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Hollywood Movie Inspires Kashmiri Rebels

Updated: June 18, 2011 11:37 am

Whether the rebels in Libya in current rebellion against the ruler Colonel Gadaffi have drawn inspiration from their local hero Omar Mukhtar—who fought against the Italian conquest of Libya in World War I and was hanged by Italian colonists—or not but back home the Kashmiri rebels do draw their inspiration from Libyan rebel leader Omar Mukhtar.

They know the Arab hero through the Hollywood flick Lion of the Desert, which tells the story of Omar Mukhtar. In 1985, when the film was released in Kashmir, it stoked a fresh rebellion in Kashmir, which till 25 years later is still sparking with slogans of “independence” with over 60,000 deaths.

A senior journalist Javed Iqbal, recollecting the impact of the movie in those days, said that following the screening of the movie, there were widespread anti-Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (the former prime minister of Indian administered Kashmir and founder of regions’ largest mainstream political party—National Conference) protests across Kashmir forcing the government to stop the screening of the movie in the first week when it was running houseful.

The Lion of the Desert set in 1985 turned Kashmir into a volcano. “In one hour, Kashmir realised follies of Sheikh Abdullah. The film changed the outlook of Kashmiris towards his political group National Conference and its role in their plight and subsequently it changed the political history of Kashmir,” said a Kashmir University Professor of Sociology Department, Bashir Dhabla. Two years after the screening of the film, the National Conference rigged the elections of 1987 and declared itself winner, contrary to the general perception that it was losing before the Muslim United Front. This brought sudden change in the situation and Kashmiri youth started crossing the Line of Control (LoC) for getting arms training in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to launch a rebellion against the Indian rule, he added, saying: “It has immense social and political impact.”

Muhammad Yasin Malik, the chairman of Kashmir’s pro-freedom separatist outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), still remembers the days of 1985 when he, a student, entered the Regal Cinema in the region’s summer capital—Srinagar—to watch famous Syrian producer Moustapha Akkad’s 1981 Libyan Historical action film Lion of the Desert, and came out as a rebel.

“I along with many other Kashmiri youths were inspired by the protagonist of the movie, Omar Mukthar, for leading Libyan resistance movement against the Italian colonial rule under Mussolini,” said Malik, who was among the first few youths to take up arms against Indian rule in Kashmir. After shunning the path of violence, he now fights Kashmir issue politically, Yasin said: “When we came out after watching the movie, there were protests against Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who was until then the undisputed political and spiritual leader of Kashmir. Those days his posters could be spotted in every other shop in Kashmir. After that it was not to be,” Malik said.

However, after screening of Lion of the Desert, youth in Kashmir began to draw parallels between Abdullah and Omar Mukhtar and were disappointed at Abdullah’s “collaboration”. Malik said that later showed the movie on a video to Muhammad Yousuf Shah, now known more by his nom de guerre Syed Salahuddin, the chief of United Jehad Council—an amalgam of 15 terrorist outfits fighting Indian troops in the region, and based in Pakistan.

Shabir Shah, another Kashmiri separatist leader, who also watched the movie featuring Anthony Quinn as Omar Mukhtar, the Bedouin leader who fought a brilliant, relentless guerrilla war against the Italian invaders of Libya from 1911 until his capture and execution by Mussolini’s forces in 1931, said: “Kashmiri youths who watched the movie, were suddenly different. I entered the movie hall as a careless youth and came out as someone ready to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his nation.”

Following the screening of the movie, there were widespread protests across Kashmir against Abdullah and his corrupt dynastic rule. Sajid Parrey, a former terrorist commander, said: “I and many other youths who watched the movie wanted to get arms training to be like Omar Mukhtar. We wanted to live like Omar Mukhtar, die like Omar Mukhtar. We purchased the then ruler Sheikh Abduallah’s larger-than-life-size posters and set them ablaze. Though Sheikh was a leader in Kashmir we didn’t want him to be chicken-hearted like he was. We wanted him to be a lion like Omar Mukhtar.”

Omar Mukhtar was born in 1862, in the Mnifa tribe in the small village of Janzour near Tobruk in eastern Barqa (Cyrenaica). Omar Mukhtar’s struggle of nearly 20 years came to an end on September 11, 1931, when he was wounded in a battle, then captured by the Italian army. On September 16, 1931, on the orders of the Italian court and with Italian hopes that Libyan resistance would die with him, Mukhtar was hanged before his followers in the concentration camp of Solluqon.

One Kashmiri rebel Mohd Afzal Indian, who conspired attack on Indian Parliament in 2001 and has been accorded death sentence for plotting the attack in his mercy plea for remission of his death sentence, filed before Indian President has also mentioned that he joined the Kashmir movement and went across to Pakistan in the early 80s like hundreds of other Kashmiri youths. Afzal has written, “I was inspired by ‘Omar Mukhtar’, projection in Lion of the Desert, which depicted the story of a teacher who fought for the liberation of his people and was hanged.”

Interestingly, last year, street vendors in Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital, sold hundreds of framed portraits of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, after his maiden address to the UN General Assembly in which he said Kashmir should be an “independent state”, neither with India nor with Pakistan.

It was a diplomatic embarrassment for India but Gaddafi’s UN speech actually won him an enthusiastic fan base in strife-weary Kashmir, where Muslim terrorists are fighting New Delhi’s rule. Dozens of Kashmiris carried placards reading “Gaddafi, Lion of the Desert II” referring to the Omar Mukhtar Lion of the Desert film. Today, Mukhtar’s face appears on the Libyan 10-dinar bill. In 2009, Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi arrived in Rome on his first visit to Italy wearing the famous picture of Omar Mukhtar’s arrest on his lapel when meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

By Prakriiti Gupta from Srinagar

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