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Mohammad Ali to Tape Anti-Terrorism Message Aimed at Muslim Audience - 2001-12-27

Boxing legend Mohammad Ali is being enlisted to help explain the U.S.-led war on terrorism to the Muslim world in a special video message.

The Motion Picture Association of America has asked Mohammad Ali, the three time heavyweight world boxing champion, to film a one minute public service announcement to explain the U.S.-led fight against international terrorism to Muslims. The message would also explain that the war against terrorism is not a war against Islam. It would be translated and broadcast over Middle East television stations.

Mohammad Ali converted to Islam in the 1960s. He refused to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, and that position cost him his world heavyweight title.

Few other Muslims have achieved the international prominence and appeal of Mohammad Ali.

Abdel Moneim Said, the director of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says Mr. Ali might be the best spokesman the United States has when it comes to explaining to Muslims that the U.S. war on terrorism is not a battle against Islam. "I think Mohammad Ali is very suitable to say it. First because he's a guy who took a political position," he said. "He can distinguish between a just war and unjust war. He took a courageous position in the United States not to go to the Vietnam War because he thought it was an unjust war. And this war, if he thought it is just I think he will be very much believable because he took a position before."

Mr. Ali appeared on a U.S. television broadcast September 21 to raise money for victims of the September attack. On that program, he said quote, "Islam is peace. It is against killing, murder and the terrorists, and the people doing that in the name of Islam are wrong."

Pierre Ghanem, the head of news for the Middle East Broadcasting Center in London, believes it is clear the U.S. effort in Afghanistan is not a war against Muslims. And, he says, Mr. Ali should be careful not to suggest Muslims in America are better off than Muslims living in areas like the Middle East. "You don't go challenging other governments around the world saying to them our government, led by a Christian person called George Walker Bush, is much better to Muslim people than your Muslim leaders of the world," he said.

Mr. Ghanem says he thinks the Motion Picture Association is a bit naďve about the significance of such messages when, in his view, the war in Afghanistan appears to be almost over while the taping of the public service announcement is said to be weeks away.

Mr. Ali rarely speaks in public. His speech is often slurred, a symptom of the Parkinson's disease from which he suffers.