BROOKE GLADSTONE: This past Tuesday, two near-simultaneous bombs ripped through Pakistan's capital Islamabad, killing at least 25. This incident, and the general unrest in Pakistan, suggests that President Pervez Musharraf's call for, quote, "enlightened moderation" is further unifying Pakistan's radical Islamic movements against him.
A new film, called In the Name of God, directly confronts this clash between radical Islamists and the so-called "enlightened moderates." But the fictional drama isn't easy to see. Islamabad has no movie theater after an angry Sunni mob burnt down the last one four years ago.
But Shahan Mufti, a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor, drove almost five hours to see the film, and he says it signifies a new dawn in Pakistani cinema. SHAHAN MUFTI: So this is quite a phenomenon and quite an event. These sort of crowds have not been seen at movie theaters in a while - and not just the numbers. It's the kind of crowd which is predominantly from the middle and upper middle classes and upper classes in Pakistan, a section of the population that is not known to frequent movie theaters. Like you said, there's not a huge culture of cinema in Pakistan any more. BROOKE GLADSTONE: A major theme of the film is whether music is un-Islamic and therefore should be forbidden. And you wrote that the story is loosely based on the former rock star Junaid Jamshed? SHAHAN MUFTI: It's the story of two brothers, both of who are musicians. One ends up in Chicago as a music student. The other ends up as a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan.
The story of the brother who ends up as a Taliban is loosely the story of Junaid Jamshed, who was the lead singer for a band called Vital Signs - this is back in the '80s - just as the Islamic military government of General Zia-ul-Haq had fallen.
And this was a time when particularly the youth in the country was euphoric. It was vibrant. And Vital Signs was a universal symbol of that, and Junaid Jamshed was a cultural icon.
Shoaib Mansoor, the director of the movie, was actually one of the figures who propelled Vital Signs to fame in the 1980s. He was the director for their music videos, which started showing on state television, and also the writer for some of their biggest hits.
After 2001, Junaid Jamshed took a serious 180-degree turn from a very Westernized popular musician who wore jeans and tee shirts to a very religious figure in Pakistan. And Junaid Jamshed became one of the most vocal people arguing against the allowance of music in Islam and in Pakistan. BROOKE GLADSTONE: In addition to Jamshed, I understand several star cricket players have been outspoken against the evils of music. Has the fight over music become a symbolic battleground in Pakistan? SHAHAN MUFTI: That's very true. Music defines territory, like, I mean, women's rights have in this country for a while. And now music — are also territory where Islam and different versions and visions of Islam are battling on. Musicians routinely complain and go to the media about threats they are receiving from the Islamist groups.
So the arts are, it's a hot issue in the country right now, and it's one where moderate voices of Islam can make a good case for. And this movie does try to make a case, not only with just pure human reasoning but also tries to make a case in an Islamic framework for the allowance of music and the allowance of entertainment and the arts.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You said that this movie had a different kind of audience. It was more middle and upper class Pakistanis who were going to see it. I just wonder is it making its way to areas controlled by the Islamic parties? SHAHAN MUFTI: The movie is not being shown in the North-West Frontier or Beluchistan provinces bordering Afghanistan and Iran, and it most likely will not any time soon. The Beluchis and the Pashtuns, who make up the largest section of the population in the western provinces, are depicted not in the best light. They're shown as militant, violent and chauvinist religious fanatics. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is this essentially propaganda for the Musharraf government? SHAHAN MUFTI: This movie does paint a scenario in Pakistan where everything can be explained through an ideological battle between radical militant Islam and what can be viewed as an "enlightened moderate" version of Islam. It avoids politics and it avoids economic discrepancies in this country, and it avoids the judiciary or the military.
This is a view that suits the military government quite well, because this is a version of the story that it can take a moral high stand on. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do you think the film has a message to international audiences who might see it from outside of Pakistan? SHAHAN MUFTI: Well, the other half of the story, about the brother who leaves Pakistan and goes out to study music in Chicago, this character finds himself in the United States when the Twin Towers were attacked in New York City. He proceeded to get picked up by the authorities and tortured in a jail cell.
So part of the message of the movie is also how Pakistanis and Muslims in the Western countries who have made lives for themselves, and sometimes making successful lives for themselves, have also been a casualty of religious extremism and militancy at home. On that level, it is really dealing with the expatriate population of Pakistan that has suffered in the Western world. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shahan, thank you very much. SHAHAN MUFTI: You're welcome. It was great talking to you. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Shahan Mufti is a reporter in Islamabad, Pakistan for The Christian Science Monitor.