Ali to film message on US policy for Muslim countries

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The Independent Online

The former world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali plans to take part in a public service drive explaining United States policy to the Muslim world, in the first tangible response to the Bush administration's appeal to Hollywood for support in its war against terrorism.

A one-minute television segment by the American boxer, who converted to Islam in the 1960s, will air on international networks such as the al-Jazeera Arab-language station. It will be produced by Hollywood 9/11, the entertainment industry group established to contribute to the war effort.

The move, announced in yesterday's New York Times, is the first sign that talks last month between Hollywood figures and Karl Rove, a senior adviser to President George Bush, have borne fruit.

"Ali will hopefully be able to convey the idea that Muslims in America lead a free life, practise their religion in a form in which they choose to practise it," said Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, which is overseeing Hollywood 9/11.

"It's not a war against Islam. It's a war against murderers who kill innocent people."

Mr Ali's spokeswoman, Jill Siegel, said he "definitely wants" to make the segment, although final details still had to be worked out.

The initiative coincides with the release of a film about the boxer's life, Ali, starring Will Smith, which premiered in the US last week.

Mr Ali, 59, who has Parkinson's disease, retired from boxing in 1981. He courted controversy in his career not only by his conversion to Islam but by his subsequent refusal to fight in Vietnam, for which he was stripped of his heavyweight title in 1967.

"Here is a guy who was wrung dry when he refused to serve," Mr Valenti said. "He has since undergone a glorious redemption and therefore he's credible."