One more act of senseless violence greets us in the Muslim world this week. One more suicide bomber or assassin, or whatever we can call them these days, kills others and himself in a moment of premeditated madness.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is tragic. There can be no doubt about that. But what shocks me today, as I am shocked on a daily basis with the stream of murders and suicides in Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and so many other countries is this nagging question: Where on earth do they find them?? Where on earth do the plotters and schemers find so many willing men and women of young age to mould into their insane vision of the world? How did those who planned this latest act of violence stumble upon this latest specimen of misguided fervour and convince him (at least it seems to be a him at the time of writing) to go and end his life by assassinating a mother of three children. How did they get through to this guy? And more importantly, why is it so goddamn easy to find self-terminating assassins in our region?
I am outraged as I was outraged on the day I witnessed the mothers, fathers and grandfathers grieving for their loved ones in an Amman hospital after the massacres of the inverted 9/11 (in Jordan, it was 11/9 if one follows the American date method, and proof that the killers and blood suckers infesting our region have a rather bizarre and morbid sense of humour that, I guess, makes some weird sense to the lunatics in our midst).
I am as outraged as I was in the summer of 2005 when a bunch of lunatics in Sharm El Sheikh drove their bomb-laden cars into a crowd of underpaid workers who apparently were not allowed the simple pleasure of a cup of coffee at the end of a long working day.
I am outraged as I was when I heard this last summer that a Jordanian Neurosurgeon thought that the best way to make use of his years of study and research is to go and bomb the world and all that is in it outside the Tiger Tiger club in Piccadilly.
Now, some of the readers will say: “Oh, come on, that’s not totally accurate; you are comparing the murders of innocent civilians with a targeted assassination of a leader who some Pakistanis discredit … etc.” But that is not the point.
I remain positive about Benazir Bhutto and what she represented. She represented a tolerant, democratic and liberal strand of leadership that is rare in our region; this stands regardless of any other questions about her political record. Her assassination was conducted in a way that was guaranteed to kill many of her average supporters, and it succeeded. Therefore, this act follows the same style as the various massacres in recent history in our region. It is once again proof of the point that I have expressed on previous occasions: Al Qaeda and all other strands of extreme so-called “jihadists” have us as their first target. By us, I mean people like me, like Benazir Bhutto, who believed and still believe with all their being that Islam is truly moderate in its core; that Islam is about justice and freedom, before traditions of some form or method of prayer or eating habits. These extremists want to kill progressive Islam, and they have more passion toward this goal than toward any of their claims of seeking to destroy colonialists or Zionists.
What worries me deeply is that, among us Muslims, it seems that guns and bombs are now the only form of true political debate. It seems, when passions run high, as they do between the two remaining strands of politics in our region (liberalism vs. Disfigured Islamism), the only real language we speak is the language of death. Politicians do not debate in parliaments or newspapers; instead, editors and parliamentarians are bombed into smithereens on the streets of Beirut, Rawalpindi, Baghdad and almost every other city where there is a real political debate taking place.
As I watched the unfolding news stories, two thoughts occupied my mind. Firstly, I thought of the two occasions on which I saw Benazir Bhutto in person. I remembered that time a few years ago when I saw Benazir and her family having lunch in a modest restaurant in one of the few understated shopping malls in Dubai. I debated with myself as to whether I should go up to her and ask to interview her for an article, and ended up deciding not to do it, as I tend to do whenever I am faced with celebrity that I truly admire. The other occasion was a speech she gave in the Abu Dhabi Leadership Summit in November 2005. I thought of how much she spoke of her father and how proud her father was of her, and how he encouraged her to realize her potential. And I thought of her and her father having now faced the same Middle Eastern fate that is the region’s special treat for the outspoken politician. The memory of her treasured relationship with her father made me think of my own young daughters and the world they are a part of.
Secondly, I thought of Robert Kennedy. As I watched the footage of mayhem and death, sentences from a speech of Robert Kennedy’s played like a reel in my head. As corny as this may sound, I felt the speech being played live in my head as Emilio Estevez did to such a great effect in the last sequence in the film “Bobby.” I am not sure if I am being too self-critical as an Muslim when I say that, at times like these, I genuinely cannot think of recent Muslim leaders who had the eloquence of Bobby.
The speech that played in my head, titled “On the Mindless Menace of Violence,” is probably one of the best political speeches in history, particularly in light of its context (Robert Kennedy speaking with the memory of his brother’s assassination in the not so distant memory, and in a sad prophetic way foretelling his own assassination). This speech should become compulsive reading in every class room in the Muslim world. Perhaps such words, if taught early, could reduce the number of suicide volunteers that are multiplying across the width and breadth of the Muslim world:
Robert Kennedy: “It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on …
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet.
No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason … whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”
…. Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
… When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.
…. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something “ (For the full text of the speech, please check www.rfkmemorial.org )