We'll Name Him Osama
Ghulam Hussain and Rashida named their newborn Osama, because they want their son to grow up brave and courageous like Osama bin Laden.
"We had decided the name for a boy even before birth. Not just that the name is short and sweet -- it also symbolizes courage, bravery and nerve," said Ghulam Hussain, who runs a small hotel in a village near the Pakistani city of Lahore.
No one here finds this startling -- other couples say that they, too, are naming their children after the reclusive Saudi exile. Much abhorred in the West, bin Laden enjoys overwhelming popularity in this part of the world. He is particularly admired in the generally conservative and pro-Taliban Northwest Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan.
Most see him as an icon of courage, resistance and perseverance. Some express it by sticking up his poster in their homes or shops. Others wear t-shirts that state "World Hero Osama bin Laden," or "The Great Mujahid (holy warrior) of Islam."
One shopkeeper in the Pakistani city of Peshawar, quoted by an English-language newspaper, said posters with bin Laden's image sold like hot cakes after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He had to order more. "People of all ages buy these posters only because they love Osama," he said.
Bin Laden is viewed as a strong and powerful person who has evaded U.S. capture in the three years following his suspected involvement in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But people's affection for him lies not in his alleged terrorist activities, but in the strong anti-American sentiment that grips this part of the world.
"America does not see the people being killed everyday in Palestine, they do not see the suffering of people in Iraq, they are not concerned with the killing of people in Algeria at the hands of the government forces because they have no concern for the Muslims," said Mohammad Hussain, a retired government official. "[America] is biased towards the Muslim world."
Many here do not believe that bin Laden is responsible for the recent attacks. They say Islam prohibits the killing of innocent people, even in times of war. Even Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf, in his nationwide address Wednesday night pledging support to the United States, did not implicate bin Laden.
The general knew well that fingering bin Laden would mean more trouble for his government, which already must justify its support for possible U.S. military actions in Afghanistan. Religious parties are holding rallies and threatening mass agitation over Pakistan's cooperation with America. Some Jihadi groups even declared that support for an attack against Afghanistan to capture bin Laden would cause civil war in the country.
"Yielding to U.S. demands will cause a large-scale agitation against the government, and can also spark a civil war. Supporting an untrustworthy ally is a sin and treason against Islam and the country," declared a resolution passed by the Council for Defence of Afghanistan and Pakistan, a group of 25 religious parties and Jihadi organizations.
Signs of discontent are already visible. As cities witness more and more pro-Taliban public rallies, a number of tribes along the border with Afghanistan have begun mobilizing to confront any foreign attack alongside Taliban forces. "Religious fervor is gripping the people in these areas, where people have been pooling their arsenals with repeated vows from the mosques that people be ready to raise arms against a foreign army," wrote an Islamabad-based daily.
Gen. Musharraf in his speech said he would be meeting tribal chieftains in Pushtun-speaking tribal areas, which share culture and religious values with Pushtun-speaking Taliban. However, political analysts say he is unlikely to get any support from these groups, which have always made decisions independent from the government.
Gen. Musharraf believes that the opponents of Pakistan's cooperation with the United States are in the minority.
Political analysts here agree, but warn of their power.
"The Islamic fundamentalists are certainly in minority, but [are] organized and motivated," political analyst Ghazi Salahuddin said in an English-language daily on Wednesday. "A number of them are armed. More significantly, they may have support from within the establishment."
PNS contributor Muddassir Rizvi is a Pakistani journalist specializing in development issues, including health and human rights.