Support for Osama bin Laden is once again on public display throughout Pakistan. On July 18, Karachis most popular pro-jihad morning newspaper, Daily Ummat, published a rather remarkable story suggesting a divine role in bin Ladens survival.
Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan at the directive of Prophet Muhammad, the front-page headline declared. The story made for some interesting discussions with colleagues and fellow countrymen.
We knew that some divine blessing is with him, one man told another on Karachi bus. You will see he will destroy America.
How? I jumped into the discussion.
A person who is sent on a mission by our prophet can do anything, he replied.
Another passenger asked me, Dont you believe in the power of Aiman -- the faith?
I could argue no more. When faith is involved, no amount of logic will win out. You quickly get labeled as being blasphemous. Such a charge proven in court carries a mandatory death sentence. None of this keeps me from getting a good thrashing from believers from time to time.
Later, at our press club, I came across the Daily Ummat reporter sitting at a table in the cafeteria. I asked him what the source of this news about bin Laden might be. We cannot disclose it, he replied arrogantly.
Was it an al Qaeda handout or did your a editor have some divine intuition? I asked.
Furious over my transgression, he asked, Are you making fun of our faith?
Soon other journalists jumped into the debate. One colleague said: Is it not really a miracle that the worlds sole superpower, having all the means to even find a needle in the bottom of the sea, could not find Osama during the last 10 months? Would this have occurred without the blessing of Allah?
More comments followed. A few fellows who would privately support me could not find the courage to come to my rescue. I felt knocked out at the hands of journalists. In conventional terms, they represent the most informed and enlightened segments of a civil society.
Do you think that Osama is serving the purpose of Islam? I asked.
Of course. You will see how Muslims around the world are rising from deep slumber and, God willing, infidelity will be annihilated, another said.
No one is saying where bin Laden might be. Most people seem to think he survived the war. U.S. intelligence officials have been quoted as saying he is somewhere in Afghanistan. A piece in the London Guardian said bin Laden turned up last week in Kabul.
We live in a part of the world where the voice of sanity is nearly extinct. Consider this: On July 3, members of the Pakistan army and local police, stationed at the Jarma check post on the outskirts of Kohat, stopped a large private taxi headed to Peshawar. Al Qaeda terrorists riding in the van opened fire, killing four soldiers; four terrorists also died. Local newspapers made the issue complex by reporting that the terrorists corpses emitted a mysterious aroma, a sign of divine forces. Ordinary people impressed with the signs they considered to be a miracle attacked the hospital and tried to take possession of the bodies. The government, out of fear that a new shrine would be established for al Qaeda martyrs, secretly buried the bodies in a far-flung area.
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Last month, Pakistans interior ministry placed advertisements in papers around the country seeking help finding its most-wanted terrorists -- including bin Laden. The message was that terrorism is not jihad, and the government needs help to fight this menace. Callers names would be kept confidential. Army officers would handle the calls.
The Daily Ummat used the same format and pictures provided by the government, but changed the message. The new words: Jihad is the answer to terrorism. Pray for the safety of mujahideen at prayer times. For prayer offering, no need of telling your name as you can convey this directly to your God. Your call would be attended by God himself.
After three or four days, the governments campaign ceased. The Daily Ummat declared its purpose had been served, and thanked hundreds of thousands of well-wishers who called in their support.
Pakistans rulers, who are so fond of implicating anyone not toeing the official line, were stunned at this audacity, but issued no warnings against the paper. Officials wont say why they did nothing. It is widely believed that the paper has some level of support within Pakistans intelligence apparatus.