Veteran Syrian director takes on Muslim "extremism"

Tue Sep 7, 2010 11:24am EDT
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - A veteran Syrian director who has shocked audiences by portraying a religious zealot who abuses women says his popular television series could help stop an Arab slide toward extremism.

Najdat Anzour's "What your right hand possesses," whose heroine Leila is forced by her brother Tawfiq to wear the full veil while he has illicit affairs, is being shown on television stations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Oman and Libya.

The 30-episode series, set in Syria and France, has attracted a wide following, as well as criticism by some Syrians who see it as unfairly targeting the highly devout -- especially since its title is taken from the Koran.

Mohammad al-Buti, a government backed cleric who teaches Islamic law at Damascus University, initially described the series as a cancer and a mockery of God, though he later retracted his remarks saying he had not seen the work.

"When I film Damascus from the mountain I count thousands of green lit mosques and only a handful of theaters and cinemas," Anzour told Reuters.

"Balance in society needs to be restored. My target is those remaining in the middle and who have not yet turned into extremism," said the 56-year-old director of pan Arab fame.

Anzour argues for wider political freedom in the Arab world and says "wrong" interpretations of Islam cannot be allowed to dominate Arab media and television, with Saudi Arabia controlling major outlets.

"Lack of confidence in Arab regimes is opening the door to the spread of religious and extremist ideas. Our duty is to put the spotlight on the extremists to try to preserve the Middle ground. We dissect what they are saying and show that it has nothing to do with Islam ," Anzour said.   Continued...

<p>The heroine Leila, played by Syrian actress Sulafa Memar, is seen in a scene from the television series "What your right hand possesses" in this undated handout. Director Najdat Anzour told Reuters in an interview on September 6, 2010 that his series could help stop an Arab slide towards extremism. REUTERS/Handout</p>