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About Utah: Not all glad bin Laden was killed

Published: Friday, May 6 2011 12:10 a.m. MDT

Not everyone stood up and applauded the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden this week. In the place where it happened, the reaction was quite the opposite.

This isn't just hearsay. I'm sitting in the home of a Utah resident and native of Pakistan whose family lives near Abbottabad, the city where bin Laden was killed by American soldiers.

All week he has been talking with his mother and brothers and sisters and friends back home. The scenes they've been painting for him over the phone are in direct contrast to the scenes here. "They say the people are mad very much at America that they will kill off the Muslim hero," he reports. "They are not taking this quietly. They say there will be revenge. They are throwing stones at Christian churches and wanting to burn them down. It is not a good time to be a Christian in Pakistan."

The expatriated Pakistani, who for obvious reasons prefers his name not be used in this story, knows firsthand what it's like to be a Christian in Pakistan, a country of some 170 million people that is 97 percent Muslim with only a little more than 1 percent Christian.

"You always keep a low profile," he says. "Right now it's a very low profile. Attendance at Christian churches (this Sunday) will be very small."

His family is part of a tiny minority within the Christian minority — they are all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He explains that he was introduced to the Mormon church when missionaries were still in the country in the early 1990s and he befriended two young Americans in hopes they would teach him English. They taught him English out of the Book of Mormon, and after two years of investigation, he joined the LDS Church in 1994.

His proficiency with English and association with Americans steered him toward a job as a driver and translator for a number of Western journalists who visited Pakistan in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He worked with reporters from Time magazine, BBC, Guardian newspaper and Der Spiegel, among others. Even before the 9/11 attacks he drove CNN terrorism specialist Peter Bergen along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as Bergen gathered material for his well-received 2002 book, "The Holy War, Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."

This past Sunday night, when he heard along with the rest of the world that bin Laden's secret world had been invaded by American special forces — and realized he drove past the location of the compound in Abbottabad many times with Bergen and numerous other journalists — you could have pushed him over with a whisper.

"I was shocked," he says. "Many times I've driven down that road."

But at the same time he was not surprised by the news.

He explains that when he acted as translator for the Western journalists, he repeatedly picked up the prevailing feeling among rank-and-file Pakistani Muslims that bin Laden was in their country and not in neighboring Afghanistan.

"Pakistan is called the mother of Islam," he says. "It is the place where extremists are given space."

When asked how many Muslims in Pakistan are mourning the passing of bin Laden, he says, "to 80 percent of the Muslims he was a hero, it could be 85, maybe 90 percent."

He recalls the scene he saw in Pakistan on 9/11 when masses of people ran into the streets to cheer the destruction in America.

"I saw the people shouting and laughing, and they said it was good because it was America and America is the enemy of Islam."

Prior to coming to America for a business opportunity two years ago, he did not see that sentiment change; he only saw it escalate.

"They do not think like you do," he says to me. "They don't see Osama bin Laden as a terrorist. They see him as a defender of Islam, and they see America as the biggest enemy of Islam."

He articulates his country's conundrum: "There is not much hope until there is freedom of religion, and there can be no freedom of religion because of all the extreme Muslims.

"The truth is always dangerous," he adds. "I am giving you the truth."

From the vantage point of a safe house in Utah.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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