During a press conference on Sept. 22, Pakistani Railway Minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour placed a $100,000 bounty on the head of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. Anyone who kills Nakoula will receive the money from Bilour. Nakoula is the creator of the anti-Islamic film that has caused violent protesting throughout the Middle East. Although the film was originally released on YouTube in July, it wasn’t until September that this violence exploded. According to The Washington Post, the protests have been linked to the deaths of at least 51 people throughout the Middle East, most notably J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya. Bilour’s bounty announcement has generated much controversy with his government and others around the world. Bilour’s actions are not in conjunction with his seat in a political office and I believe he should resign or be removed from his position in response to them.
Shortly after Bilour announced the bounty on Nakoula, the Pakistani government responded, clarifying that Bilour’s statement was not the official stance of Pakistan. According to the Washington Post, Pakistan’s Foreign Office released a statement on Monday saying that the bounty was “Bilour’s personal view.” While the Pakistani government has decried Bilour’s bounty offer, they have not yet brought about any negative action on him.
The controversial bounty offer has also been refuted by Bilour’s political party, the Awami National Party. According to the Washington Post, Awami representative Haji Adeel said, “the statement was Bilour’s personal view, and that the party had sought an explanation from him.” Bilour’s bounty has also sparked action from the U.S. and other world governments, which have all denounced the action.
While Bilour has not made many allies with his inflammatory remarks, he has made friends on the darker side of politics. In a recent news article by the Associated Press, the Pakistani Taliban has announced that because of the bounty, Bilour has earned amnesty with the group and has been taken off of their “hit list.” During his announcement, Bilour also appealed to al-Qaida and Taliban militants, asking for their assistance in the hunting and killing of Nakoula.
Bilour claims that the bounty is solely based on his own religious beliefs, claiming he is “a Muslim first, then a government representative.” Despite his pious explanations about why he offered the bounty on Nakoula, some analysts believe that Bilour has deeper motivations than the sanctity of Mohammed.
According to a recent article in Agence-France Presse, his reasons are political in nature. The article stated, “A general election is looming in the coming months, and analysts say Bilour’s move may have been a misguided attempt to outflank the religious right on an issue that has triggered visceral public anger in Pakistan.”
Whether Bilour’s motivation was religious or political, I believe he was completely wrong when he put a price on Nakoula’s head. Although the film has caused a wave of violent protests throughout the Middle East and outraged nearly every Muslim in the world, Nakoula did not break any laws. Bounties are reserved for criminals and, although the act was stupid, the only crimes Nakoula committed were false representation and use of the Internet, which were violations of his probation.
In 2010, Nakula was found guilty of check fraud and sentenced to 21 months in prison. Upon his release, he was placed on probation. Part of his conditions were no use of the Internet for five years without the approval of his probation officer. The YouTube publishing of “Innocence of Muslims” was in violation of his probation conditions and has landed him back behind bars in California while he awaits a hearing.
As a government official, Bilour cannot allow his own personal beliefs to motivate selfish actions. He is in a position of influence and power, and using his position to place hits on people is a gross abuse of his office. If Bilour truly is a “Muslim first,” I believe he should rethink his current position in the government. If public service is not his first priority, then he needs to step down. Nakoula’s film was offensive and malicious, but as a public official, Bilour should be above the goading of a small-time criminal and amateur filmmaker.
Bilour’s bounty announcement deserved more decisive action from the Pakistan government. By not handing down punishment to Bilour, they are fundamentally advocating the price he has put on Nakoula’s head. In my opinion, the government made a public statement simply to save face. Their denunciation was minimal at best, and the Foreign Office didn’t even give their stance on the bounty; they only said that the offer was Bilour’s personal statement and not representative of the feelings of the government.
Although Bilour’s motivation is unclear, he owes more to the people whom he represents as a public official. His statement, whether or not he was making a political move, was selfish and stupid. A government leader should realize that there are proper channels to go through to bring Nakoula to justice–this isn’t the Old West where gunslingers are free to fire off their six-shooters. Pakistan is considered a developed nation. I believe that they should take more pride in themselves than allowing their officials to speak off the cuff about an anti-Islamic filmmaker or anyone whose opinion may conflict with their own personal beliefs.
David Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org