(photo credit: AP)
A Syrian director who received Islamic extremist death threats after a Ramadan TV series on suicide bombers is back with another blockbuster for this year's Mideast holiday season: This time, he characterizes terrorism as a global threat that hurts Muslims too.
Najdat Anzour, Syria's most renowned director, said he also wants the new series to drive home the message that Islam is a religion of tolerance and dialogue - not of violence.
"We should realize the size of the danger that engulfs the Arab nation," he told The Associated Press at his studio in Damascus.
Anzour's last series, "Al-Hour Al-Ayn," aired last year throughout the Middle East during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It told the story of five Arab families living in Saudi Arabia and the militants scheming to blow them up so they could collect rewards in heaven.
The series, aired by Middle East Broadcasting Corp., of Dubai, attracted tens of millions of viewers. It was broadcast in a prime time slot - just as Muslim families gathered to break their daily Ramadan fast after sundown.
But Anzour was lambasted on the Internet as an infidel who should be killed for allegedly tarnishing the image of Islam.
Anzour shrugged off last year's death threats as "aggressive criticism." He said he did this year's series because he felt that terrorism was not handled thoroughly enough in the previous series - and that something more was needed.
This year's series, entitled "Al-Mareqoun" in Arabic - or "The Renegades" - began airing Saturday, the first day of Ramadan, on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation or LBCI, a leading Arab television station.
It consists of 10 three-part episodes dealing with terrorist attacks that take place in several locations including Syria, Egypt, Morocco, London and Iraq.
The first episode, "The Flock of Illusions," tells the story of a woman whose husband dies carrying out a fictional terrorist attack. A Muslim sheik comes knocking on her door one day, asking the woman to hand over her 5-year-old daughter for another suicide operation.
"This girl will go to paradise, just like your husband," the sheik says.
The woman slams the door in his face, screaming, "It's not enough that you took away my husband! You want my daughter too?"
In another episode, "They Kill Jasmine," a fictional Muslim woman urges Muslims to unite against terrorism after her son dies in the July 2005 London subway bombings.
"I wanted to tackle the impact of terrorism on the Arab and world level and deal with it from different points of view to make it complementary to the first serial," he said.
He issued a criticism of the United States that is common throughout the region, saying it has fueled extremism by invading Iraq and supporting Israel. "Terrorism is an American industry, 100 percent," he said in the interview.
Anzour said he believes the new series, which cost around US $1.5 million to make, can draw an even bigger audience than the previous one. He also hopes to translate it into languages including English, French and Spanish to reach beyond the Arab world.
"I don't mind giving it for free to foreign and even Asian countries - to show them how open we are and how we think," he said.
He's optimistic the new series won't draw the same hostility from Islamic extremists as the last.
"The series opens discussion over these problems - and this would be eventually in the interest of our people," he said.