Bhutto's Political Prominence Offended Islamic Radicals

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - Benazir Bhutto, the first woman ever elected to lead a Muslim nation, angered fundamentalists who viewed a high-profile female politician as anti-Islamic.

She also was increasingly outspoken against "extremists, terrorists and fanatics," as she described them at an election rally early this week.

The two-term former prime minister was to be buried Friday in her hometown, Lakarna, a day after she was assassinated while campaigning ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

Although responsibility for the attack remains unclear, President Pervez Musharraf blamed terrorists, and White House spokesman Scott Stanzel noted that the perpetrators had "used a tactic which al-Qaeda is very familiar with."

Since returning from nine years of self-imposed exile two months ago, Bhutto was immediately a terrorist target, and her homecoming was marred by a huge suicide bombing that killed almost 140 people.

Two weeks earlier, a pro-Taliban commander in Pakistan's lawless tribal regions, Baitullah Mehsud, was quoted in local media as saying his bombers were preparing to "welcome" Bhutto when she returned.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, an exiled Iranian regional political analyst, blamed Bhutto's death on "Islamic extremists and misogynistic elements," adding that both her gender and her anti-extremist position were "viewed as negative credentials."

"She had made clear over the years her position about the role of women," he said Thursday. "Her leading position as a woman was not welcome at all by the extremists. This is in addition to her political stance."

"All the jihadi organizations were opposed to her coming to power firstly because she was a woman and, secondly, because of her statements that she would allow U.S. troops to hunt for Osama bin Laden in Pakistani territory," said Indian security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman.

"By gaining an education and taking on her father's mantle of national leadership, [the Oxford- and Harvard-educated Bhutto] violated every canon of the Taliban code of female behavior," London Daily Telegraph diplomatic correspondent David Blair wrote Thursday.

"Even her public appearances seemed calculated to offend the extremists. While Miss Bhutto always wore a headscarf in public, she never covered her face or hesitated to shake a male hand. Her very presence at the front rank of Pakistani politics was an affront to Islamist radicals."

Al-Qaeda has tried to kill Bhutto in the past.

In 1993, between her two stints as prime minister, she was targeted in an unsuccessful bomb plot, reportedly carried out by Pakistani terrorists Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad and -- according to terrorism researcher Rohan Gunaratna -- funded by al-Qaeda operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

International terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann noted on the Counterterrorism Blog Thursday that Murad told Philippines police during interrogation in 1995 that Yousef had once said militant groups should target Bhutto "since Islamic belief does not allow a woman to occupy such position."

(Extradited from the Philippines, Murad was convicted in 1996 for a plot to destroy 12 U.S. airliners - widely viewed by terror experts as a precursor to 9/11 - and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Yousef is also serving a life term for the airline plot and for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.)

Last February, another female Pakistani politician was killed.

Government officials said Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and a Musharraf ally, was shot dead by an Islamist radical angered by her dress - she wore similar head gear to Bhutto's - and because she was involved in politics.

The killer, who was arrested at the murder scene, said in a television interview he was merely obeying "Allah's commandment." Pakistan's Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying, "Women can't become rulers in Islam."

Two hadiths often cited by Muslims who oppose women taking positions of power are "a nation which entrusts its affairs with women cannot prosper" and "men have been destroyed when they obeyed the woman."

Hadiths are traditions or sayings attributed to Mohammed, narrated by early scholars. Not all are considered equally authoritative.

Shah Abdul Halim, chairman of the Islamic Information Bureau of Bangladesh, wrote in a 2006 article on the subject that the authenticity of the two hadiths, both narrated by Abi Bakra, are sometimes questioned.

Halim also quoted an eminent Indian Islamic scholar, Muhammad Sharif Chaudhury, as having written, "There is no verse or injection in the Holy Koran which directly or clearly either permits the rule of woman or prohibits her rule."

Bhutto was earlier this week named the second most influential woman in the world in 2007 in a list compiled by the MSN web portal. (Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton topped the list.)

Since Bhutto was first elected prime minister in 1988, other Muslim women have been elected to power, including Bangladeshi prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina in 1991 and 1996 respectively, Turkish prime minister Tansu Ciller in 1993, and President Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia in 2001.

Unelected female leaders ruled in Egypt, Tartarstan and India in earlier centuries.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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