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The controversy over the movie Innocence of Muslims continues in Pakistan. The federal government, led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), appeared to pander to the religious right and announced a public holiday last week to observe Youm-e-Ishq-e-Rasool, in effect a montage of activities disrupting normal life for a full day. Now, a key minister has been criticised worldwide for his statement, again to pander to the right wing. This has visibly embarrassed his party and the government.
Pakistan's railway minister Ghulam Bilour was quoted by Dawn on September 23: "'I announce today that if somebody kills this blasphemer [the filmmaker], I will give that person a prize of $100,000... I also invite Taliban and al-Qaeda brothers to be partners in this noble deed,' he said, adding that given the chance he would kill the filmmaker 'with my own hand and then they can hang me'... 'We are not against freedom of expression, but the misuse of freedom of expression to hurt religious sentiments of others is totally wrong and intolerable...' 'If any international court declares me guilty of announcing the bounty, I am ready to be hanged in the name of the Holy Prophet'".
Bilour has earned flak across the world for this statement. His party, the once left-wing Awami National Party, has condemned it and so has the PPP, which leads the coalition the ANP is a constituent of. But if there is any applause for Bilour, it has come from none other than his "Taliban brothers". The Express
Tribune reported on September 26: "We have totally forgiven him and removed his name from our hit list,' Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan said. Ehsan said that Taliban shoora, a top consultative body, had met on Tuesday and 'praised Bilour for his sacrifice for the cause of Islam'... On September 28, another report stated that Bilour was unfazed by this 'mercy': 'So what if the Taliban have removed my name from their hit list? I can also die from a heart attack.' When asked if the ANP will ask him to retract the bounty offer, the minister said he expected that the party 'will not do so', adding that he will attend party meetings whenever he is summoned. 'I gave the statement because of the love of Prophet Muhammad I have in my heart — I don't mind people agreeing or disagreeing with me,' said Bilour."
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