As someone who knew and respected Benazir Bhutto ever since we were in college together, I cannot write an unbiased review of her new book, Reconciliation. But because I feel that it is an extraordinarily important and beautiful work, I’m pleased to take up Arianna’s offer to comment upon it here.
The book, completed just before her assassination this past December, is both an intensely personal and a profoundly intellectual assessment of Islam and its relationship to the West. Her own journey began in the village of Lukana, as the daughter of a strong-willed man who would become Pakistan’s prime minister. “When I reached the age of puberty, my mother asked me to wear a burqa,” she writes. “Suddenly the world looked gray. I felt hot and uncomfortable breathing under the confines of the cloth. My father took one look at me and said, ‘My daughter does not have to wear the veil.’”
Bhutto goes on to recount the inspiring story of how she took up her father’s mantle as leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, after he was deposed and executed, and went on to become, from 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, the first woman to lead a Muslim country. Interwoven with the personal tale is a vigorous historical and intellectual defense of Islam as a religion that is, she says, based on tolerance. “Islam is committed not only to tolerance and equality but to the principles of democracy,” she writes. “It is a religion built upon the democratic principles of consultation (shura); building consensus (ijma); finally leading to independent judgment (ijtihad).”