On Benazir Bhutto
[*This was one of the first essays I wrote on this site. Ms. Bhutto came to Willamette University, where I used to teach, on February 18, 2004, and I wrote this essay a few days later. I "republish" it here today (10/17/07) because she is back in the news. She is planning to end her eight-year exile in London and return to Pakistan. This must mean that she thinks she has either worked out an accommodation with the Musharraf Government or that the way is clear for her to reassume her political career and call for a Democratic Pakistan. It is also interesting to me that I mentioned another figure in this essay from Feb. 2004 who had dropped out of the news at that time--the Dalai Lama, who just happened to be plastered on the front page of every paper today (10/17/07) because he received the Congressional Gold Medal earlier today. Thus we see the ebbs and flows of exclusion and inclusion of controversial people worldwide. Maybe someday I will have the chance to write a similar hopeful article about the Burmese Democratic opposition leader Aun San Suu Kyi...
Further note. I only began to date my essays on Oct. 1, 2004; I only began to number them, my current practice, with my 1000th essay on my birthday, May 15, 2005.]
My February 2004 Essay on Benazir Bhutto
Sometimes history seems to pass by formerly popular individuals. Mikhail Gorbachev occupied center stage in the world's history in the 1980s, but has long disappeared from consciousness and conversation. The Dalai Lama was all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s and, while still sporting a sizable following around the world, has vanished from the popular press.
At first glance this also seems to be the case with Benazir Bhutto, the first elected female head of state in the Muslim world, Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988-90 and again from 1993-96. Born in 1953 to a wealthy Pakistani family, educated at Radcliffe and Oxford in the early and mid- 1970s, she returned to her homeland upon her father's election as Prime Minister in 1977. Yet, his quick arrest in 1977 and eventual hanging in 1979 set her on an immediate course of house arrest, persecution in her homeland or international exile.
Fueled by the dual engines of love of democratic freedoms gained in her Western education and anger at the military leaders who arrested and killed her father, she entered into Pakistani politics upon return from exile in 1986 and was elected to the Prime Ministership in 1988. After her two stints at heading this nation of nearly 120 million people (2004 est. population), she again was forced into exile by the military government and now resides with her children in London. It appears that her voice has been muted and her concerns largely ignored by the post 9/11 world.
Her oral presentation (February 18, 2004 at Willamette University) had the well-modulated and dispassionate tone that might befit an academic giving a lecture on a distant subject. She dutifully recognized the way that the world has changed since 9/11; she condemned the 9/11 terrorists as people not acting in the spirit of Islam; she thanked the United States for providing her with her understanding and love of democratic institutions; she readily admitted that Saddam Hussein was a dangerous force that had to be removed. Her formal observations resonated well with the audience, though the applause after her remarks was more polite than inspired.
Then, the floor was opened for questions. Coming mostly from undergraduate students, the questions focused more on current events in her land and her plans for the future. But there was something in the tone of the questions that seemed to spark life in her, that appeared to light the fire that I knew had to be burning deeply in her breast. She abandoned her measured tone. She deftly took us through the trouble spots in Pakistani politics. She pointed to American hypocrisy in supporting military dictatorships which might actually be protecting or at least not pursuing Osama bin Laden. She told stories from her past that showed why she felt that a woman could lead a country and how her father as well as others inspired her to the task of providing goods and services to impoverished people. By the time she ended her answers, it was evident to me why the current military dictatorship in Pakistan would consider her to be the most dangerous woman in the world.
I suppose that when Nelson Mandela was confined to Robben Island in 1964 for opposing apartheid that most thought the world had heard the last of him. Indeed, things continued to look bleak for him in the 1970s and well into the 1980s. But then, in the early 1990s, apartheid fell, and he was elected first President of the new South Africa. One has the feeling that Mandela's story, rather than those at the beginning of this mini-essay, might provide the proper foil to understand the life of Benazir Bhutto.