December 14, 2009

That Is What I Have Tried to Do in These Pages

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:20 pm by Superintendent

Bhutto’s autobiography, Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West, opens with Bhutto’s return to Pakistan after eight years. The above video shows the destruction that ended a joyous celebration by thousands of Pakistanis. Bhutto herself would not necessarily agreed with AlJazeera’s commentary on her security. She states despite a number of requests for her safety, Mushareff refused her requests, such as for cell-phone jammers to prevent bombers from detonating bombs from a distance. Bhutto discusses the group of young men in white tee-shirts that formed a human chain around her caravan to give her extra safety. Many of them paid for their lives after the bombs. Bhutto knew the consequences, the risks, and yet she faced it all to come lead the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) and run for election in January, 2008. Unfortunately, she cannot tell you her feelings about that election day because she was murdered (martyred) December 27, 2007.

Bhutto returned to Pakistan to challenge Mushareff and runto become Prime Minister for the third time. I have read a number of books arguing Islam and democracy are compatible, Islam must refind itself, Muslims must speak out against dictatorial leaders that have bastardized the name of Islam. I must say, Bhutto’s work was the most uplifting I have read, the most self-assured. Her theories and arguments were backed by previous policies of hers. For example, many argue for gender equality within Muslim-majority countries that women are currently deprived of,  yet Bhutto cited her creation of the Women’s Development Banks to help women access avnues to economic independence. She also uses the Quran in nearly every argument she states. She outlines the verses that specifically highlight gender equality, that discuss women’s rights to work and keep their own wages. Her arguments, though some repetitive and some I’ve heard from other sources, have a unique perspective, insight that others fail. Maybe the difference between her and, say, An-Na’im is that she’s a woman? I know, I know, flouting gender differences isn’t very productive or correct, but what I’m arguing is her experiences as a woman put her on a different intellectual level than An-Na’im. Bhutto cites Quranic verses that specifically say “men believers and female believers,” and states that Mohommad/God specifically used this language so there would be no potential attempt to manipulate relatively vague language. Hey, that’s pretty interesting. But what about those who are in power and just don’t care about language?

A majority of Bhuttos book seeks to provide ample evidence and support that Islam and democracy are not only compatible, they are seemingly mutually supportive of each other. And she does. She provides a wide analysis over Europe and the Middle East, discussing the Cold War in reference to the Western ideologies fundamentalists insist have been thrust upon Muslims. Her work is concrete, her arguments secure, and her aims achieved, yet what comes next? What happens after we have recited the history? What happens when we readers acknowledge the Quran supports gender equality, works in conjunction with democracy, embraces Christians and Jews as believers in God? Yes, Bhutto outlines the paradox between Christian and Muslim growth during the Dark Ages and how Muslim rule and the Ottoman Empire later on prohibited the flourishment of knowledge  when Europe had finally caught on? How printing presses were forbidden from most of the Middle East?

Bhutto’s aim is to creat awareness, to illustrate the Quran urges Muslims to think for themselves, to interpret and reinterpret and reinterpret the Quran again and again in their modern context. She appropriately points out that Muslims are the only religion solely shackled to their “barbaric past”. For example, Christians are not discussed in regards to the Crusades and Inquisition she says, but have moved past those times in regards to image and acceptance in the world. Why hasn’t Islam?

Bhutto, yes, seeks to reconcile Islam with the remainder of the world, but another one of her themes/messages is the interconnection of all religions. One of the most interesting, and what I feel many would consider provocative, quotes of her book explained a historical perception of Islam and its followers.

“Therefore, when the British Empire was at its zenith and the sun never set on it, the British decided to call Muslims ‘Mohammedans,’ followers of the Prophet Mohommad. This was done to differentiate ‘Mohommedans’ from the followers of Christ and Moses, who also by virtue of worshiping on god could have been described as ‘Muslim.'”

So in essence, all three religions are familial? So why all the intensity, all the divergence, all the hostility?

Though the internet, youtube, cnn, and other sources are flooded with praise and remembrance of the assassinated leader, some articles still surface decrying Bhutto’s political achievements. Tariq Ali, a known critic of Bhutto’s, cited less than 24 hours after her death that Bhutto lacked the political courage to stand up to Washington and the West and seemingly portrayed the image of the democratic, Western-approving, moderate Muslim that the West wanted to embrace. In his political eulogy of Bhutto, Ali states he first met her when she was a teenager and was not much of a politician.

Her father’s death transformed her. She had become a new person, determined to take on the military dictator of that time. She had moved to a tiny flat in London, where we would endlessly discuss the future of the country. She would agree that land reforms, mass education programmes, a health service and an independent foreign policy were positive constructive aims and crucial if the country was to be saved from the vultures in and out of uniform. Her constituency was the poor, and she was proud of the fact. –

Ali coldly inserted his own, final criticism of Bhutto and her politics in that article, stating:

Benazir’s horrific death should give her colleagues pause for reflection. To be dependent on a person or a family may be necessary at certain times, but it is a structural weakness, not a strength for a political organisation. The People’s party needs to be refounded as a modern and democratic organisation, open to honest debate and discussion, defending social and human rights, uniting the many disparate groups and individuals in Pakistan desperate for any halfway decent alternative, and coming forward with concrete proposals to stabilise occupied and war-torn Afghanistan. This can and should be done. The Bhutto family should not be asked for any more sacrifices.

He felt Bhutto was betraying the people to a degree by “selling out” to Washington, by transforming the PPP into the “Bhutto party”, and by having the people rely on her rather than on the party as a whole. He felt that Bhutto was going to reinstate a degree of monarchy almost, especially since she came from a politically-centered family. Think the Kennedys of Pakistan.

A few months before her death, Ali commented on Bhutto’s true interests, her ability to read the people.

He alludes she and her husband went into exile not because of her fear of Musharref, but because of widespread corruption charges. Oh dear.

But it should be acknowledged that Benazir Bhutto’s approach is not the result of a sudden illumination. There is a twisted continuity here. When the general seized power in 1999 and toppled the Sharif brothers (then Benazir’s detested rivals), she welcomed the coup and nurtured hopes of a ministerial post. When no invitations were forthcoming, she would turn up at the desk of a junior in the South Asian section of the State Department, pleading for a job. Instead the military charged her and her husband with graft and corruption. The evidence was overwhelming. She decided to stay in exile.

Alright. I’ve most obviously never met Bhutto, nor will I ever. And I’ve only read one of her books. And yes, yes the fact she’s the first woman prime minister really appeals to me, as I’m sure you can guess. So I’m going to stick on her side. First of all, charges were never proven, nor were they when she returned eight years later. Secondly, Ali is clearly usign the manner in which he writes/his sentence structure to allude to Bhutto’s “disgraceful” conduct as reason for fleeing Pakistan. How about fear for her life, which did not dissolve over the next eight years but intensified? How about fear of becoming a political liability or contender, and thus being someone who might be eliminated?

Peter Blood also was relatively critical of Bhutto in his book Pakistan: A Country Study in 1994. Of her first term as prime minister, Blood states

Although she was successful in advancing the democratization process in Pakistani politics and was able to achieve warmer relations with the United States and, for a short while, with India as well, Benazir’s first term in office is usually looked back upon, by both foreign and domestic observers, as ineffectual–a period of governmental instability. Within months she had lost much of her political support.

Perhaps somewhat due to her more moderate appeal to the West, Blood also states:

The public’s sense of disillusionment deepened as the government failed to deliver its promised employment and economic development programs. Inflation and unemployment were high, and the country’s burgeoning population put increased pressure on already overburdened education and health systems. The government also failed to deal with the country’s growing drug abuse problem, and there was opposition from religious conservatives who distrusted the degree of Benazir’s commitment to the state’s Islamic principles.

Just a quick question here. Blood highlights the political balance Bhutto had to play and the opposition she had to fend off. She also had to maintain a path that would keep the army neutral and therefore relatively in support of her. In America, when we have a divided government, do we place all of the blame on the President for being unable to pass legislation? No. We say, he (because up to this point America refuses to elect a woman) should have been a little more bipartisan, but it’s the so-and-sos (I’d like to input Republicans in here, but it can sometimes be Democrats) in Congress who are holding up progress and preventing the government from doing anything. So why are the failures Bhutto inherited all her fault? Are we blaming Obama for the wars in Iraq and Afghansitan? Not yet… Are we blaming him for the state of the economy, or at least were we way back when? Nope. So why does Bhutto, the face of change (god, that’s a catchy saying) come under such complete condemnation?

Me being me, I would like to venture it’s because she’s a woman. I’m just gonna go out on a limb and say that her gender played somewhat of a role. People feared she was not being loyal enough to Islam? Was this as a result of her wearing makeup? Of her speaking out? Of her becoming a political heavyweight in a man’s world? Okay, so I have this admiration for Anne Boleyn and somehow I kept thinking of her when I was reading Bhutto’s  book and the opposition she faced. I have to say, part of the reason both women were murdered was because of their uniqueness, their “audacity” in climbing so high and reaching so far in a world that typically viewed their gender as possessions. Women in Pakistan are still murdered in “honor killings”. The Taliban is increasingly targeting Pakistan and suicide bombings are near daily events. It shouldn’t be surprising (though still disheartening) that schools for women are being destroyed, women are indiscriminately attacked. Reuters in October posted a semi-blog article discussing women in Pakistan. They’re trying to instill fear in women. Bhutto showed no fear, even when she knew the chances of her death were great. Who then killed Bhutto? Was it Musharref and his men? Was in the Taliban or a terrorist organization? If Bhutto were a man, would she have been such a threat?

Unlike other books, I feel as though Bhutto had specific policies and plans outlined in order to make progress and make a change. Most authors suggest a new discourse, a new round table, and aiding democracy, but fail to include more specific methods of implementing such change. A majority of Bhutto’s suggestions emphasize the disparity between women’s and men’s rights in Muslim-majority countries, including but not limited to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan. Of first priority is education. Bhutto specifically states there will be no chance at democracy without the rise of a middle class. Education is the avenue to enhance not only the economic means of the people, but also the inspiration and ability to see different possibilities. Bhutto states Pakistan, and other countries, need to instill a compulsory educational system, specifically stating “for all citizens, all classes, and both sexes.” (Bhutto 285) Bhutto also discusses the dangers in madrassas that have led to extremists; poor families send their sons to be educated in madrassas  because that is the only avenue they have. But, like she specifically discusses in her analysis of the Quran, Bhutto specifically states both sexes need to be included in this mandatory education.

In regards to establishing democracy, Bhutto continued to highlight the necessity of helping women in order to help countries. She points to Bangladesh and the use of microfinance as an acceptable and potential avenue. While I agree with a majority of Bhutto’s points and suggestions, one hit me a little bit awkwardly. Bhutto discussed the widespread illiteracy of populations and stated “it is known that literate mothers raise literate children. One of the most efficient ways to dent illiteracy in society is to educate mothers.” (Bhutto 289) Okay… let’s step back for a minute. Yes, literacy is important. And yes, I am for increased literacy of women. But Bhutto’s statement 1) nullifies parts of her argument for widespread, mandatory education and 2) does much to undermine her arguments for women entering the workforce and establishing economic independence.  We’re working towards gender equality, aren’t we? So why are we emphasizing that literate mothers will lead to literate children? Where are the literate fathers in this situation? Out making the money? What about the teachers, will they be men or women? If women and men are both able to have economic independence, why should we expect more women to stay home and educate their children? Oh, wait that’s how it is. But isn’t this another version, a “democratized” version of gender oppression, glorified by the notion women will have a choice? This statement threw me for a loop, through a loop, something something loop. Whatever the saying is. But doesn’t this smack of the image of the pure, Victorian mother who was responsible for the morality and guidance of her family? Yes, mothers are important. Yes, family is important and yes family time is great. But how is this statement, this declaration, progressive? And why are my housemates burning popcorn?

More importantly, what does a statement like this say to the women followers of Bhutto? The women that looked, and still look, to this women as a role model, a very rare female role model in the Muslim world? That even when they are “liberated” they are still charged with the responsibility of the “motherly” role. What about the role of the wife then? Does that disappear? How are we to promote change when we are still relying on centuries-old gender roles? And when are these literate mothers supossed to help the literacy of their kids? During the day when they’re stay at home moms? Or after work at night when they come home to the second shift? Just this one statement, yes only one, was very disheartening and just unravelled a degree of my confidence in this book and in Bhutto’s suggestions.

The voices in the background are yelling “Jeay Bhutto!” which means “Long Live Bhutto!” The young men on the back of her car are just as she describes in the opening pages of her book, those young brave men who formed a human shield for her. She was the hope and the future for the people, and the people answered her call.

Keep your eye on Bhutto, she is wearing purple with a white hijab/scarf.

And so, December 27, 2007 witnessed the end of the potential for a new Pakistan, for Bhutto to come again to power in Pakistan. All that I can think of are “what ifs”. What if she had lived? What if she had won? What if she had lost? What if, what if, what if.

There’s no great way to end this post, so I will let Bhutto speak for herself:

I make these recommendations because the times require something more than business as usual. Much of what is recommended is somewhat out of the box. But staying within the box has brought poverty, ignorance, hopelessness, violence, and dictatorship to far too many Muslims around the world. Staying within the box has set Islam and the West on a dangerous and unnecessary collision course. It is time for new ideas. It is time for creativity. It is time for bold commitment. And it is time for honesty, both among people and between people. That is what I have tried to do in these pages. There has been enough pain. It is time for reconciliation. (Bhutto 317-318)


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