Thursday, December 27, 2007

Martyr for Democracy

Benazir Bhutto was one of the most authentic political leaders I have ever met.

Our single meeting lasted only about two hours, but in that brief time I came to know Mrs. Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan who was assassinated by a terrorist earlier today, as warm, intelligent, and fervently dedicated to the restoration of democracy in her homeland. What's more, she was both modest and unassuming despite her clear intellectual and emotional strengths.

Her modesty was apparent, if through nothing else, then through the setting of our meeting. A colleague and I were invited to meet with her in the living room of a Fairfax County townhouse. She graciously offered us tea, which she served herself; there was no entourage present, no servants, no hangers-on. In the adjacent kitchen, a supporter made dinner while a couple of toddlers watched cartoons on television. Our conversation was periodically punctuated by giggles from a few feet away, and the atmosphere was enhanced by the aroma of a homemade Pakistani meal in the oven.

Through the course of our conversation, Bhutto displayed a firm grasp of international affairs and of U.S. government policy toward the Middle East and South Asia. Her commitment to democracy and her refusal to concede that the Muslim world lacks the capacity to participate in modernity were apparent. She was quiet and reflective yet firm in her well-informed opinions.

Although Pakistan is not my regular "beat" as a writer or consultant, I had been following Bhutto's election campaign with particular interest. Just yesterday, I was part of a team that launched a web site for Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party to raise campaign funds world wide. Less than 18 hours ago, I was distributing a news release that contained an optimistic statement from her with regard to her party's January 8 election prospects.

Needless to say, waking up to the news this morning of Benazir's murder was emotionally numbing. My colleagues and I are still trying to process the information, much of which arrived in chaotic bits and pieces through CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC.

Benazir Bhutto -- the first female leader of a government in a Muslim country, Harvard-educated, Western-oriented, wise, and warm -- was truly a martyr for democracy. Her loss is a loss for her family, for the people of Pakistan, and for the world.


D.J. McGuire said...

Ouch, I feel for you, Rick.

As much as I hate to ask, do we know if the PPP can regroup. I know it seems, well, unseemly, to move on so quickly, but I'm guessing Ms. Bhutto would have wanted us to.

Anonymous said...

I didn't hear the news until this afternoon. Thank you so much for providing another glimpse into her life. I'm so sorry.

Leslie Carbone said...

Thanks for these memories, Rick. Any personal encounter with someone, no matter how brief, creates a bond. I'm so sorry for this loss.

Ron Paul of Virginia said...


Please do not take this post the wrong way. I do sympathize for this woman's death. I have the greatest respect for life. However, can we really call her the Martyr of Democracy? I looked at the website for the PPP and it says that the express goals are "application of socialistic ideas to realize economic and social justice."

Isn't that a code for progressive socialism? Steal property from the rich and give to the poor? An anti-democratic ideal? What makes her pro-democracy?

Also, it is this incident that bolsters what Ron Paul has been saying about removing ourselves from the internal affairs of another nation. My recollection is that the U.S. propped up Musharraf and helped him get into power to begin with? No one is talking about it.

Steve Foerster said...

Thanks, Rick, for an interesting and personal take on this tragedy. As for whether Ms Bhutto is a martyr for democracy, it's important to remember that democracy and liberty are separate values that don't have to overlap.

Anonymous said...

William Dalrymple has a very different take on Benazir Bhutto:

Pakistan's flawed and feudal princess.

And I've read other articles in a similar vein.

Rick, I suggest you're way off beam on this one.

Tree hugging said...

Ron Paul of Virginia,

You make the common mistake of confusing a economic system with a political one. The opposite of socialism is Capitalism, not democracy. There are many democratic socialist nations, including France. In fact, many American programs including social security, Medicare, child labor laws, and even the blue ridge parkway (built by the CCC) are all technically "socialist" and yet the U.S. is still a Democratic nation.

I've no idea what the PPP really stands for, but if we are really serious about promoting democracy in the world then we need to stop assuming that ours is the best and only possible form.

Anonymous said...

I can’t believe that she was assassinated by a 15-year-old! What a shock! This is a crazy part of the world, and we are going to have to reassess our handling of such situations. I have spoken with several people from the middle east, and they all say that she was assassinated because it would be a major blow to the Americans. What are we doing wrong?

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