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When a movie inspired Kashmir rebellion

In Kashmir 1931 is remembered for the first rebellion against monarchy in recent history. The same year, in Libya, rebel leader Omar Mukhtar was hanged by Italian colonists. A half a century later, a Hollywood movie on Omar Mukhtar, stoked a fresh rebellion in Kashmir. Faisul Yaseen reports.

Srinagar, September 15, 2009:

Lion of the Desert
Government in Indian administered Kashmir closed the screening of Lion of the desert following widespread protests in 1985
Muhammad Yasin Malik, the chairman of Kashmir’s pro-freedom separatist outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), still remembers the day 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 a rebel.

“I and many other Kashmiri youth 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 youth to take up arms against Indian rule in Kashmir.

Talking to Kashmir Newz, the JKLF chief said people in Kashmir have been fighting against the Indian occupation since 1947.

“From 1947 to 1987-88 it was a non-violent movement. In 1988-89, we started an armed movement. Omar Mukhtar was the inspiration for many of youth including me who were the first to start it all,” he 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 on every other shop in Kashmir. After that it was not to be,” Malik said.

Abdullah, the former prime minister of Indian administered Kashmir and founder of regions’ largest mainstream political party - National Conference - had got a rousing welcome in Kashmir even after the infamous accord of 1975 he entered with the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi following which he became the chief minister of the region.

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 he 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 militant outfits fighting Indian troops in the region.

Sajad Ahmad, a resident of Srinagar’s Dalgate area, 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 youth who watched the movie were suddenly different. I entered the movie hall a careless teenager, came out someone ready to sacrifice his life for the freedom of his nation.”

Ahmad’s is National Conference loyalist family but after watching the movie, Ahmad said, he started hating Abdullah and his family.

Abdullah’s grandson Omar Abdullah is the incumbent chief minister of Indian administered Kashmir while his son Farooq Abdullah, a three time chief minister of the region is now an Indian cabinet minister at New Delhi.

“I and many other youth who watched the movie purchased Sheikh’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 that Omar Mukhtar,” Ahmad said.

Following the screening of the movie, there were widespread protests across Kashmir against Abdullah and his corrupt dynastic rule.

Not surprisingly, the then government in Indian administered Kashmir forced the cinema to take down the movie in the first week - all houseful - of its screening.

The spark that ‘Lion of the Desert’ had set in 1985 turned into a volcano two years later when Abdullah’s National Conference whose president was now his errant son Farooq allegedly rigged the infamous elections for the region’s assembly in 1987.

Suddenly, every youth started crossing the Line of Control (LoC) from Indian administered Kashmir for getting arms training in Pakistan administered Kashmir to launch a rebellion against the Indian rule in the region.

Tariq Ahmad, a resident of Zakura area of Srinagar and a former militant commander said: “We wanted to get arms training to be like Omar Mukhtar. We wanted to live like Omar Mukhtar, die 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 11 September 1931, when he was wounded in battle, then captured by the Italian army.

On 16 September 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.

Today, Mukhtar's face appears on the Libyan 10 Dinar bill.

On 10 June 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.



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Kashmir Newz Specials
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