Benazir's Legacy By Mark Siegel
By MARK A. SIEGEL, Wall Street Journal February 16, 2008
This week's publication of Benazir Bhutto's "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West" is bittersweet to me, her friend and collaborator on the book, which was written in her last days. Many mullahs may hate the book, but so might many in the U.S. State Department. It takes on both the West and the Islamic world equally, exposing the dysfunctions of their respective world views, and puts Pakistan at the epicenter of the dual crises that were Benazir's themes -- the internal crisis within Islam and the crisis between Islam and the West.
Benazir and I worked on this project over the last very difficult days of her life, through assassination attempts, house arrest, emergency rule, martial law and constant harassment and intimidation. We had reason to know that all of our conversations and email exchanges were intercepted and monitored by the Musharraf regime. What we could not know, of course, was that this book would become Benazir's untimely final legacy.
Benazir believed that the international terrorist movement has two primary aims. First, the jihadists seek to reconstitute the concept of the caliphate, politically uniting the great Muslim populations of the world. Second, they seek to provoke the much debated clash of civilizations between Western values and Islam that they hope will result in the domination of a medieval interpretation of Islam that rejects modernity and pluralism. Benazir hoped to pre-empt this collision through reconciliation with the West and mobilization of the moderates within the world's 1.4 billion Muslims.
Benazir was critical of Western governments that in the past helped Muslim monarchs and dictators suffocate democratic movements and democratic governance. But she condemns Muslim hypocrisy as well. She says that while one billion Muslims around the world seem united in their outrage at the war in Iraq and the deaths of Muslims caused by U.S. military intervention, there is little similar outrage against the sectarian civil war in Iraq that has led to far more casualties. Benazir castigates Muslim leaders and intellectuals for criticizing harm inflicted on fellow Muslims by the West, but remaining deadly silent when confronted with Muslim-on-Muslim violence. She finds the Muslim community's silence about genocide in Darfur particularly reprehensible.
In her book, Benazir seeks to educate the West about what she believed to be the true nature of Islam. From the core of her being she rejects those who would use Islam to justify acts of terror; who pervert, manipulate and exploit religion for their political agendas. Chronicling and cataloging their assertions against democracy, pluralism, tolerance to other religions and societies, equality for women, and rejection of technology and modernity, she shows through specific citations of the Quran that the jihadist interpretations are not only antithetical to Islam but specifically prohibited by it.
Benazir believed that extremism thrives under dictatorship, and is nurtured and fueled by it. She believed that when people lose faith in the political process, frustration and despair lead them to reach out to extra-governmental solutions. That is exactly what she believed is happening in Pakistan today. The U.S. is once again "dancing with a dictator" by supporting President Pervez Musharraf, a policy that will come back to haunt America. Despite the administration casting its lot with a military dictator, extremism has flourished.
Benazir Bhutto and I collaborated on "Reconciliation" while she planned her return to Pakistan to contest parliamentary elections that all polls indicated she would win. Mr. Musharraf repeatedly denied requests for meaningful security for Benazir, even after the heinous assassination attempt against her on Oct. 19 that left 179 dead. The State Department continued to dismiss repeated expressions of concern about her safety. When Congress sent letters and made phone calls, Congress was ignored.
And on Dec. 27 Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi, in the heart of the nation's military garrison. On Monday Pakistan will hold the national elections for which Benazir returned. The U.S. Congress has demanded that these elections be free, fair, transparent and internationally monitored. The U.S. State Department however, seems content to concede that the elections will not be free and fair but still (somehow) "good." In Islamabad these words are seen as a green light to rig with impunity.
Benazir Bhutto gave her life for the principles in which she believed. It is time for the Bush administration to tell Mr. Musharraf that anything less than free and fair elections is unacceptable and that an electoral fraud will not stand.
Mr. Siegel collaborated with Benazir Bhutto on the recently published book "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West" (Harper). He is a partner at Locke Lord Strategies in Washington, D.C.