Osama bin Laden probably does not get home delivery of Parade but more than 30 million Americans do. And on the magazine’s cover last Sunday was the not-quite-smiling face of Benazir Bhutto, along with this confident quote: “I am what the terrorists most fear.”
By the time Bhutto’s image and words reached America’s breakfast tables, she was, of course, dead. The January 6 issue of the magazine had gone to press before Bhutto was assassinated on Dec. 27 during a campaign stop in northern Pakistan.
Not far from where she was killed are the “tribal areas” of Pakistan -- a swath of wild, mountainous territory along the Afghanistan border where al-Qaeda and its allies hold sway. Bin Laden is believed to enjoy sanctuary there. If he and other terrorists did fear Bhutto, they evidently found an effective way to deal with their fear. To slightly paraphrase Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator and mass murderer: No woman, no problem.
Did Bhutto really believe she was more of a threat to the militant Islamists than they were to her? Perhaps what she intended to signal was that, should she take power, she’d lead an all-out military offensive against al-Qaeda in Pakistan. But it’s also possible that she was expressing the too-common illusion – implied by Parade magazine -- that election campaigns are tantamount to democracy and an antidote for Islamist terrorism.
In November, Bhutto also said: "I don't believe that a true Muslim will attack me. I believe Islam forbids suicide bombings." Again, maybe she meant only to assert her interpretation of Koranic law. Surely she knew that wealthy, powerful and influential voices in the Muslim world argue that suicide bombings against infidels and apostates – including Muslim women who dare seek political power – are not merely permissible; they are a theological obligation.
Pakistan is a country with a brief, violent and fascinating history. It came into being in 1947, in the aftermath of World War II, a time when the British were relinquishing their colonial possessions. Many of India’s Muslims did not relish the prospect of minority status in predominately Hindu India. The remedy was partition: the establishment of a homeland for Indian Muslims in some of the areas in where they were in the majority.