In my readings about Benazir Bhutto, I came across a telling detail about the first (and failed) attempt to kill her on her return to Pakistan. The bomb involved was a baby:
A man approached her armored truck, Mrs. Bhutto recounted, and was trying to hand across a small child as her motorcade inched through the thronged streets of Karachi. She remembers gesturing for the man to come closer.
“It was about 1 or 2 years old, and I think it was a girl,” Mrs. Bhutto told The Washington Times in her first public remarks about the baby.
“We feel it was a baby, kidnapped, and its clothes were rigged with explosives. He kept trying to hand it to people to hand to me. I’m a mother, I love babies, but the [streetlights] had already gone out, and I was worried about the baby getting dropped or hurt.”
Mrs. Bhutto would have been killed, she said, if she hadn’t stepped back to loosen the shoes on her swollen feet.
This the nature of the enemy. Think about it.
In wartime, babies are certainly killed, it’s true. But that is not the intent of “dumb” bombs (and all bombs are somewhat dumb). It just happens, as collateral damage. And, of course, these are children of the enemy that are killed.
Sacrificing one’s own baby for the cause, in order to get to an enemy by preying on that enemy’s soft heart, is something else. Something extraordinarily sinister, although also very clever.
I have written many times how one of the marks of terrorists is that they use the opposition’s humanity to prey on that opposition and to trap it. This was the case in the first Bhutto assassination attempt, although the second used a different m.o.—that of capitalizing on Bhutto’s instincts towards campaigning in a democratic election, going to rallies and being among crowds where she remained remarkably vulnerable.
The Islamists are the natural winners because, as today’s events proved, they are the baddest motherfuckers between the Hindu Kush, the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean….We’re talking about some stone cold thug killaz, and the smart money has to be on them.
The mark of these terrorists seems to be that they will stop at nothing. Not how numerous they are, nor how many supporters they have, but their ruthlessness.
And their numbers seem to be sufficient to cause a great deal of damage, as we have seen over and again. Rigging babies with explosives? All in a day’s work. Killing many bystanders to get to the one they seek? Not a problem. It makes Lee Harvey Oswald seem like a compassionately surgical killer.
One of the marks of 9/11 that lent it its special horror was this very thing, the willingness to go as far as necessary into what we think of as the unthinkable. For the weak, this is both a tactical advantage and a psychological one.
When I was about nine years old, I read the Philip K. Dick story “Second Variety” (odd reading for a young girl, I know, but that’s the way it was). The work, in case you’re not familiar with it, was later the basis for such disparate cinema entertainments as “Screamers” and “Terminator.”
The story featured an end-of-the-world war with a series of killer robots made to look exactly like people, and designed to prey on the humanity of the good guys. The first robot type (“first variety”) looked like a wounded soldier needing help. The second variety was unknown, and only revealed towards the end of the story (I won’t be a spoiler here). But the third—the one that gave me a special chill—was a small vulnerable child needing help, a boy clutching a teddy bear.
At least in the Dick story, these small children were not real, they were only killer robots cleverly designed to look real. But the principle of using an enemy’s humanity against itself was the same. The challenge we face is now how to fight such an enemy effectively without losing our own humanity, and so far—arguments about waterboarding and the like notwithstanding—I have no doubt we have erred, if anything, on the side of caution.
It is no use pretending, however, as I believe Bhutto did, that campaigning and democracy can work in Pakistan the way it does here. Whether it can work at all remains to be seen. Even as a neocon, I don’t pretend that’s easy.