A campaign against a film which has seen some members of the Muslim community protest at cinemas across the UK, originated in Iran eighteen months ago, according to research by a Conservative think tank.
A new research note by Dr Paul Stott from the Security and Extremism team at the Policy Exchange think tank (pdf) wrote that it was Iran that launched the campaign against “Lady Of Heaven” eighteen months ago, beginning with negative statements from senior regime officials.
Additionally, he found that another major government adviser on countering extremism had expressed support for the recent protests.
Muslim men have been protesting outside cinemas in Bradford, Bolton, Birmingham and Sheffield since June against the $15million film written by Muslim Sheikh Yasser al-Habib. The producer described the film as a tale about the “harrowing journey” of Lady Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad.
Iran: “Condemn this film”
Stott wrote that Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, denounced “The Lady of Heaven” as a “Western plot to sow discord in the Muslim world” and said the policies orchestrated by “the West, Israel and the Arab axis” ranged from “the establishment of ISIL to the creation of the Lady of Heaven”.
In February 2020, Iran’s Ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad job on Twitter urging the Muslim community to “act in unity to condemn this film and use legal action to ban this film in the UK”.
Otherwise, Iranian International Quran News Agency reported that the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) had urged Muslims to boycott ‘The Lady of Heaven’ as she tried to ‘sow discord among Muslims’.
Al-Habib is a UK-based Shia cleric and the depiction of some of the characters has angered some Sunni Muslims. Sunnis constitute the vast majority of Muslims in the world.
The IHRC called Al-Habib a “well-known hatemonger” and condemned “the motivations of the Cineworld group”.
“Given the strength of feelings against him in Muslim communities, the writer’s criminal history and the film’s pernicious intent, society should never have agreed to screen him,” he wrote.
One of the HRICs four directors, Saied Reza Ameliis the Tehran-based secretary of one of Iran’s main political bodies, the Supreme Council for Cultural Revolution, which has the objective to ensure a “total cultural assault by enemies against Islamic values”.
Imam anti-extremism: “blasphemy”
Stott didn’t just mention Iranian influences in the research note. He also pointed to men paid to carry out anti-extremism work by the UK government which celebrated the closure of film screenings by protesters standing outside cinemas.
In June, senior imam Qari Asim was sacked by the government as the UK government’s independent adviser on Islamophobia as he urged Muslims to protest the film, accusing it of “blasphemy”.
Senior MP Michael Gove told him his actions were “inconsistent with advising the government on anti-Muslim hatred. This country is proud of its democratic values and freedoms, which include tolerance, free speech and community.
Policy Exchange noted that British Imam Irfan Chishti, a government-paid Islamic cleric who provides training on anti-extremism and racism through his company Me and You, posted the following comment about “La Dame du Ciel” on the site of Imam Qari Asim. Facebook post“A few areas I heard about today stopped him. Blackburn and Sheffield. Al-Hamdulillah.”
Last year, Home Secretary Priti Patel ordered an investigation into Chishti after she made accusations against Israel to an angry mob.
After the investigation, Chishti was allowed to come back the government’s counter-extremism program.
“Are we advocating for freedom of expression?”
Catherine Perez-Shakdam, a journalist, political analyst, Islamic affairs expert and researcher at the Henry Jackson Society, had a front-row seat to the inner workings of the Islamic Republic when she interviewed then-presidential candidate and hardline cleric Ibrahim Raisi in 2017.
She told The Epoch Times that the Islamic Republic has “been very smart with a propaganda machine” by setting up “echo chambers.”
“They do it using the media and they have shadow lobby groups that operate in different areas such as academia, humanitarian, charities, aid or media to push certain agendas,” a- she declared.
But Perez-Shakdam said that despite protests, “The Lady of Heaven” is actually depicted religiously in Twelver Shia literature.
“In fact, the film is literally a video version of what is taught in the Hawzas [a seminary where Shi’a Muslim clerics are educated] across the Islamic Republic, so it is rather interesting to see how suddenly Shia scholars and clerics have joined in denouncing it,” Perez-Shakdam said.
She said that in her mind it had more to do with politics in “the religious world” than anything else.
“Iran would like the West to submit to Sharia, they are inherently anti-Western, anti-democratic and colonialist powers by nature,” she said.
“Are we advocating for freedom of speech as a principle as a cornerstone of our democracy or do we rule it to accommodate the feelings of others? I don’t think we should, free speech is a protection for all of us, and as soon as you start making accommodations for people who act violently, that’s not an argument,” she said. added.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Imam Irfan Chishti for comment.