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Sharing: Benazir Bhutto

Posted on March 29, 2008


 As I stepped down onto the tarmac at Quaid-e-Azan International Airport in Karachi on October 18, 2007, I was overcome with emotion. Like most women in politics, I am especially sensitive to maintaining my composure, to never show my feelings. A display of emotion by a woman in politics or government can be misconstrued as a manifestation of weakness, reinforcing stereotypes and caricatures. But as my foot touched the ground of my beloved Pakistan for the first time after eight lonely and difficult years of exile, I could not stop the tears from pouring from my eyes and I lifted my hands in reverence, in thanks, and in prayer. I stood on the soil of Pakistan in awe. I felt that a huge burden, a terrible weight, had been lifted from my shoulders. It was a sense of liberation. I was home at long last. I knew why. I knew what I had to do.

Long ago I had made my choice. The people of Pakistan have always come first. The people of Pakistan will always come first. My children understood it and not only accepted it but encouraged me. As we said good-bye, I turned to the group of assembled supporters and press and said what was in my heart: “This is the beginning of a long journey for Pakistan back to democracy, and I hope my going back is a catalyst for change. We must believe that miracles can happen.”

The stakes could not be higher. Within the Muslim world there has been and continues to be an internal rift, an often violent confrontation among sects, ideologies and interpretations of the message of Islam. This destructive tension has set brother against brother, a deadly fratricide that has tortured intra-Islamic relations for 1,300 years. The sectarian conflict stifled the brilliance of the Muslim renaissance that took place during the Dark Ages of Europe, when the great universities, scientists, doctors and artists were all Muslim. Today that intra-Muslim sectarian violence is most visibly manifest in a senseless, self-defeating sectarian civil war that is tearing modern Iraq apart at its fragile seams and exercising its brutality in other parts of the world, especially in parts of Pakistan.

And while the Muslim world—where sectarianism is rampant—simmers internally, extremists have manipulated Islamic dogma to justify and rationalize a so-called jihad against the West. The attacks on September 11, 2001, heralded the vanguard of the caliphate-inspired dream of bloody confrontation; the Crusades in reverse. And as images of the twin towers burning and then imploding were on every television set in the world, the attack was received in two disparate ways in the Muslim world. Much, if not most, of the Muslim world reacted with horror, embarrassment, and shame when it became clear that this greatest attack in history had been carried out by Muslims in the name of Allah and jihad. Yet there was also another reaction, a troubling and disquieting one: Some people danced in the streets of Palestine. Sweets were exchanged by others in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Condemnations were few in the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia. The hijackers of September 11 seemed to touch a nerve of Muslim impotence. The burning and then collapsing towers represented, to some, resurgent Muslim power, a perverse Muslim payback for the domination of the West.

To others it was a religious epiphany. And to still others it combined political, cultural and religious assertiveness. A Pew comparative study of Muslim’s attitudes after the attacks found that people in many Muslim countries “think it is good that Americans now know what it is like to be vulnerable.”

The central message that I would like to convey in this book is of the two critical tensions that must be reconciled to prevent the clash of civilizations that some believe looms before us. There is an internal tension within Muslim society, too. The failure to resolve that tension peacefully and rationally threatens to degenerate into a collision course of values spilling into a clash between Islam and the West. It is finding a solution to this internal debate within Islam—about democracy, about human rights, about the role of women in society, about respect for other religions and cultures, about technology and modernity—that will shape future relations between Islam and the West.

But both clashes can be solved. What is required is accommodation and reconciliation.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan in December 2007.

From: “Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West” by Benazir Bhutto. Available at bookstores everywhere.

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