Uzbekistan: Anti-Terrorist Blockbuster Slated by Public

The recently released trailer for a film telling the story of militant Uzbek Islamist leaders Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani has come in from criticism for its depiction of devout Muslims. 

The promotional preview for Sacred Desire, a production by state film company Uzbekfilm, promises an action-packed melodrama spilling over with scenes of Islamic plotting, domestic violence, gun-battles and even some sly seduction.

“Most social media website users were extremely irritated by director Hilol Nasimov’s film, where by showing terrorists, they smear the Muslim faith,” BBC’s Uzbek service reported on February 7.

The trailer is also tainted by a decidedly racist depiction of an Arabic character, according to critics of the movie. An older female character in the movie is seen shouting that she refuses to see her daughter married off  to “some black Arab.”

“I was quite amazed when I heard the expression ‘black Arab’ in the trailer. Why this is blatant racism!” blogger Arbor Masharipov was quoted as saying by the BBC.

The BBC quoted another blogger, Sardor Salim, as comparing Uzbekfilm’s current output with the kinds of films made in the Soviet era about the basmachis, a Central Asian insurgency that sought and failed to counter Moscow’s rule. 

One unnamed woman, a self-described devout Muslim, told the British broadcaster that if she had lived in a rules-based country, she might have considered filing suit against Nasimov for slandering Muslims, and women in particular.

The grumbling has also been pronounced in social media. One Facebook user going by the name Abdulhaq Hashimsson said Nasimov has made a habit of improperly exploiting the theme of terrorism in his movies.

“I don’t like watching Uzbek movies, only because they are either about love or about bad Muslims. Their imagination doesn’t seem to extend to anything else,” the Facebook user wrote.

But another Facebook commenter, Ruslanbek Dustmuhamedov, defended the director from his critics, arguing that films like Sacred Desire were simply intended to discourage Uzbek youth from being swayed by radical temptations.

The action in Sacred Desire unfolds around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. The movie focuses in particular on the lives of militant Islamist leaders Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani.

Filming took place in July and the release of the movie had originally been slated for September, to coincide with Independence Day, but those plans were derailed, possibly by the death of President Islam Karimov or some last-minute hiccups in the editing suite.

Nasimov, the director of Sacred Desire, has carved out a career as the creator of some of Uzbek cinema’s most ideologically pro-government movies. His credits feature movies heavy on the need to abide by a moral code as preached by the state. Nasimov has never given interviews to foreign media, but talks regularly to local outlets.
“With this movie, I want to show how our independence was formed. These were difficult times when various extremist religious organizations came out into the open and wanted to create a caliphate,” Nasimov told Podrobno.uz news website ahead of the start to filming on Sacred Desire.

Grumbling about state-produced movies like this and the spirited online defense of Sacred Desire may be a one-off, or it could potentially represent part of a broader emboldenment among a population long cowed into refraining from criticism of the government. Islam is a particularly delicate theme in Uzbekistan and the sight of people willing to defend the faith from assaults mounted by the state propaganda machine could be a marker for future developments.

Uzbekistan: Anti-Terrorist Blockbuster Slated by Public

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