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The new jihadi superstar

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September 04, 2006 11:23 IST
Osama bin Laden is out. Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Hezbollah in the Lebanon, is in.

In the mosques, madrassas and tribal areas of Pakistan, it is Nasrallah, who has become the toast of increasing sections of the Muslim youth. Osama has been brought down from the pedestal as Saddam Hussein was in Baghdad in 2003.

Some of the illegally-operated FM radio stations in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas are paying hours and hours of tribute to Nasrallah in between recitations from the Koran.

What are the Muslim youth in Pakistan's mosques and madrassas saying about Nasrallah and bin Laden?

  • 'Nasrallah made us proud as Muslims, and respected by the rest of the world. bin Laden made us hated by the rest of the world and viewed as criminals and terrorists.'
  • 'Nasrallah led us from the front against Israel, the US and the UK. bin Laden concealed himself in the caves while sending hundreds of Muslims to jail and death.'
  • 'Nasrallah helped the poor Muslims and cared for them. What has bin Laden done for the poor Muslims?'
  • 'Nasrallah united the Shias and the Sunnis in a joint jihad against Israel and the US. bin Laden made them kill each other first in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now in Iraq.'
  • 'Nasrallah has every right to speak for the Muslims of the world. bin Laden has no right.'

If a public opinion poll were to be held in the mosques, madrassas and tribal areas of Pakistan today, Nasrallah may get many more votes than bin Laden.

It remains to be seen whether the eclipse of bin Laden remains a temporary phenomenon or becomes permanent.

Pakistani jihadi organisations like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami, which are members of bin Laden's International Islamic Front, have been greatly concerned over this praise and support for Nasrallah at bin Laden's expense.

They have been telling their followers that the Ummah needs both bin Laden and Nasrallah. They have been referring to what they describe as the sacrifices made by bin Laden for the Muslims of the world in general and of Afghanistan and Pakistan in particular and saying that the Muslims cannot defeat the conspiracy of the US and Israel against Islam without bin Laden's leadership.

As the Israeli military operations in Lebanon were in progress, there was hardly any outpouring of support for Hezbollah among large sections of the Muslims of Pakistan who have a strong anti-Shia streak. Only the elite supported Hezbollah, but not the jihadis on the street

The JEM, HUM and HUJI, which along with the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, have been in the forefront of the anti-Shia campaign for many years, refrained from any major statement of support for Hezbollah. They criticised Israel and highlighted what they described as the heroic resistance of the Muslims of Lebanon, but refrained from identifying them with Hezbollah.

Subsequently, as details of how Hezbollah fought the Israeli military strikes came in, they have had an electrifying effect on many Muslim youth -- even those known for their past participation in anti-Shia campaigns.

Hezbollah's resistance against the Israeli troops is being compared to the Afghan mujahideen's resistance against the Soviet troops in the 1980s. It is being claimed that whereas the Afghan mujahideen took eight years to defeat the Soviet troops, Hezbollah took hardly four weeks to defeat the Israeli troops.

B Raman