‘Sir’ title sought for bin Laden


Islamabad : A hardline Pakistani parliamentarian and head of a religious political party Wednesday demanded title "sir" for Osama bin Laden, the leader of the Al Qaeda terrorist network, in retaliation to Britain knighting author Salman Rushdie.

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"Muslims should confer the 'sir' title and all other awards on bin Laden and Mullah Omar in reply to Britain's shameful decision to knight Rushdie," Sami ul Haq, leader of the pro-Taliban Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, said in a statement, referring also to the leader of the Taliban.

Such a move would not only go against the political grain of Britain, who joined in the international effort to drive the Taliban from power and Al Qaeda from their Afghan safe haven in 2001, but it would also break knighthood rules, under which foreigners may not be addressed as sir.

Rushdie, 60, was given the recognition at birthday honours for Britain's Queen Elizabeth II Saturday, about two decades after his book "The Satanic Verses" sparked protests in Muslim countries, including Pakistan, in 1989.

The novel also became the subject in the same year of a fatwa, a religious edict, by late Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomenei, who demanded Rushdie's death.

"Europe and Western nations are intentionally pushing Muslims towards extremism by awarding a nefarious person," Haq said.

The hardline leader, who is also a parliament member, called upon the Pakistani government to withdraw its support to the US-led war on terrorism.

The honour for Rushdie triggered diplomatic tensions between Islamabad and London Tuesday as the Pakistani foreign office summoned Britain's high commissioner to Islamabad, Robert Brinkley, to protest the award.

Britain in return expressed deep concern over comments by a Pakistani minister that the honour could provoke radical Muslims to carry out suicide attacks.

Brinkley had conveyed the "clear message" that, in Britain's view, "nothing can justify suicide bomb attacks," the Foreign Office in London said.

Earlier, thousands of Pakistanis held protest rallies in various cities and burned British flags and effigies of Queen Elizabeth II.

The supporters of a radical Islamic group in the eastern city of Lahore were planning Wednesday to stage a public hanging of an effigy of Rushdie, an Indian-born author who is under constant British police surveillance and has moved house more than 30 times in two decades of hiding.

According to press reports, British police are reviewing his security after threats from Islamic extremists since his knighthood.