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UK plans anti-extremism ad drive for Pakistanis

February 11, 2009

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From Our Special Correspondent

LONDON, Feb 10: Prominent British Muslims are being recruited to star in a government-backed advertising campaign aimed at preventing people in Pakistan from engaging in extremist activity, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.

The three-month public relations offensive, called ‘I Am the West’, consists of television commercials and high-profile events in regions such as Peshawar and Mirpur. It is being funded by the Foreign Office which is paying up to £400,000 for a pilot project.

Starring in the first three adverts are Sadiq Khan, the communities minister, Jehangir Malik, the UK manager of Islamic Relief, English cricketer Moeen Ali and the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, Chaudry Abdul Rashid, who is from Mirpur. Mirpuris represent around 70 per cent of Britain’s Pakistani population.

According to a project synopsis, the target audience is 15-25-year-old males who are “less than well-educated and worldly wise, but potentially susceptible to extremist doctrines”. If successful, it will be implemented in Egypt, Yemen and Indonesia.

The original proposal to the Foreign Office came from Deen International, an organisation set up specifically for the project and headed by Khurshid Ahmed, chair of the British Muslim Forum.

On Monday night, Ahmed told the Guardian that the idea arose from the attempted terrorist attacks on Glasgow airport. “I did a number of visits to Pakistan to look at attitudes. Levels of hostility were increasing and there was lots of misunderstanding about how the situation was being described in the media out there.”

The pilot involves nine 30-second television commercials, supported by radio commercials, scheduled across a number of channels, including PTV, Geo TV and Khyber, which is specific to the Peshawari area. They are due to appear on Pakistani TV screens next Monday.

The central theme of ‘I Am the West’ is to assert that there is no contradiction in being a Muslim and being British. The synopsis says: “Muslims are equally proud of being both and certainly espouse the belief that violent extremism is not propagated in their name.”

The campaign has four key aims: to ensure Pakistanis realise the West is not “anti-Islam”, that British society is not “anti-Islam”, to demonstrate the extent to which Muslims are integrated into British society and to stimulate and facilitate “constructive debate” on the compatibility of liberal and Muslim values.

However, reacting to the planned ad campaign journalist Riazat Butt, presumably Briton of Pakistani origin, has penned her disagreement with its concept in the same newspaper (Famous for 30 seconds) on the same day.

“I have recently been pilloried here and elsewhere for my reporting, so I feel slightly wary about today’s story on an anti-terrorism campaign aimed at young males living in Pakistan.

“I was asked to star in one of the nine 30-second TV adverts, to be shown on three major Pakistani channels. Famous for 30 seconds! …. I knew I couldn’t do the advert. So I turned it down,….

“I wonder what defines Britishness, success and integration and whether these qualities are enough to persuade young Pakistanis not to engage in extremist activity.

“The government’s £86m PREVENT programme continues, distributing funds to groups and organisations around the UK, in an attempt to build resilience against radical and extremist ideology. It is too soon to say whether this initiative, or the one in Pakistan, will work. Besides, in the case of preventing violent extremism, how do you measure success? Fewer explosions?”