The U.S. entertainment industry may be terrorism’s newest target following what appears to be the politically motivated bombing of a South African Planet Hollywood restaurant that killed at least one person and injured about 25 others.
The South African blast follows U.S. retaliatory attacks on suspected terrorist sites in Sudan and Afghanistan, after more than 250 people were killed in the Aug. 7 bombing of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The South African Planet Hollywood site may have been targeted as a symbol of America and the West and because of controversy surrounding Fox’s upcoming Bruce Willis film “The Siege,” according to observers.
Willis — a partner in the Planet Hollywood chain with thesps Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whoopi Goldberg, among others — stars in the film, which depicts a Muslim terrorist group that plans a wave of bombings in New York City.
American Muslims and Arab Americans who have seen trailers of the film have voiced alarm at what they fear is a negative portrayal of Islam.
Radio personality Casey Kasem, a Lebanese American and a Druze Muslim, decried the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in “The Siege,” charging that the film — which is still being edited — continues Hollywood’s tradition of Arab vilification.
In the drama, directed by Edward Zwick and also starring Denzel Washington, U.S. law enforcement officials declare martial law in an atmosphere of anti-Arab sentiment, prompting them to detain Arab Americans without evidence of wrongdoing.
” ‘The Siege’ will leave the audience with the idea that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists and the enemies of the United States,” said Kasem, who has often spoken out against unfavorable depictions of Arabs and other ethnic groups in films and television.
Members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based nonprofit group, planned to hold a press conference at noon today at a public park across the street from Fox Studios in Los Angeles, to express their concerns about “The Siege.”
A Fox spokesman said the studio has no intention of altering the film or delaying the planned Nov. 6 release date.
“While created as a popular entertainment, ‘The Siege’ presents some thought-provoking ideas and questions — many of which address the very issues that have been raised within the framework of an action-adventure,” according to a statement released by the studio. “The film deals seriously and sensitively with timely and important themes, such as prejudice and persecution, the price of our personal freedoms, and the protection of these freedoms — for all Americans.”
In Hollywood, safety concerns in the wake of mounting Mideast tensions have prompted the Walt Disney Co. “redouble” security at its theme parks around the world. In addition, a series of stage shows scheduled for Aug. 30-Sept. 1 in the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, has been canceled.
An ideal target?
Dr. Laura Drake, a professor and Mideast specialist at American U in Washington, D.C., told Daily Variety that Hollywood and its related businesses — which combine so many elements anathema to fundamentalist Muslims — could represent the mother of all enemy targets for Islamic terrorists.
“Hollywood for them may be seen as the face of the enemy wrapped up in one neat package,” said Drake. She explained that Islamic conservatives see American-made films and television programming as a Western invasion against Muslim values, particularly in the portrayal of sexuality.
Negative stereotypes of Arabs in films and television, combined with the perception of a strong Jewish influence in the entertainment industry, contributes to an anti-Hollywood sentiment among Islamic fundamentalists, Drake said.
“In the Middle East, Hollywood is perceived as being controlled by Jews, Zionists and pro-Israelis,” said Drake. “If Hollywood has symbols overseas, they could obviously be targets for the terrorists.”
A group calling itself Muslims Against Global Oppression has claimed responsibility for the explosion that killed a woman Tuesday in the U.S.-owned franchise eatery in Cape Town.
A spokesman who said he was part of the group told a South African radio reporter that the blasts were set in retaliation for last week’s American missile attacks on alleged terrorist strongholds in Sudan and Afghanistan. The same group protested President Clinton’s visit to South Africa in March, calling him a killer and burning an American flag outside South Africa’s parliament.
Mico Smuts, a Cape Town Planet Hollywood rep, said the establishment had been packed with patrons when the bomb exploded at approximately 7:20 p.m. local time.
“The damage seems to be quite extensive,” Smuts said. “It appears the lower level was quite full of people.”
Wealthy Islamic leader Osama bin Laden, who U.S. authorities believe to be behind the embassy attacks, has issued a global call for aggression against Americans, but it is not clear if the South African group was affiliated with bin Laden’s Intl. Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders.
Reached at his Orlando, Fla., office, Planet Hollywood CEO Robert Earl said that he and his staff were in constant phone contact with the officials at the Cape Town restaurant-pub in the hours after the blast, trying to sort out details.
He said the Cape Town site had been open for a few months, but that there had been no plans for a celebrity opening due to the full schedules of the partners.
(Bryan Pearson in Johannesburg, Army Archerd, David Finnigan and Chris Petrikin in Hollywood, Reuters and Dow Jones wire services contributed to this report.)