The Common Good

Mourning Benazir Bhutto

The vicious assassination of Benazir Bhutto means many things for our world. Already pundits are rushing to consider what it means for our presidential elections here in the U.S. Who will it help most - Giuliani? Clinton? Biden? Obama? Of course there's a place for this kind of analysis, but I believe at least four other kinds of reflection should not be rushed over in the process.

First, we should pause to consider what this means for Pakistanis. There's something about hearing people express themselves in their own words - unedited by cameras and uninterpreted by commentators. My heart was touched, and my prayers inspired, as I tried to hear our Pakistani neighbors' pain and broken-heartedness on a BBC website:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7162478.stm

Second, we should reflect on what this means for our Muslim friends and neighbors. I think we in the U.S. risk missing the point when we assume the real battle is between fundamentalist Islam and the West: it may be far truer to say that the real battle is between fundamentalist Islam and Islam. Instead of saying to the world, "You are either with us or with the terrorists," perhaps we need to say that we stand with all who oppose terrorism, and all those who are threatened by it - realizing that those most threatened are peace-and-democracy loving Muslims themselves. We're not the whole issue: an internal battle within Islam is the deeper issue. Reza Aslan put it powerfully (No god but God, p. 266): "The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, may have fueled the clash-of-monotheisms mentality among those Muslims, Christians, and Jews who seem so often to mistake religion for faith and scripture for God. But it also initiated a vibrant discourse among Muslims about the meaning and message of Islam in the 21st century. What has occurred since that fateful day amounts to nothing short of another Muslim civil war - a fitnah - which, like the contest to define Islam after the Prophet's death, is tearing the Muslim community into opposing factions."

Aslan reminds us Christians that our own history has exactly this sort of violence (p. 248): "One need only recall Europe's massively destructive Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) between the forces of the Protestant Union and those of the Catholic League to recognize the ferocity with which interreligious conflicts have been fought in Christian history." Nearly a third of the population of Germany died in this conflict. We can pray that God will help Muslims find peace more quickly in the 21st century than we Christians did in the 17th.

Third, all of us who are people of faith need to reflect on our call in our respective faith communities to be agents of peace, agents of repentance, and agents of reform and growth, humility and hope. There are strident voices in nearly all of our communities (including among our atheist neighbors) that easily can flame into violence - lapsing into the default mode that the only way to defeat violence is through more violence. Those of us who have been converted to a different default position - believing that peace is the way, not simply the goal - should remember what Edmund Burke famously said, that all that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good people to do nothing. An act of violence like this horrible assassination confirms our call to peacefully speak and peacefully work for peace, now more than ever.

And fourth, I imagine that each of our presidential candidates woke up with a certain chill this morning, realizing that to be a leader means making oneself vulnerable - to insult, to mockery, to personal attack, to all the games of the political world - and yes, to assassination. To be a leader requires people to risk ... and the cost of the risk keeps increasing. Ms. Bhutto knew the risk and took it. This is a time for us to consider our own leadership - our own courage to stand for what we believe, and it is a time to pray for those who are doing so, of whatever nation or party. Brother Paul said it well: I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Brian McLaren (brianmclaren.net) is board chair of Sojourners, and his most recent book is Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope.

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