the fuse are the words: Blasphemous Film.

So, in other words, the anti-Islam video may have been what brought people out onto the streets, the theory goes. But there's a lot of anger about other things bubbling away here.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Jackie Northam reporting from Islamabad. Thank you. Jackie, thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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