The leader of Lebanon's militant Islamist political party Hezbollah has issued a proclamation calling for the death of the producers and actors of the highly controversial film, Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked outrage, protests and violent attacks throughout the Islamic world.
Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah issued a fatwa -- a religious judicial ruling based on conservative Islamic law, also known as sharia -- calling on young Muslims in Western countries in particular to carry out the death sentence of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the film's creator and an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian, as well as the film's actors and all those involved in its making.
I issue a fatwa and call on the Muslim youth in America and Europe to do this duty, which is to kill the director, the producer and the actors and everyone who helped and promoted the film, Nasrallah said, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Although Hezbollah is a democratically elected political faction within Lebanon, the U.S. and allies like Israel have deemed it a terrorist organization due to its involvement in attacks on American civilians and government officials, as well as carrying out guerilla attacks on Israelis.
The film has been deemed blasphemous by conservative Muslims for its insulting depictions of the Prophet Mohammed, and has sparked a wave of protests across the Muslim and Arab world, including in Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, where armed militants attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, killing the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens along with the other consulate staff.
The film's actors have claimed that they were unaware of the movie's offensive content with the Prophet Muhammad written as another character in the script and dialogue dubbed over after they had finished production.
Nakoula, 55, a Los Angeles County resident who has been on parole since June 2011 after serving roughly a year of a 21-month prison sentence for bank fraud, has reportedly gone into hiding.
Members of Nakoula's family have also been relocated by the Los Angeles County sheriff's department, the Telegraph reported.
Fatwas are not equivalent to a death sentence, but rather are judgments given by an Islamic scholar concerning interpretation and implementation of sharia. Such judgments that do call for death of an individual or individuals, typically involve what is perceived as a serious transgression of sharia.
Other more prominent public figures have been targeted for death by fatwas issued by various fundamentalist Islamic leaders.
British-Indian author Salman Rushdie was named in a fatwa issued by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989, following the publication of his book, The Satanic Verses, which made references to the Prophet Muhammad that were deemed blasphemous.
Rushdie, facing numerous death threats, went into hiding under a false identity for nine years until the Iranian government lifted the fatwa in 1998.
Taslima Nasrin, a Bangladeshi writer who expressed critical views of Islam, particularly regarding the status and treatment of women, was the target of death threats following a fatwa issued by fundamentalist clerics in 1993. She remains exiled from her homeland to this day.
Interestingly, Rushdie himself has criticized the makers of the Innocence of Muslims film.
Speaking to the Today Show on NBC in New York, Rushdie said he has no sympathy for Nakoula.
He [Nakoula] did it on purpose. He set out to create a response and he got it in spades, he said.
He's done something malicious, and that's a very different thing from writing a serious novel. He's clearly set out to provoke, and he's obviously unleashed a much bigger reaction than he hoped for. I mean, one of the problems with defending free speech is you often have to defend people that you find to be outrageous and unpleasant and disgusting.