Pakistan: Contest in Pak’s Punjab univ: An ode to Osama
Two months after the covert US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, posters emblazoned with images of the burning World Trade Center towers appeared at the country’s largest university advertising a literary contest to glorify the slain al-Qaida chief.
The poem and essay competition at the prestigious Punjab University shows the footholds of hard-line Islamists on college campuses and growing efforts to raise their profile and influence even in the relatively cosmopolitan atmosphere of Pakistan’s culture capital, Lahore.
The contest’s organizers have kept their identities hidden. But many students and teachers suspect it is being held by a powerful Islamist student group that has increasingly enforced its conservative religious views on the rest of the campus – sometimes violently.
The Islami Jamiat Talaba, which is connected to Pakistan’s largest Islamist party, has denied involvement, saying it doesn’t participate in secret activities. But its leaders have publicly acknowledged that many members support bin Laden and have a profound hatred for the US
The group’s rising ambitions have intensified fears about the radicalization of Pakistan’s educated middle classes, who make up a large part of the public university’s population. The educated classes have been seen as a bulwark against militant groups such as the Taliban in the nuclear-armed country.
The ability of Islami Jamiat Talaba, or Islamic Student Group, to gain ground on the university – even though many students reject its radical views – also reflects a general unwillingness of Pakistani authorities to challenge the powerful Islamist forces.
“Whoever is America’s friend is a traitor!” roared the head of the student group, Zubair Safdar, in an interview with The Associated Press.
His views were echoed by 19-year-old student Bismah Khan as she read one of the posters promoting the bin Laden contest. One of three topics for the essay section was: “Osama, a thorn piercing the hearts of infidels.”
The group holding the contest identifies itself only as “Sheik Lovers” – a reference to bin Laden, who’s often called the “Sheik” -and provided an email address for contestants to submit their entries by June 30. Attempts by the AP to contact organizers by email went unanswered, and it’s unclear what kind of prizes would go to the winners.
Many students said they opposed the contest, reflecting the low support for bin Laden, al-Qaida and militant groups across the nation.
“The killer of humanity cannot be a great person,” said student Ali Akbar.
A survey taken after bin Laden’s death by the Washington-based Pew Research Center showed that 12 percent of Pakistanis have a favorable view of al-Qaida. But only 10 percent approve of the US Navy SEAL operation that killed him May 2 not far from Islamabad. The raid humiliated Pakistan because the government was not told about it beforehand.
The survey of some 1,251 Pakistanis had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
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