A majority of Pakistani people love Osama bin Laden? Then why is Pakistan still considered a reliable ally by the learned analysts in Washington? And doesn’t the Red Mosque’s bin Laden Library, as well as the popularity of the mosque honoring Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of the foe of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, give the lie to the ever-unexamined dogma that the Islam of al-Qaeda is a twisted, hijacked version of the real thing, propagated by a tiny minority of extremists? But this question, too, will remain unexamined.
“Paying Homage to Bin Laden, Mosque Re-emerges as Bastion of Militancy,” by Declan Walsh and Salman Massodmay, New York Times, May 6, 2014 (thanks to Kenneth):
LONDON — Rising from the heart of Islamabad, the Red Mosque has long been a barometer of militant Islam in Pakistan. In the 1980s it funneled fighters into the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. In the ‘90s its leaders made an awe-struck pilgrimage to visit their hero, Osama bin Laden, at his farm outside Kandahar.
Years later, the mosque itself became a battlefield in an eight-day siege and firefight in July 2007 that pitted soldiers against militants and students holed up inside, and ended with over 100 deaths. It was a turning point for Pakistan — a sign that Islamist militancy, a long-favored strategic tool for the Pakistani military, had become a pressing threat to the government and the country’s biggest cities.
Now the Red Mosque is back in the public eye, at a crucial moment in a national debate over whether to negotiate with militants, as the government is struggling to do, or to fight them more robustly.
The chief cleric of the Red Mosque, Maulana Abdul Aziz, has inserted himself into the argument with a typically showy gesture: the inauguration of a new library named after the slain founder of Al Qaeda.
“If Pakistan truly has freedom of expression, then we should be able to express our love for our heroes,” said Mr. Aziz, a willowy, bespectacled man with a wiry gray beard, in a room with the sign “Martyr Osama bin Laden Library” on the door. “And we love Osama bin Laden.”
But the Red Mosque’s resurgence is about more than publicity stunts. As a jihadi brand, it has burnished its credentials as a citadel of Islamist revolt. And, just as they did seven years ago, the mosque’s clerics are exploiting the government’s failure to offer an alternative vision of Pakistan’s future.
“We need a strong counternarrative, something that gives purpose to the war against the Taliban,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physics professor and outspoken critic of religious fundamentalism. “But that is lacking. And while people criticize the Taliban for their tactics, many believe their hearts are in the right place because they are fighting for Islam.”
Today, Mr. Aziz delivers thunderous Friday sermons from the lavishly refurbished Red Mosque, a stone’s throw from the Parliament building. And he oversees a network of madrasas that teach 5,000 students.
Only seven years ago, the mosque was in the throes of a pitched battle against the authorities. Mr. Aziz tried to escape the siege under the cover of a burqa, a purse clutched in his gloved hands, but was captured and paraded by the intelligence services on national television, still wearing the black cloak.
The cleric’s brother, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, and his elderly mother died in the firefight. After the siege was over, Mr. Aziz was charged with murder, abduction, arson and terrorism. Yet within a couple of years, the mosque and Mr. Aziz were back in business.
Malik Riaz Hussain, a sympathetic property tycoon, provided a temporary home for hundreds of madrasa students and spent at least $150,000 on refurbishing the bullet-pocked mosque. He attributed his generosity to pragmatism rather than to religious conviction.
“I have huge interests in Islamabad and Rawalpindi,” the businessman, who has close ties to the military, told The New York Times in a 2010 interview. “Bad law and order is bad for my business.”
The city provided land worth millions of dollars in central Islamabad for the rebuilding of Jamia Hafsa, a women’s madrasa that was bulldozed after the 2007 siege. The madrasa, whose construction is not complete, is home to the Osama bin Laden library.
But it is the courts that have been most indulgent toward Mr. Aziz and his followers. Over the past year, judges have dismissed all of the 27 criminal charges against Mr. Aziz, who at times has used the courtroom as a pulpit to call for the imposition of Shariah law….
At the Bin Laden library, Mr. Aziz offered a qualified denunciation of violence — it was justified only in self-defense, he said — and denied accusations that his reverential gesture toward the onetime enemy of America was a publicity stunt.
“A majority of Pakistani people love Osama bin Laden,” he said.
Opinion polls do not support that assertion, but it is true that many Pakistanis — torn among Taliban violence, anger toward America and continued uncertainty about the place of Islam — harbor ambiguous feelings toward Bin Laden.
And names do matter. Away from Islamist violence, the naming of public buildings has become contested ground in the struggle between Islamists and democrats.
Islamabad’s main airport, for example, is named after Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader who was killed by militants in late 2007. A few miles away a new mosque honors Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, the extremist who in 2011 gunned down Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor and crusader against the country’s harsh anti-blasphemy laws.
At Jamia Hafsa, Mr. Aziz has named a dispensary after Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who is serving an 86-year prison term in the United States on charges of attempting to kill an American soldier and an F.B.I. official in Afghanistan….
Early this year, the government inducted Mr. Aziz into the talks with the Taliban, hoping to use him as a militant interlocutor. But in February the cleric abandoned the process. No talks are possible, he said at a news conference, before Shariah law replaces Pakistan’s Constitution.