Muslim 'Rage Boy' says he is really angry
July 5, 2007
SRINAGAR, India --
He has become the face of Muslim fury: an angry young man whose bushy beard and fiery-eyed scowl take center stage at nearly every pro-Islamic demonstration in Indian Kashmir.
Shakeel Bhat, 31, has been displaying his teeth and shaking his fist over anything from Salman Rushdie's knighthood to Danish cartoons, becoming a photographers' favorite and earning himself the nickname "Rage Boy" in online columns and blogs.
One American columnist has dismissed him as a "professional Muslim protestor," while other bloggers have also held him up for ridicule as a person who appears to be very easily enraged about anything.
But Bhat, the man behind the angry face, said he could take any kind of criticism in his stride.
"Whatever I do, I do for Allah and the Prophet Mohammed," said Bhat, who admits to having been an armed militant between 1991 and 1994 with a pro-Pakistan rebel group.
"I cannot resist injustice. I protest for all the oppressed Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan," he said.
Bhat dropped out of school in his early teens, and quickly found his way into the armed struggle against New Delhi's disputed hold over part of the scenic Himalayan region.
The nearly 18-year-old conflict has left at least 42,000 people dead, nearly a third of them civilians.
After escaping scores of police raids, Bhat finally spent three years behind bars - a lucky escape from the Indian army's "catch and kill" tactics of the 1990s.
While he no longer carries a weapon, Bhat said he was still fuming about the Indian army's often suffocating presence in Kashmir - where there is one soldier for every four civilians - and what he sees as a wider international conspiracy against Muslims.
"If my photographs get published across the world, it is because my emotions are real and my looks are not deceptive. The photos show the anger inside," said the full-time demonstrator, who when off the street looks distinctly modest and a little shy.
Bhat has been detained more than 300 times since he first took to the streets of Srinagar in late 1997. He even travels to other parts of the picturesque Kashmir valley to vent his Islamist anger.
"Police have registered 40 cases against me for taking part in the protests and I have to shuttle from one court to another to defend myself. I have been in almost every police station," he laughed, clutching a plastic bag full of court papers.
Although not a Shiite Muslim, he says his inspiration is Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
"I sometimes leave my home and return days later after being in police lock-ups," said Bhat, whose family run a handicrafts business.
"My family members are very supportive. They know I am not doing anything wrong. I am doing what every Muslims needs to do."
Apart from drawing ridicule from bloggers, Bhat has even inspired one American neoconservative Web site to push "Rage Boy" merchandise - including T-shirts, beer mugs, and mouse pads.
"I do not believe this! I have no knowledge about all this. Why do they do it?" demanded Bhat, who says he has no idea how to use a computer and the Internet.
Bhat also shrugged off his rather unflattering "Rage Boy" nickname.
"I do not need any titles. I am a simple Muslim. Yes, I get enraged if someone, somewhere makes derogatory remarks about our religion or Prophet," he said.
"The Koran is my driving force. I will come out on streets as long as Muslims are victims of oppression, even if it leads to my death."