According to her collaborator, Mark A. Siegel, Benazir Bhutto believed that two major world issues would dominate this millennium: the struggle between democracy and dictatorship and the struggle between moderation and extremism. Reconciliation, published after her death, explores these struggles from “a modern Muslim woman’s view.” It includes historical and contemporary perspectives that are critical to understanding the worldwide confrontation between Muslim extremists and the West.
Bhutto’s avowed purpose in returning home to Pakistan in 2007 was to further democracy and moderation in that country. She describes in detail her dramatic return to Karachi on October 18, after a self-imposed exile of eight years, to a tumultuous welcome by three million supporters. Their enthusiastic support reminded her of her emotional return to Pakistan in 1986, after two years abroad, when she assumed the leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Bhutto makes it clear that she understood the danger of returning to Pakistan. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP and Pakistan’s first elected prime minister, had been executed in 1979 by General Zia-ul-Haq, the military dictator who deposed him. Many of the same forces that ended democracy and conspired to kill her father and two brothers were still in power, and General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military dictator in 2007, warned that suicide squads threatened to assassinate her. Bhutto, anticipating elections scheduled for January, 2008, was willing to take a calculated risk. On October 19, 2007, the progress of her cavalcade was marked by two bomb blasts that killed almost two hundred people. She suspected that Musharraf was in collusion with her enemies, doing little to provide her security. Bhutto escaped this attempt on her life, but she was assassinated by extremists two months later, on December 27, 2007. Ironically, Siegel received the manuscript of Reconciliation on the day she died.
Bhutto devotes a chapter in Reconciliation to conflicts within the Muslim world. The Islamic world faces both internal and external crises. If the internal struggles in Muslim society are not resolved, conflicts will “degenerate into a collision course of values spilling into a clash between Islam and the West.” The history of Islam and the differences between the beliefs of the Sunnis and Shias and their various sects are many, but overriding these differences are two major tensions within Islam: democracy versus dictatorship and moderation versus extremism. Bhutto finds it ironic that moderate Muslims, who were outraged by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have little to say about Muslim-on-Muslim violence. Arguing for moderation and democracy, she debates the fundamentalists’ interpretation of the Qur՚n . She argues that the Qur՚n must be interpreted from a modern understanding of Islam and related to its historical context or a given situation. Citing the Qur՚n, Islamic scholars, and historical precedent, she argues that extremists distort the message of Islam and enforce many restrictive traditions derived from ancient tribal values or medieval interpretations of Islam. They use the Qur՚n to suppress women and enforce strict dress codes, but women are equal to men; and men, as well as women, are admonished by the Qur՚n to guard their modesty. Although terrorists call their violence jihad (holy war), jihad literally means a struggle to follow the right patheither in an internal struggle or in an external struggle that is defensive or against persecution. Historically, in a region of constant warfare, Islam outlawed war except for jihad; violence was a last resort. “Holy war” was never intended to be used again monotheists (Christians and Jews or “the people of the Book”). Indeed, today some Muslims believe that the materialism, corruption, and hedonistic values promoted in the Western-dominated media require a jihad, but armed conflict must be constrained. Osama bin Laden and other terrorists equate suicide, which is prohibited by the Qur՚n, with dying for a just cause. They want to unite the Muslim world politically and to provoke a clash of values with the West. A clash between Muslim and Western civilizations, however, is not inevitable. Islam, unlike the caricature portrayed in the Western media, is not incompatible with democracy, which is a...
(The entire section is 1788 words.)