US sought Bollywood help against extremism: WikiLeaks
London: Leading Bollywood actors were interested in participating in a US plan to use the influential Indian film industry to promote anti-extremist messages `through third party actors,` according to a US
embassy cable released by WikiLeaks.
The cable, sent by the London embassy on October 25, 2007, reported on a visit to Britain by two US officials, Farah Pandith, senior adviser for Muslim engagement, and Jared Cohen, described as `S/P Member`.
Pandith was in 2009 appointed by the Obama administration as the Special Representative to Muslim Communities for the US Department of State.
The two officials visited Muslim areas in Leicester and other areas of Britain, and held wide-ranging discussions, including on involving Bollywood to promote anti-extremism message.
Due to the large presence of the Indian/Asian diaspora, Britain is one of the major markets for Bollywood films and has a significant following.
According to the cable available on The Guardian website, one of the meetings the two officials had was with individuals connected with the Indian film industry.
These included Director of Arts Versa Mohsin Abbas, Channel 4 TV Head of Multicultural Programming Farouk Dhondi, Producer Director Mahmood Jamal, Locations Manager Amjad Khan, and singer/actress Humeira Akhter, "who has strong links with top Bollywood actors/actresses".
The cable says: "On October 10, Pandith and Cohen met with a cross section of the South Asian community working in films to discuss the potential of working with the Indian film industry - `Bollywood` - on delivering an anti-terrorism message.
"A lively discussion produced a number of possible ideas, including developing ways to promote existing anti-terrorist films, and to develop funds for similar productions".
It adds: "Once such an anti-extremist genre is established, participants believed that major Bollywood figures would be willing to speak out on the issue.
"Humaira Akhtar has already gotten back to Pandith on possible stars in Bollywood interested in such a project".
The cable summary says: "Bollywood actors and executives agreed to work with the USG to promote anti-extremist messages through third party actors and were excited about the idea of possibly partnering with Hollywood as well".
The cable provides a detailed account of the officials` visit to the east Midlands city of Leicester, which has a large minority of Indian origin people.
The cable says: "One highlight of the visit was a day trip to Leicester, which Pandith said was arguably home to the most conservative Islamic population she had seen anywhere in Europe".
After presenting a snapshot of the town`s migration history, the cable says: "Despite the many positive programmes in Leicester, the isolation of some parts of the Muslim community was striking".
"During a discussion with religious and community leaders at an Ahmadiyya mosque, Yaqub Khan, General Secretary of a local organisation called the Pakistan Association, insisted that he had to teach young people in Urdu".
It adds: "When Pandith challenged him as to why he would use Urdu with children who were growing up with English as their first language, Khan insisted that there were no good books on the Koran in English".
The two officials also met representatives of Pakistan newspapers during the visit, the cable says.