"Despite threats of death, I will not acquiesce to tyranny, but rather lead the fight against it... I know some people will think it was naïve [to return despite death threats], but if you believe in a cause you have to pay the price." Cited in the Times Online
As I watch the wall-to-wall news coverage on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and listen to heated debates over the (ir)rationality of her controversial and ultimately fatal return to Pakistan, I keep thinking of a recent discussion on a Cameroonian internet forum where members were asked to name their heroes. To me, the word “hero” does not describe godlike, infallible or perfect human beings, but regular folks doing extra-ordinary things. In fact, it best describes flawed and even damaged individuals who are able to go beyond their flaws and fears to answer to the call of destiny not because of the absence of risk, but in spite of huge risks to life limb and liberty. The Gandhis, the Martin Luther Kings, the Mandelas and many more faceless people the world over fall in this category.
It is in this context that I interpret Benazir Bhutto's controversial decision to return to Pakistan in spite of the risk to her life, and her insistence to continue campaigning publicly even though it was obvious to everyone that this would most likely end up badly. Sure, the regular human reaction is to lament over what seems like the “waste” of a vibrant life. As one writer eloquently put it, “Benazir Bhutto's return to Pakistan had a mad recklessness about it which gives today's events a horrible inevitability”. When all is said and done, however, I think Bhutto was simply heeding to that clarion call of arms IN SPITE OF. Call it destiny, call it fate, but her actions can definitely not be attributed to a raw hunger for power, populism or naivety as many now claim.
As I write these lines, I remember those very tense and even frightening days leading up to the launching of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) in Bamenda, Cameroon on May 26, 1990 . The government of the then single-party Cameroon had declared the party and the planned launching illegal and had sent in thousands of trigger-happy troops to prevent the launching. I recall how dozens of eminent personalities (politicians, priests, etc.) trooped to Bamenda to appeal to the SDF leader, John Fru Ndi, not to “throw his life away” on a foolhardy venture. “Why are you making this your fight?” “You have lived a good life thus far, why do you want to throw it all away? “What will happen to your family if you die?” Etc., etc. But Fru Ndi stood his ground, took the risk of his life and changed Cameroonian history forever. Fru Ndi might be one of the most maligned political figures in Cameroon today, but his ability to look beyond his personal circumstance on that fateful day in 1990 has definitely earned him a well-deserved seat on the Cameroonian pantheon of history - an ordinary and even flawed human being rising up to the clarion call of history on behalf of an ideal.
Benazir Bhutto could have chosen the easy way out; she could have stayed “peacefully” in exile; she could have returned to live a “peaceful”, luxurious and anonymous life in Pakistan. But this “daughter of destiny” (title of her autobiography) refused to fade into the tapestry because she didn’t want to live a lie; she answered to the call of history and destiny, in spite of her fears and flaws and the risks. Franz Fanon famously once said that "each generation, out of relative obscurity, must discover its destiny and either fulfill or betray it." Only history will tell us if Benazir Bhutto’s controversial return to Pakistan was really a fool’s errand, or if she ultimately fulfilled her destiny, not by living a long, boring an uneventful life, but by dying in her prime for what she truly believed in.
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