LAHORE, Pakistan — The posters were plastered around the campus of Pakistan’s largest university last month, inviting students to enter a poetry and essay contest eulogizing a major historical figure who spent his last years living in seclusion in this nation.
The subject of such an outpouring of praise? Osama bin Laden.
The contest may have seemed out of place here at the University of the Punjab, a century-old prestigious institution in this eastern city, known as the artistic and cultural capital of the country. After all, there had been no campus protests denouncing the death of Bin Laden, who was killed in a nighttime raid by United States Navy Seal commandos in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad.
But the big surprise was not the contest itself, at least not in a nation where 63 percent of the people disapprove of the operation that killed Bin Laden, according to a June survey by the Pew Research Center.
Indeed, the big surprise was just the opposite: that the contest organizers chose to remain anonymous, providing nothing more than an e-mail address to send submissions.
For over three decades, this campus has been a stronghold of an Islamic student group known as Islami Jamiat Talaba. The group forcefully imposes its Islamic interpretations on the students, has effectively banned music and cultural activities and scoffs at interaction between men and women outside the classrooms. Its vigilantes regularly attack male students who are found sitting close to their female colleagues. Students have been hospitalized, a dorm was stormed by supporters brandishing guns, and anti-Western and pro-Jihad literature is easily available.
It would seem all but natural that Jamiat, as the student group is commonly referred to, would not only hold such a contest, but do it proudly.
So why all the mystery?
“We are trying to find out who is behind it,” Khuram Shahzad, public relations officer of the university, said, referring to the contest. “We feel it is objectionable political activity, and disciplinary action will be taken against the organizers.”
Perpetuating the suspense, the secret organizers promised to send the prizes only by mail. There was also no announcement of the winners.