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Outrage over terrorist storyline
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun




In 1991, the then-WWF provoked public outrage by exploiting the Persian Gulf War in a wrestling storyline.

Fierce media backlash (along with a ton of negative press from a series of sex and steroids scandals) sent the business into a downward spiral it would take years to recover from.

It was a harsh lesson but apparently not a memorable one. As the saying goes, those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Last week on Smackdown, WWE booked an angle with heavy terrorism undertones. The story was based around the feud between the Undertaker and two Arab-American characters, Muhammad Hassan and Khosrow Daivari.

Hassan is actually of Italian heritage, born Mark Copani and raised in New York, while Daivari is of legitimate Middle Eastern descent. For the past few months, the pair have been playing disgruntled Arab-Americans on WWE television, blaming their slow rise to stardom on post-9/11 discrimination.

On last week's Smackdown show, the gimmick was pushed to another level. Daivari was sent to the ring to be the 'martyr' in a bout with the Undertaker, sacrificing himself to help accomplish 'the greater good.'

As expected, Daivari took a heavy beating during the match and was knocked out cold in the centre of the ring.

With Undertaker distracted, a group of men dressed in terrorist garb ran into the arena and attacked him from behind.

Hassan knelt in prayer at ringside as the men violently choked the Undertaker out with piano wire, a scene eerily reminiscent of a terrorist beheading.

Then, with 'Taker left gasping for air, the masked men hoisted the unconscious Daivari above their heads and carried their 'martyr' out of the arena.

The angle was taped last Tuesday for broadcast two days later but hours before it was due to air, a series of explosions blasted through London, killing 53 people and injuring hundreds more. The British capital had been decimated by a real-life terrorist attack.

The WWE production team quickly removed all traces of the Hassan angle from the overseas version of show and sent the edited tape to the U.K. to air as scheduled on Sky TV.

However, the decision was made the storyline should be shown in its original state in North America, albeit with a parental discretion warning. American fans watched the show unedited on U.S. network TV, as did Canadian viewers on The Score.

Initially, the backlash was minimal. There was heavy criticism from the Internet wrestling community but the timing and tastelessness of the angle managed to slip under the radar of the mainstream media, at least until earlier this week.

The New York Post and Variety were the first to pick up on the situation, followed by MSNBC and the news wires. As the story went national, UPN TV became anxious to avoid any more bad press and demanded Hassan and Daivari not appear on this week's show.

WWE complied with the request but didn't shy away from the angle. On Thursday's episode, Hassan's attorney appeared in the ring to further the storyline, claiming Hassan was being denied the right to freedom of expression. The attorney (played by a local indie wrestler) was then attacked by the Undertaker.

WWE also taped an in-ring segment with Hassan and Daivari, playing up on the media outrage and tearing up a copy of the New York Post article. The segment was only shown on the company's website and Hassan will not appear on TV until he takes on the Undertaker at the Great American Bash pay-per-view next weekend.


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