Friday, October 13, 2006

Graphic 'Anti-Terror Ad' Is Slick ... Without The 'L'

A mysterious ad depicting a suicide bombing has been broadcast in the Middle East, raising questions as to its origin.

According to CTV: Graphic TV ad against terrorism a mystery
A high-budget television advertisement designed to dissuade potential suicide bombers is airing across the Middle East, but its mysterious makers are troubling some critics.

"If it's an Arab initiative it's a positive step, but why aren't they coming forward?" asked Sohail Raza of the Canadian Muslim Congress.

Raza said he's convinced the United States government is behind the $1-million ad, which he argued could breed mistrust among its intended target of would-be terrorists.
CTV has more; you can read the rest of the article, and watch this report from CTV's Lisa LaFlamme.

I would be hard-pressed to agree with the assertion that the ad was "designed to dissuade potential suicide bombers". It seems to me that it's clearly intended primarily to frighten potential victims ... and to remind us that we are all potential victims.

I haven't seen anything about this from any American papers so far, but the Toronto Star has this from the AP:

Anti-terror ad hits Mideast networks


CAIRO, Egypt — A TV commercial aimed at thwarting terrorism has hit Middle Eastern TV networks using high-tech effects to show the anatomy of a suicide bombing in graphic detail.

The $1 million (U.S.) ad is packed with special effects including the time-suspension technique made popular in the Matrix movies to show bodies, cars and broken glass flying in slow motion through the air.

Its sleekness, and the secrecy surrounding its creators and backers, lead some to believe the U.S. government is behind it in its effort to woo would-be terrorists away from violence and encourage moderates to take a forthright stand against extremism.

The U.S. government refuses to say clearly whether it's involved in the commercial, which began airing this summer on Al-Arabiya, Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. and several Iraqi channels at a time when violence was raging in Baghdad and between Hezbollah and Israel.

Issandr El Amrani of Cairo, who produces a blog, The Arabist, says the ad's concept is positive, but he's unsure that the would-be terrorists will watch, much less listen.

The 60-second ad opens with a young boy seeing a man walk by in a crowded market. The man stops and exposes yellow explosives strapped to his body. The boy sees the bombs just before they go off, sending cars flying and people crashing through the windows of a cafe.

The ad then shows the aftermath: wreckage, weeping and fires. It ends with the words "Terrorism has no religion" in Arabic.

A Los Angeles warehouse district filled with 200 cast members stood in for the market during the ad's filming earlier this year, according to a statement by California-based 900 Frames, which helped produce the commercial.

The ad is on a Web site — — where viewers can see it and read Quranic verses deploring violence.

But details about who made the ads are scant. Questions to the e-mail address — the site's only contact information — elicit a standardized response.

A press release issued before the suicide bombing ad's filming said the project was funded privately by independent, non-governmental scholars, business people and activists living in Iraq and abroad — but did not elaborate.

During the filming, 900 Frames said that the group behind it, the Future Iraq Assembly, wanted to remain anonymous.

The group, which also is behind a series other of Iraq-specific ads, describes itself on as "an independent, non-governmental organization, comprised of a number of scholars, businesspersons, and activists." The Assembly's site gave an e-mail address but did not respond.

The publicist who worked with 900 Frames in May said the studio would not comment to The Associated Press.

Spokesmen for the U.S. State Department and Department of Defence said they could not find any information that their agencies were connected to the ad, but neither would rule out some government involvement.

The U.S. government has, however, had a hand in other public relations campaigns in the Mideast, including Arabic-language, U.S.-financed Radio Sawa and the Al-Hurra TV station.

Under another, controversial U.S. program made public last year, the U.S. military paid Iraqi newspapers for stories favourable to coalition forces.

The Pentagon's Joint Psychological Operations Support Element — overseen by the U.S. Special Operations Command — last year awarded a multimillion dollar contract to three companies to create "multimedia products" to counter extremist ideology.

The Pentagon opted this summer to drop two of the contractors — California-based Science Applications International Corp. and Washington, D.C.-based Lincoln Group — from the contract. Neither would comment.

A spokeswoman for the parent company of the remaining contractor, Virginia-based SYColeman, said the company was not affiliated with

And Col. Samuel Taylor, a spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command, said the command also had "no role in any contracts that resulted" in the commercial.

Lawrence Pintak, the director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at the American University in Cairo, thinks the commercial is unlikely to have much influence on young Arabs.

"When this kind of advertisement is sandwiched between footage of Lebanon and Iraq, it's going to fall on deaf ears," Pintak said.

Others may not take the ad seriously because it doesn't explain what motivates the terrorism, said Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-Palestinian who writes the blog Raed in the Middle and currently lives in the United States.

"Dealing with suicide bombers is way more complicated and is usually linked to fundamentalist religious beliefs that have political implications," Jarrar said. "Portraying it as a looney tune who goes into a market to kill civilians — I don't know if this will work.''

Pintak also worries that the commercial looks too American.

"It just raises so many red flags," he said. "The assumption is it has to be made by the Americans or the Saudis."

Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, found the ad polished and direct, but said it would be a mistake if the U.S. government was behind it.

The U.S. shouldn't use religion to fight terrorism, he said in an e-mail. "That is something for Muslims to do."

I agree with Mr. Pintak.

The commercial looks way too American!