LONDON (AP) — It was supposed to be a warning about the perils of joining the international jihad. But those behind "Wish You Waziristan" — a cartoon take on two young Britons' tortured journey to the heart of the Taliban insurgency — say officials have put the brakes on their government-funded counter-extremism project after being spooked by negative press.
The six-minute movie follows two England-raised Muslim brothers as they travel to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and back to Britain — where they're taken into custody.
"It's a cautionary tale," said Martin Orton, whose company Bold Creative made the animated short with funding from the British government.
Orton said Tuesday that the government appeared to have developed cold feet about releasing the video, which was due to be launched online on Sunday, after hostile newspaper articles.
The government denied it had pulled the plug, saying the film simply wasn't finished.
Orton said his company studied the ways in which young Muslims had been radicalized by watching extremist videos online — and wanted to help fight back by debunking some of the glamour attached to fighting as a jihadist.
The movie offers a rather uninspiring picture of what it's like to become a jihadi.
The pair of young would-be militants are held up at gunpoint and viewed with suspicion by the Islamist militants they want to help. At one point the younger brother has his dignity violated by a particularly exacting body search. A planned grenade attack goes wrong, and they're arrested as they return home.
Orton said that the movie was based on two years' worth of research, drawing on interviews with young people who'd been to the camps and media reports.
British tabloids were unimpressed, wondering at the film's 33,000 pound ($54,000) price tag and asking whether a cartoon would be effective in tackling terrorism. The Daily Mail called it "bizarre".
Britain's Foreign Office insisted that the movie wasn't finished and that no decision had yet been taken about whether to authorize its release.
Anti-terrorism experts said they had doubts about the movie as well.
"From what I saw of the video ... it wasn't really directly challenging the ideology that creates radicalization," said James Brandon, the director of research at Qulliam, a counter-extremism think tank which has previously also received government funding.
Nevertheless, Brandon said that youth-oriented animations could be effective under some circumstances — citing examples in the Arab world of effective cartoons aimed at debunking political and religious extremism. One such cartoon, Jordan's "Ben and Izzy," won plaudits from the country's queen for "building intercultural understanding."
The film is only one element of a bigger British effort aimed at preventing young people from embracing violent extremism — including lecture tours by moderate clerics, funding for outreach work by reformed extremists and publicity campaigns at home and abroad.
Britain has spent about 80 million pounds ($115 million) on the project over the past three years — and critics have previously raised questions over the use of public funds to pay for boxing equipment, rap lessons and camping trips under the program.
Home Secretary Theresa May is scheduled to announce the results of a lengthy review of the policy in the coming weeks, amid concern it isn't working.
David Stringer in London and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Raphael G. Satter can be reached at: http://twitter.com/razhael