(c) by Mary Griggs

Today, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Pakistan’s former Prime Minister died Thursday in the wake of a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 of her supporters at a rally that had attracted thousands to hear her speak.

Benazir, who had graduated from both Harvard and Oxford, took over control of the Pakistan People’s Party and dedicated her life to restoring democracy after a military coup forced her father out of power and then had him hanged in the late 1970’s.

In 1988, she was elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. In 1990, her party lost their majority and it was not until 1993 that her party again won plurality in the elections. At that time, she regained her position as Prime Minister and held it until1996 when her government was deposed amid corruption charges. She went into exile rather than face five years in jail for crimes of which she claimed innocence.

At the beginning of October of this year, President Musharraf dropped the charges in an effort to gain an ally (her conviction had already been overturned years earlier). On October 18, a suicide bomb was set off near her motorcade and killed 136 people and injured her. Twice in November, Musharraf placed her under house arrest, supposedly for her own protection but, more likely, to quell the groundswell of supporters that had turned his ally into his rival.

And today, she is dead from another suicide bomb.

It is a sad commentary on the state of the planet that, as we close the year 2007 (year 1428 of the Islamic calendar), this is way that political discourse is still being carried out. Extremists from both sides of the spectrum know that the only way to win support for their views is to eliminate their opposition. Bhutto knew that her life was in danger but she refused to run from it. As she said once, “You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.”

Today, a brave woman died. It is important that the idea of free and fair elections does not die with her.