Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

The end of the year forces reflection, not just about ourselves, but on the state of the world. The Bhutto assassination last week paints in stark colors the problems between conventional thinking and the reality of matters. This problem – the problem of the lack of critical thinking regarding important and relevant issues clouds everything. It is the reason that America, as it pretends to lead the world forward into the 20th century, mimes a child locked in a closet trying to find his way out. It is the reason that we think that talking about our problems of oil, energy, money, and industry will fix issues. It is everything. Everything we fail to confront – at home, abroad, and in ourselves. This musing is the first of an occasional attack on conventional thinking (nothing new here).

Al-Qaeda, Bhutto, and Conspiracies

I think what is difficult for many to swallow in the playing over and over on the networks of the noblest words of Ms. Bhutto is that she, like many politicians, has some disturbing compromises about her, and her assassination and the willingness of Pakistanis to kill one of their own is a testament, a living effigy, of American-style Western democracy attempting to impose itself on cultures shaped and carved by tribalism, autocracy, and seamless notions of Church and State.

Ms. Bhutto died for three strikes:

1) She was an active, public woman in a country with a sizable group of denizens who don’t believe that women belong anywhere but in their own homes, only able to leave the home, drive a car, or bare their hair at a man’s bidding. Without encountering the truth (or falsity – these notions of “right/wrong” driven by the Sean Hannitys of the world are precisely what gets us in trouble all the time) of these points of view, we can understand why these people wanted to kill her. Understanding is not justifying. No woman should ever be killed for trying to lead a family, city, country, or world. Americans think that's absurd. But that's our Western point of view. We don’t believe in killing those who are out of step with our established philosophical norms (within reason).

2) She espoused the separation of Church and State. This allegedly “American” ideal (allegedly, because it is found in no founding (Declaration of Independence) or governing (Articles of Confederation, the Constitution) document of the United States, but only in a letter of Jefferson to a private citizen) causes major grief in Islamic countries. This idea, not even a given here in the United States, is utterly rejected in the majority of the Muslim world. Those of us who are not Muslim are not fit to comment on the relevance of the political ramifications of what the Qu’ran demands. What we can comment on, as by-and-large inheritors of Judaism and Christianity, is how silly it is to imagine that real life is some monolithic creation that has walls that allow for clear delineations that obviate interaction and conflict between intersecting spheres. We allow religious organizations to have tax-exempt status, fire employees due to their failure to adhere to religious norms (out of wedlock pregnant teachers routinely are fired in Catholic schools, and subsequent lawsuits are never won by the plaintiffs), stamp our coins with “in God we trust”, prosecute those who kill pregnant women as killing 2 people, and the kicker, the fact that no US President since T.R. has ended a major speech with anything other than “God bless America”, and pretend to pretend that religion has nothing to do with the state, governing, or common sense.

What those on either side of the Church/State debate (those who favor a unitive vision – with the Church always having a hand in politics vs. those who favor an exclusive vison – with the Church having an unprotected role in society) would do well to consider is that human nature is what it is, and will always be. You will never be able to force anyone to do anything when it wanders from the everyday simple expediencies of food, clothing, and shelter. While questions of abortion, stem cell research, gay marriage, public education, and the death penalty are important and are as such are worthy of national debate, the solutions will never be imposed from above. Those who scream most vehemently about the separation of Church and State would attempt to impose on all of us their (often non-religious) views on these issues. In this attempt they are undermining the very tolerance they so desperately (say they are) seeking. Surely, morality is not arbitrary (and yes, Virginia, these are moral issues) but to think that such important matters will be fixed with a stroke of pen is to misunderstand the very reason for debate – to articulate real points of debate and to understand that when matters are decided by a public vote or by autocratic fiat that there will always be those who disagree who will articulate (not always tactfully, kindly, or compellingly) the opposite view. Has history not taught us that tolerance, within appropriate bounds, is the best way to deal with difficult issues on the way to a resolution?

3) She wanted American forces to have free passage throughout Pakistan to ferret out terrorist elements. This is again part of the oft-reported misrepresentation of Ron Paul’s point in a debate which Giuliani so thoughtlessly knee-jerk responded to: “They didn’t attack us because they hate our freedoms, they attacked us because we’re over there!” Giuliani’s subsequent calling of this idea as “ridiculous” drew thunderous applause from the mostly jingoist talk-radio listening crowd. I hesitate to say they are Republican crowds, for to paraphrase a Christmas song, “What Party is this?” Pat Robertson endorses a pro-abortion candidate (remember, Robertson claimed that the September 11th attacks occurred because of America’s lax attitudes towards homosexuality and abortion. No grandstanding remarks from Giuliani here about “ridiculous” explanations for September 11th.), no one in the party establishment admits to overspending, and imperial overreach is at a new all-time high. Since when is it “conservative” to say that we will be in a war without foreseeable ends or benchmarks for success or real enemies? Bhutto would have allowed US forces, for better or for worse, to penetrate Pakistan’s interior, and Al-Qaeda would have none of that.

What is an afterthought in her death but would have been in the foreground should she have proceeded to what would have easily been (by all accounts) a landslide election, had she lived, is what a Bill Clinton (in his corruption, not his lechery) her husband would have been to her.

What? Yes. Does the name Asif Ali Zardari resonate with anyone who has been watching the recent wall-to-wall on the cable news about Bhutto? Considering it’s the name of her husband, you would think so (I’d hear the lame excuse of it being a difficult name to say if I hadn’t heard the names al-Zarqawi, Khalid Sheikh Mohamad, or el-Baradei in my life) but the news media refers to him as “Bhutto’s husband”. This is because they probably don’t want people to look him up and the questionable (where there’s smoke, there’s often fire) dealings he engaged in. Those who are passionate about the utterly unconstitutional (and international-law flouting) term of “enemy combatant” would not be happy to know that there is good evidence that Zardari had private jails in which he tortured his opponents. Most don’t know that the reason Ms. Bhutto was “our man” to go into Pakistan was because she accepted as halal our policies of torture, secret wiretapping, and unbridled interventionism which once were confined to the “war on terror” (I hate even typing that stupid phrase) to a part of the new American way of life.

Had Ms. Bhutto been elected, the glare would not have been glowing as the international media (which apparently is on blackout currently) but blinding as it pointed out human rights violations, shady accounting practices, and the inability of Bhutto to convince fervent Muslims that their beliefs need to be mitigated to fit Western forms of government and society.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that Ms. Bhutto’s assassination precisely highlights that she represented change (some of it good) and that her presence is intolerable. The reason we are “surprised” in the United States is because it’s been so long since we’ve had leaders “worth” assassinating. And if we remember that 2008 is 40 years since we lost Bobby Kennedy and MLK, we’ll remember that America, and any country for that matter, can treat its leaders the way Pakistan did this last week. With grim death.

As the week turns to Sunday after the assassination, talk to turns to “conspiracy” and conflicting reports within Musharraf’s own government as to the cause of death. I would argue that the cause is far less relevant than who is being blamed for the attack: Al-Qaeda.

If most Americans gave a damn about how their names were being used worldwide or how their tax dollars are being spent, they would have taken the 5 seconds of research necessary to discover that Al-Qaeda did not spring out of the earth like Athena sprung out of Zeus’ head, adorned for battle. Al-Qaeda’s beginnings are murky, but they have much to do with Pakistan’s own ISI and its primogenitor, or at the very least, rich older avunculus, the CIA.

Musharraf, who Bhutto herself named as the culprit should she be found dead would logically place blame on America’s so-called Public Enemy #1. The problem is that means the trail leads right back to, in part, his own intelligence services. That we helped develop.

Huntington Beach, California

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