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     Volume 7 Issue 1 | January 4, 2008 |

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A Roman Column

The Distorted Mirror
Neeman Sobhan

That's politics and the media for me: distorted mirrors. The reflections claim to project reality, but the truth appears misshapen and sometimes unrecognisable. Selective political reporting and media coverage of any event are to me a visit to the hall of funny mirrors within an amusement park. In this mirror, the thin look fat; the potbellied sway lankily; the tall turn squat; the tiny loom gigantesque; and Asif Zardari and his corrupt consort are transformed into the new Saints of Sindh.

I am now exhausted with the coverage of the Bhutto assassination and the projection of a corrupt and ineffectual politician as a fallen angel and saviour of Pakistan. I am sick of the un-demurring public acceptance of monarchist and dynastic leanings within politics, especially in the sub-continent and particularly in a mostly feudal country whose feudal lords once in recent history tried to make us Bengalis its fiefdom. Excuse me if the name Bhutto doesn't excite me.

But don't get me wrong. I was shocked and saddened by the abominable killing of Benazir. I cried for Pinky Bhutto, the girl who went to Presentation Convent in Rawalpindi as a classmate of one of my cousins, when both Pinky and my cousin's fathers were just colleagues in the bureaucratic world of Ayub Khan's government. I cried for the innocent past when Pinky Bhutto did not know that her father would unleash a bloody legacy on one wing of Pakistan, cause death and pain to a huge delta of humanity whose history and link to the Bhutto name has now been conveniently forgotten by the media. I cried for Pinky Bhutto and for Benazir the felled woman, not the fallen angel that she was turned into within hours of her assasination.

The lump remained in my throat for days, and I felt sorry for her children and for all that was lost within a woman who may have had a lot to offer to Pakistan in terms of fresh perspective and untested maturity after her eight years of exile. Yes, my initial and persistent reaction to the tragedy was the human emotion of sympathy for her as a woman and mother who chose to leave her children and follow her destiny into the literal minefield of Pakistani politics. The sight of her arriving in Karachi with the protective Imam Zamin tied to her arm was a creepy foreshadowing, symbolising her obvious recognition of the threat to her life. Her return to Pakistan and her continuing to appear at public rallies were acts of courage. In her untimely and tragic death, I pray for her, a woman of strong will and spirit.

What grieves me more than the meaningless loss of a courageous woman's life is the manufactured meaning that is being injected into her life after her death. Turning her into a martyr for the cause of PPP is natural, and her image as a warrior of democracy is understandable, but the quiet submission of the country to the introduction of her corrupt husband into the politics of Pakistan is a hard medicine to swallow. It's a sad reminder of the game of mirrors that the media plays. It has helped in the amplification of lies as truths in politics. Unchallenged, the name of Bhutto has now been restored, reinforced and hyphenated with the surname of Mr.Ten percent. Welcome to the world of the merchants of poverty, the new champions of the poor. Welcome home Zardari!

For me Bhutto is a reminder of the blood-soaked break-up of Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh. No one presently in the western media or in Pakistan even mentions that legacy of blood that is associated with the name of Bhutto the elder. He and his dynasty are mentioned as if his career started virginally with his immaculate conception as the PM of Pakistan in 1971; as if he did not carry the baggage of the brutal history he unleashed with his unbridled and unreasonable ambition for power at any cost against Sheikh Mujib. And then, when the speculum of the media is turned to speculating why the history of the Bhutto family is steeped in tragedy and blood, no one wonders if there might be some accounting for Karma in this very life?

Still, I wish the year hadn't ended with this brutal assassination, and that my first column of the year were not about the ugly realities of politics. Maybe it isn't. Firstly, since this column is being written today, the 31st and last day of 2007 to appear in the first week of a new year which hasn't started yet, this isn't technically the first article of the year to leave my pen, is it? (I am learning how to use the distorting mirror of language and 'facts'.)

As for politics, I think there is a lot to learn from self-serving politicians and political parties, in life and in death. The major lesson is to distort reality to ones advantage. This brings us roundly to mirrors. I choose the mirror, mirror on the wall, which will conveniently reflect only beauty, peace and love. So, let me wipe every ugly thing from its surface right now.

Rest in peace Pinky Bhutto; may you have the chance to be a true champion of the poor and underprivileged in another life, be counted as the fairest and truest one of all in an honest looking glass in some future democracy. As for us, may we all carry in our inner pockets the compact mirror of grace, compasion and truth. And may the giant mirror of the New Year reflect only our hopes and not our despairs.

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