Image: Scene from 'Al-Mareqoun'
AP
A scene from the new Syrian TV series "Al-Mareqoun", Arabic for "the Renegades."
updated 9/26/2006 1:21:58 PM ET 2006-09-26T17:21:58

A Syrian director who received death threats after a Ramadan television series on suicide bombers is back for this year’s holiday: This time, he condemns terrorism by Islamic extremists as a global threat that hurts Muslims.

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 series last year, “Al-Hour Al-Ayn,” aired 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.

Death threats
The series, whose title referred to the 72 virgins that Islamic militants say will greet “martyrs” in heaven, attracted tens of millions of viewers when it was aired by Middle East Broadcasting Corp. of Dubai. It was broadcast in prime time — 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 the death threats as “aggressive criticism.” He said he did this new series because he felt he did not handle terrorism thoroughly enough in the earlier production.

This year’s series, “Al-Mareqoun” (“The Renegades”), began airing Saturday, the first day of Ramadan, on Lebanese Broadcasting Corp., a leading Arab television station.

It consists of 10 three-part episodes dealing with terrorist attacks in such locations as Syria, Egypt, Morocco, England and Iraq.

The first episode, “The Flock of Illusions,” tells the story of a woman whose husband dies carrying out a terrorist attack. A Muslim sheik comes to 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?”

U.S. criticized
In another episode, “They Kill Jasmine,” a 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,” Anzour said.

He blames the rise in terrorism on the United States, making a criticism common throughout the region that the Americans have fueled extremism by invading Iraq and supporting Israel. “Terrorism is an American industry, 100 percent,” he said.

Anzour said he believes the new series, which cost around $1.5 million to make, can draw an even bigger audience than last year’s. He also hopes to translate it into other 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 is 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.

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