Benazir Bhutto’s last book ‘Reconciliation – Islam, Democracy and the West’ is actually her political will. I am not sure whether Asif and other PPP leaders would be able to rise to the challenge. As this will is actually her political vision. It is quite evident to the reader of her book that she had the vision to reconcile the present gulf between Islam and the West, starting from Pakistan. Her eyes were set not only on Pakistan, but on the Muslim Countries leadership. A tall order, but then, she was courageous and believed in taking challenges. She proved this by giving her life in fight against extremism.
Essentially Benazir Bhutto has taken a position in the ongoing debate on Islam, democracy and the West. She has also joined the discourse initiated by Samuel Huntington’s notorious Clash of Civilisation theory. She says ‘clearly I am a reconciliationist’ as against the ‘clashers.’ The ‘clasher,’ she has maintained, are those ‘who believe in the inevitability of the conflict’ between Civilisations. This serious polemics is interspersed with her political experience as an opposition leader; two-time prime minister; pride in her family’s contribution; and “The Path Back’ to Pakistan after a long self-exile, which was of course laden with a threat to her life.
Let’s first take a peep in the chapters which, it seems, are based on the papers she had presented at various universities and institutions during her stay abroad. Naturally the audience of these chapters is the Westerners. She believed West is misled by theories like clash of civilisation and by some of the scholars who have neither understood Islam, nor the developments in Muslim societies.
In her chapter ‘The Battle with Islam: Democracy Versus Dictatorship, Moderation Versus Extremism’ first thing that strikes a reader is that she was a devout Muslim who wanted to defend her faith against the perception in the West. Much of this perception is the result of 9/11. She has taken notice of this: “Al Qaeda desperately tried to provoke the notorious clash of civilisations that has been prophesized years before.”
She supports her discussion on issues like Jihad, pluralism, choice of religion, women’s rights, suicide and terrorism with extensive references from modern theological debate and quotations from Quran and Ahadis. Impressively she has kept herself abreast about the contemporary debate between Muslim and non-Muslim scholars in spite of her political and maternal engagements. But in pursuit to find her answers in theology she has treaded the path where both Muslim scholars and the secularist would be able to find many pitfalls in her argument.
For instance as she was presenting it to the West, she has laid emphasis on the tolerance in Islam for Judaism and Christianity. This tolerance is for monotheist religions provided they accept the superiority of the Muslim and pay special protection tax, while idolaters are to be slain by the Muslims. In today’s world this is against the spirit of democracy. Similarly her argument that Islam gives a person choice of religion is against the reality, as a born or a converted Muslim cannot leave Islam.
Similarly her argument on Jihad is weak as the issue is who would decide about what is a just war and unjust war. The Ulema who give fatwas believe Taliban and Iraqis are fighting a just war, as they are defending their homeland against foreign aggression. Al Qaeda believes killing the Western civilians and their supporters in the Muslim countries is part of a just Jihad. The US government doesn’t call it a Jihad but is fighting in Iraq, thousands of miles away from their homeland calling it a just war for democracy. So the whole issue has to be decided in the framework of international law in these days, segregating it from religious edict. Otherwise there would be no peace.
Next Benazir has forcefully and adequately destroyed edifice of “(What) Conventional wisdom would have us believe that democracy has failed to develop in the Muslim world because of Islam itself.” In her chapter on ‘Islam and Democracy: History and Practice,” she has given examples of a number of Muslim countries where democratic process was sabotaged by the West itself. Her basic argument is that much of the problem in the Muslim countries has been because of distortions caused by the colonial rule and interference. She rightly believes and endorses the argument that “freedom and liberty are universal values that can be applied across cultures, societies, religions, ethnic groups and individual national experience. Democracy is not inherently Western value; it is a universal value.”
I would like to first move to the 5th Chapter on “Is the Clash of Civilisation Inevitable?” We shall deal with the 4th chapter which is on “The Case of Pakistan” later, as I think the Editor of the book has not sequenced the chapters logically. Benazir Bhutto has debunked the theory of class of civilisation. She has traced back this half-baked proposition to Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Like a research scholar she has studied important debate on this issue closely and refuted it. She has pointed out: “It is the value of tolerance that will be the deciding factor between the forces of extremism and forces of moderation, between the forces of dictatorship and the forces of democracy …. Between inflexible traditionalism and adaptable modernity. In other words, the real clash within and outside Islam is a battle between the past and the future. She feels that globalisation may be the most fundamental element of conflict resolution.”
In the concluding chapter ‘Reconciliation’ she emerges as a leader who has global issues understanding. She gives her vision for the Muslim countries, Pakistan included,” Her recipe includes: building of middle classes to strengthen democracy, raising level of education, women empowerment, banning militant madrassas, inculcating tolerance with the help of reformist thinkers of Islam, promoting micro-financing, involving civil society in developmental work, setting up investment funds like Alaska Permanent Fund and Norway Pension Fund, a fund on the pattern of Marshal Fund to support the Muslim countries as “the west must acknowledge the residual damage of colonialism.”
Now coming back to what she has written about Pakistan in this book is mostly known to the readers because she had dealt with these issues in speeches. But just a few points need to be mentioned. Those who had doubts about the will of BB in which she appointed Asif as Chairman of the party and those who used to say that the relations between them strained would be disappointed. She has referred to him quite lovingly and acknowledged his support and her love for him, though subtly.
However she has been somewhat pompous about her family’s contribution and has shied away from admitting PPP’s mistakes since it was founded. Her party has now apologised for excesses by the Central government in Balochistan, but BB did not show any regret for launching a Military operation in the 1970s. Similarly, she has tried to justify PPP’s stand in Bangladesh. On restoration of judiciary she has been evasive. A couple of historical inaccuracies have crept in when she has dealt with issues which her party had faltered.
She has blamed the West and Army for not letting democracy flourish in Pakistan. BB’s vision was to steer Pakistan out from dictatorship through a reconciliatory process instead of a clash. Many drawing room critics opposed this reconciliatory policy. But if they will read her book they will realise that she had bigger domestic and international challenges on her mind and had belief that this is no time for a clash. The way forward spelt by her is reconciliation and moving ahead step by step. So far it seems Asif has towed his better-half’s line. He accepted this with grace that she was indeed the better-half in this male chauvinistic world.
The book has been published hurriedly by Simon and Schuster perhaps because BB’s assassination made it a hot item. But this resulted in editing lapses like repetition of some incidences. The publisher is the same who had the good fortune of publishing ‘In the Line of Fire’ by President Musharraf. (firstname.lastname@example.org)