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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 18:07 GMT 19:07 UK
Hezbollah's Passion Play
By Sebastian Usher
BBC world media reporter

Adapted film trailer from Al-Manar
Iraqi suffering 'compared to Christ's'

The Hezbollah-backed TV channel, Al Manar, in Lebanon, has adapted the trailer for the film The Passion of the Christ into a station ident reflecting the channel's anger over events in Iraq.

Al Manar calls itself the "station of resistance" and has a growing following in the Arab world for its uncompromising stance. Its critics accuse it of inciting violence and anti-Semitism.

As the portentous music plays, a blood-stained hand flexes in pain. The screen fades to black as the words "No Mercy" fade up in white. A nail is seen being driven into the hand. The words "No Compromise" appear.

The images will be familiar to those who have seen The Passion of the Christ, which has already stirred up its own share of controversy. Al Manar's adaptation is likely to create more.

In its version, as the music reaches its crescendo, the words "The Passion of the Christ" are replaced by "The Passion of the Iraqis". Then one of the images of alleged American abuse of Iraqi prisoners that shocked the world flashes up on screen.

It is the picture of a hooded Iraqi prisoner, arms outstretched, standing on a box in a mock electrocution.

Comparison's with Christ

The editor of political programmes at Al Manar, Ibrahim Moussawi, explains what they are trying to get across: "We're trying to draw the attention to the very deep and very great human suffering that is taking place in Iraq which could be, some of it, similar to what happened to Jesus Christ".

Mr Moussawi denies the ident is Hezbollah propaganda and believes its message would not be disowned by the man who made The Passion of The Christ, the Australian film star and director, Mel Gibson:

"We're not trying to use his material for propaganda reasons. I believe someone like Mel Gibson would maybe be pleased to see that people are using his material to draw the attention of the whole world to a lot of suffering that is taking place in a different part of the world."

Influence increasing

Al Manar has attracted a growing audience in the Arab world partly because of the emotional pull of its video edits of Palestinian and Iraqi suffering set to mournful music.

The station made its name by showing graphic footage of Hezbollah attacks on Israeli troops in the Israeli-occupied zone of South Lebanon.

It has built on that reputation for violent, emotive imagery since becoming a pan-Arab satellite station. Its managers say it is now among the top five most watched stations in the Arab world.

Anti-Semitism claim

But its programmes have strong critics. It has been accused of stirring violence and anti-Semitism. Last year, it was attacked for showing a TV series during Ramadan based in part on the infamous, anti-Semitic forgery "Protocols of the Elders of Zion".

One of its most popular current programmes is a game show in which contestants try to get closer to Jerusalem on a virtual map by answering general knowledge questions - many about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

American officials have dubbed it "Name That Terrorist".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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