Bloodstained memorials to a life
IT is impossible to read Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West without being starkly conscious of the dramatic events that preceded its publication. It was completed, so we are told, last year, on the same December morning its author was assassinated during her campaign to regain the prime ministership of Pakistan. And in the opening chapter, Bhutto describes how the manuscript itself was maimed during the homecoming parade in Karachi that ended her years of exile.
A suicide bombing killed 179 people at that parade, which Bhutto survived, in part thanks to the young men who acted as human shields to protect her. As she describes: ‘‘ Within hours of my reaching Pakistan, some of the pages of this book would be symbolically charred by fire and splattered with the blood and flesh of disembodied innocents thrown up by devastating terrorist bombs.’’
No doubt this image of the blood- consecrated manuscript is intended to impress the importance of its message on the reader. But it had the opposite effect on me; I physically recoiled and slammed the book shut. And I remembered Asif, one of the young men who Bhutto’s political party had sought to recruit as they trawled the country from one end to the other in search of people who could be persuaded or paid to attend her grand homecoming. Asif’s disdain for such offers turned to outright disgust after the parade’s bloody conclusion. ‘‘ They offered to pay us. Pay us to travel all that way, just to be killed.’’
In the end, Bhutto paid for her political ambitions with her life. But it is worth remembering that she was prepared to pay with the lives of others as well, regarding with apparent equanimity a security strategy that consisted of insulating herself with a generous layer of bodies belonging to people whose loyalty she extolled but whose lives she does not seem to have valued highly.
Two strands run through Reconciliation . The first outlines Bhutto’s personal political philosophy. Here, she rejects claims by Muslims and non- Muslims that Islamic and Western values are fundamentally incompatible. Bhutto and her collaborator Mark Siegel cobble together evidence from a range of Muslim scholars to argue that Islam in essence is democratic in spirit, tolerant of other religions and supportive of women’s rights.
There is a lengthy repudiation of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilisations thesis, which