News - Afghanistan
Kandahar tribal and religious leaders gathered Thursday to urge calm and peaceful protest against an amateur film deemed offensive to Islam amid fears that any reaction to the film could turn deadly.
It comes as the Afghan government Thursday asked the country's internet providers to prevent access to the film by blocking video-sharing website YouTube, and a day after President Hamid Karzai condemned the film in an emailed statement to media and called for its distribution online to be stopped.
Karzai's Wednesday statement was not given great import by Afghan media, but the matter was brought to the fore after he deferred a diplomatic trip to Norway, originally scheduled for Friday, reportedly because of riot fears.
Thursday's Kandahar gathering of elders and the local authorities also condemned the film, but according to one mullah, it did no damage to Islam.
"This shows the animosity of the non-Muslim world to Islam, but it neither weakens nor harms Islam. Rather, it helps in further promoting the religion throughout the globe," Mawlawi Azhar said at the gathering.
"Last year's violent protests [in Mazar-e-Sharif] took the lives of dozens of people. You all know that killing someone innocent is illegal and seriously prohibited in Islam," Head of the Kandahar's Ulema Reform Association Haji Toor Jan said, adding that Allah himself will protect Islam and there is no need for Muslims to commit such violent acts.
The elders added that the film is not only an insult to Islam, but to all religions. They asked the US government to prosecute the film producer and avoid releasing insulting material in the future.
The meeting was also attended by Kandahar provincial governor, his deputy, district governors and provincial council members, all urging local residents to act peacefully towards the news of the film and avoid violent demonstrations.
According to Karzai's statement on Wednesday, the amateur film produced in the US depicts the Prophet of Islam Mohammad in an insulting way.
However, it acknowledged that the film producer, reportedly named Sam Bacile, and those who supported him were "a small, radical minority".
The film, first released July 2, was not widely known until it was promoted by the controversial US pastor in Florida, Terry Jones, who has incited protests in the past for publicly burning the Quran.
The film has reportedly provoked violent protests in other Islamic countries including Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
In the Libyan capital, Benghazi, the US ambassador and three other diplomats were killed after protesters stormed the embassy building on Tuesday.
Karzai's postponement of the Norway trip, the elders call for calm, and the blocking of YouTube on Thursday are the result of fears that similar protests will break out in Afghanistan given it has already seen demonstrations turn deadly in the last two years over the burning of the Quran.
Riots killed around 40 people – Afghans and foreign troops – after US soldiers burnt copies of the Quran on a military base in February this year. While Pastor Jones' Quran burning in April 2011 sparked a riot in northern Afghanistan's Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven United Nations staff and five demonstrators after the UN compound was overrun by a mob.
US President Barack Obama talked on the phone to Karzai on Wednesday and sought to ensure that everything was done to prevent
any kind of threat to the US-led foreign forces and Afghans, AFP reported.