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December 27, 2007


Well, this is going to be interesting. I'm going to hole up in the Wasatch mountains for a few days until this blows over.

Good thing Cheney is all a flutter over Iran, instead of Pakistan a nation with, you know, actual nuclear weapons.

And actual ties to al-Qaeda...

So how much out of control does the situation get before India decides it can't live with a nuclear-armed neighbor in chaos, and decides to do something about it?


Hopefully the Indians remain cooler than chilled raita on this. Talk about World War III - such a conflict could very well snowball into the real deal.

We're talking about two countries with a combined population well over a billion, nuclear weapons and some interested neighbors and distant allies.

Would someone knock on Hilzoy's door, and see that she's OK? Thanks

You know, I'm usually pretty cool over things like this. I take them as part and parcel of the ongoing march of human evil. But this one leaves me with a very bad feeling in my stomach. Pakistan has been teetering on the edge of disaster for months. I really, really hope that Musharraf can hold the pieces together, but I have a horrible feeling that the situation will spin out of control now. I fear that we'll be playing 52-card pickup in Pakistan. Maybe we'll get lucky and things will actually improve. But the range of nightmare scenarios is huge.

Erasmussimo: I’m with you. I have a really bad feeling about this.

That was one brave woman… RIP.

It really matters who did this. Some of the murderers are able to start a civil war or an international one, others will be taken in stride. I profoundly hope that the murderer is not tied to India or the West in any way. I don't see how that would ever be tolerated. If the murderer is an Islamist, I think that Pakistan will be able to deal with it better.

My condolences and best of luck to that sad country.

is anyone surprised at this ?

I am surprised to a degree, if only because almost everyone who is likely to have done this has more to lose with this assassination than they can benefit from it. I realize that some folks don't bother to calculate risk sensibly and there are always folks on the margin who are willing to actually take up political folks on their rhetoric, but it still strikes me as a particularly boneheaded move.

Some people do see an upside though. I mean anything that might help Republicans in the election can’t be all bad.

American politics would dearly love to take a holiday from history, just as it did in the 1990s. But our enemies are not going to allow us to do so. The murder of Bhutto moves foreign policy, the war on terror, and the threat of Islamofascism back into the center of the 2008 campaign. How candidates respond to it, and issues like it that will come up in the next 10 months, will determine whether they are fit for the presidency.

Wow. Way to find that silver lining Podhoretz. Southeast Asia may go up in flames and endanger the whole world. But that’s a small price to pay if it focuses the voters on what you think are winning issues. Scum.

I really don't want to live in interesting times very much.

I will be keeping my fingers crossed that that country holds together.

But that’s a small price to pay if it focuses the voters on what you think are winning issues. Scum.

Careful there OCSteve, you're starting to sound like one of us crazed leftists.

Thanks for the link, OCSteve. The comments over there are a real hoot.

My initial reaction was that Bhutto's assassination was sad, frightening, sickening, stupid, outrageous and frustrating. This sort of thing makes me want to throw my hands up and yell, "I hate PEOPLE!" (Of course, I would only yell such a thing because I actually love people. Otherwise I wouldn't care.)

Then Cleek writes "is anyone surprised by this?" At that point I mellow out and say, "Not really."

Ugh: you're starting to sound like one of us crazed leftists

I’m getting to the Democrats. One thing at a time. ;)

Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called on President Bush to force Musharraf to step down. Until then, Richardson said the U.S. must suspend military aid to the Pakistani government.


Bush intervenes in this crisis to (somehow) force Musharraf out of power. Yeah, that’s just what this situation calls for…

Assuming Islamists are the culprits, and the PPP (Bhutto's party) agrees with the assessment -- a significant "if" -- this strengthens Mussaraf's hand and may lead to a much-needed pushback. Mainstream politicians will be forced to distance themselves from extremist elements; this will include Sharif, who cultivated the moderately Islamist vote when he was last in office. Democracy will be further postponed, but it really wasn't in the cards this cyclce anyway -- Pakistan is too fragile, and no political leader represents a unifying force. Bhutto's death, however, may provide a roadmap for greater unity down the road. There will be blood along the way, however.

On the other hand, if this thing gets linked to Mussaraf, and/or to the security apparatus (the latter is more probable given the level of Islamist infiltration), we're in for a rocky ride, with potential sky-is-falling consequences.

A lot depends on the reaction of the PPP leadership and grassroots.

President Bush calls the killer a ‘coward’.

It’s a real stretch to call a guy who travels into the enemy’s camp, lights off a clip of 7.62, scores multiple upper-torso hits, and then blows himself up a coward. Winston Churchill called the same type of man a ‘fearless warrior’ just 108 years ago in his book The River War. But then again Churchill made his observations while carrying a rifle in the Sudan.

‘We’re too great a nation to ever have permanent enemies.’ There really is an arrogance to this Administration. It is very dangerous to lose respect for your adversary, especially one who consistently beats you. Take that back; humiliates you. Count me in the Churchill camp.

Interesting link on the etymology of the word ‘assassin’:


this will include Sharif

Hey von, did you see that Sharif was targeted by a sniper today/yesterday as well?

Bill: I’ve been trying to keep an open mind. I’ve gone back and forth. Dude – this is where I turn against you.

…7.62, scores multiple upper-torso hits…

Good shots under stress huh? Any idea what a 7.62 round does to the body?

Anyone who blows themselves up is a coward. You’re saying … what?

G-D'it that person was a coward!

If I misunderstood what you said here please correct me.

Birth pangs!

Hey von, did you see that Sharif was targeted by a sniper today/yesterday as well?

Sharif wasn't targeted; he was 1-2 miles away. But yes, I saw that his supporters were attacked. But Sharif is blaming Mussaraf (or, more precisely, Mussaraf's backers) for the attack at the moment, not the Islamists.

Oh f**k.

Right Von. That was not meant to contradict you, just to point out that it might be hard to ride the anti-Islamist tide when other parties are partaking in the violence.

Jes: Oh f**k.


OC Steve;

The act was barbarous. It is inconsistent with the civilized society that I love living in. But it is completely consistent with the ideology that President Bush calls ‘extremism’, which, in my opinion, boils down to young observant Muslims following the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. The Qur’an is very unambiguous about the duty of Muslims to wage continuous war in an effort to kill, convert, or subjugate the world. The link is to the MSA texts at USC. Start with Chapter 9.

Bhutto is one of scores of people who will be slain today by ‘extremists’. The comment was meant to convey my frustration with an Administration that fails to either see or respond to a threat to civilization. The arrogance of continuing to shove ‘pure world democracy’ down everybody’s throats after the experiences in Palestine and Iraq is something that makes me mad. He gets to sleep better and we end up paying the price.

But the shooter was not a ‘coward’, he was a skilled warrior who intentionally killed himself in a successful bid to further his worldview. We need to attack the worldview, not the young man who was drawn to it. But it’s much easier to attack the dead young man.

Yes, she was a brave woman, and my remarks were not meant to diminish her.


Bill: …he was a skilled warrior who intentionally killed himself in a successful bid to further his worldview.

No. He was a coward. And IMO your remarks do diminish her. She was a heroic woman who knew exactly what she was getting into. She knew she would be targeted. She was. She went back out there anyway. She is a damned hero. The scum that killed her was nothing but a coward.

You do not represent my side… Whatever the hell that is these days. And if you do then I want off this friggin’ ride.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but people who knowingly sacrifice themselves in order to accomplish their goals are usually considered brave and not cowardly. I'd certainly consider a suicide bomber that tried to kill Hitler brave.

Bravery has very little to do with virtue. You can very bravely do something very evil. That makes you evil but no less brave.

That might have been where Bill was going...Its rather hard for me to tell.

Bill, I don’t want to “talk” behind your back. I’m slamming you here, where the rules are a little looser. Note that you have to register to comment, but please do.

Turb: I'm going to restrict this to TiO. Come on over...

OCSteve, I can understand your reaction to Bill, but I think you're letting your emotion get the better of you. That statement of Bill's was one of the more rational ones he's made (unfortunately he's now back to his Quranic commentary). He was simply following in the footsteps of his fellow Bill, Maher, in recognizing that "coward" is not a generic insult applicable to anyone you don't like but has a specific meaning that does not normally cover people who willingly sacrifice themselves for a cause, however despicable that cause might be.

KCinDC: … but I think you're letting your emotion get the better of you…

You are correct of course. I need to be done for tonight.

I don't agree with all that is posted by Juan Cole @ 12/27/2007 but it is the best I have seen on Butto.


"...The Pakistani authorities are blaming Muslim militants for the assassination. That is possible, but everyone in Pakistan remembers that it was the military intelligence, or Inter-Services Intelligence, that promoted Muslim militancy in the two decades before September 11 as a wedge against India in Afghanistan and Kashmir. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) faithful will almost certainly blame Pervez Musharraf, and sentiment here is more important than reality, whatever the reality may be. The PPP is one of two very large, long-standing grassroots political parties in Pakistan, and if its followers are radicalized by this event, it could lead to severe turmoil. Just a day before her assassination Benazir had pledged that the PPP would not allow the military to rig the upcoming January 8 parliamentary elections.

Pakistan is important to US security. It is a nuclear power. Its military fostered, then partially turned on the Taliban and al-Qaeda, which have bases in the lawless tribal areas of the northern part of the country. And Pakistan is key to the future of its neighbor, Afghanistan. Pakistan is also a key transit route for any energy pipelines built between Iran or Central Asia and India, and so central to the energy security of the United States.

The military government of Pervez Musharraf was shaken by two big crises in 2007, one urban and one rural. The urban crisis was his interference in the rule of law and his dismissal of the supreme court chief justice. The Pakistani middle class has greatly expanded in the last seven years, as others have noted, and educated white collar people need a rule of law to conduct their business. Last June 50,000 protesters came out to defend the supreme court, even though the military had banned rallies. The rural crisis was the attempt of a Neo-Deobandi cult made up of Pushtuns and Baluch from the north to establish themselves in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, at the Red Mosque seminary. They then attempted to impose rural, puritan values on the cosmopolitan city dwellers. When they kidnapped Chinese acupuncturists, accusing them of prostitution, they went too far. Pakistan depends deeply on its alliance with China, and the Islamabad middle classes despise Talibanism. Musharraf ham-fistedly had the military mount a frontal assault on the Red Mosque and its seminary, leaving many dead and his legitimacy in shreds. Most Pakistanis did not rally in favor of the Neo-Deobandi cultists, but to see a military invasion of a mosque was not pleasant (the militants inside turned out to be heavily armed and quite sinister).

The NYT reported that US Secretary of State Condi Rice tried to fix Musharraf's subsequent dwindling legitimacy by arranging for Benazir to return to Pakistan to run for prime minister, with Musharraf agreeing to resign from the military and become a civilian president. When the supreme court seemed likely to interfere with his remaining president, he arrested the justices, dismissed them, and replaced them with more pliant jurists. This move threatened to scuttle the Rice Plan, since Benazir now faced the prospect of serving a dictator as his grand vizier, rather than being a proper prime minister.

With Benazir's assassination, the Rice Plan is in tatters and Bush administration policy toward Pakistan and Afghanistan is tottering.

Benazir is from a major Pakistani political dynasty. (See the obituary here and the photographs here. Her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, was prime minister in the 1970s but was overthrown by a military coup in 1977 and subsequently hanged by military dictator Zia ul-Huq. Benazir helped lead the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in the 1980s, and was often under house arrest. When Zia died in an airplane accident in 1988, Benazir won the subsequent elections and served as prime minister 1988-1990. Zia had put in place mechanisms to limit popular sovereignty, and the then 'president' removed Benazir from office in 1990. She served again as PM, 1993-1996 but was again deposed, being accused of corruption. After the 1999 military coup of Pervez Musharraf, she was in a state of permanent exile, since he said he would have her arrested if she tried to come back. He relented because of his own collapsing position and because of US pressure, and allowed her to return in October. She was almost assassinated at that time by a huge bomb when she landed in Karachi..."

posted by Juan Cole @ 12/27/2007 11:43:00 AM
Posted by S Brennan at December 27, 2007 03:05 PM

"... there is a genuine question of whether America should have been meddling with the internal dynamics of Pakistan's political situation."

That summarizes, in a nutshell, all that is wrong with your concensus foreign policy players, Steve. Your comment rests upon the assumption that we have the right to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries, with the only caveat being whether doing so is to our advantage or not in a given instance.

In other words, can we get away with it? Never mind the impact on the people who actually live in the countries subject to our subversion or coercion. Reasonable people can disagree. But in truth, they can't; even asking the question speaks to a fundamental disconnect from reason.
Posted by weldon berger at December 27, 2007 03:11 PM

please ignore last two paragraphs...or read them, but they were not intended

Might I suggest that obtaining a careful definition of the precise nature of the killer's villainy seems a bit pedantic at this point. I myself wouldn't bother attempting to psychoanalyze a man whose only known characteristic is that he killed people by suicide. Perhaps we will learn more about him in the future.

I will also recognize that there is a tiny chance of some good emerging from this. If Mussharif jumps in front of the parade rather than trying to oppose it, he can ride the wave of national indignation to a point where he really can take down the Islamic extremists and assert control over the Western Provinces.

But I'm not at all optimistic that this will happen. Most of the scenarios I foresee have very ugly endings.

That was not meant to contradict you, just to point out that it might be hard to ride the anti-Islamist tide when other parties are partaking in the violence.

Fair point, Eric. Sorry I misunderstood.

CNN Approval Polling Results: Pakistan

Osama Bin Laden: 46%
Pervez Musharraf: 38%
George Bush: 9%

President Bush is the one pushing for democracy. He is also the mathematical ‘extremist’.

This proves Bush's foreign policy is right.

This proves Bush's foreign policy is wrong.

Blah blah blah, the Rorschach Assassination.

This really makes me sad. She was a brave lady.

Bill: President Bush is the one pushing for democracy.

President Bush is the one who attacked Afghanistan and then lost interest, leaving the country once again a wreck without a hope, and Pakistan with 1.8M Afghan refugees to support (cite - click on the map to see that in some regions of Pakistan, Afghan refugees represent over 25% of the population). President Bush is also the one who publicly confused the unelected military dictator of Pakistan with democratic governance. This quite aside from all of the other reasons Bush has for being seriously unpopular anywhere in the world. None of which have any connection with "pushing democracy", which is not something Bush ever does much of anyway.

Bill: I apologize for my outburst. Obviously I think you are very wrong here, but I got too worked up about it. Sorry about that.

President Bush is the one pushing for democracy.

And, as others have suggested, he has lacked the will to see it through properly.

Is it the will or the intellectual capacity to understand what's really required? He's such a damned twit.

Fair point, Eric. Sorry I misunderstood.

Hey von, who loves you...


"is anyone surprised at this?"

Nope. Least of all, Benazir Bhutto.

My local paper listed all of the suspected parties in this assassination.

It's like the plot line for "Murder on the Orient Express".

One weapon ---- many hands.

Re: Bill's comments, there are all kinds of bravery and cowardice. The assassin clearly was not afraid to die, but that doesn't mean he wasn't a coward. He (and whoever sent him) were afraid of letting the democratic process (even Pakistan's flawed version) take place. They were afraid to let the people decide if the PPP should take power. The assassin wasn't a physical coward, but he was most certainly a moral coward. The same goes for the 9/11 hijackers and all suicide bombers. They would rather kill and die than live in a world they can't control to their liking, and that makes them cowards.

They would rather kill and die than live in a world they can't control to their liking, and that makes them cowards.

That makes "It is better to die on your feet than live on your knees" a statement of cowardice, while "Better Red than Dead" is a statement of bravery.

You should be aware most people will consider your definitions highly idiosyncratic.

Hmmm... "live free or die" also comes to mind.

"They would rather kill or die than live in a world they can't control to their liking, and that makes them cowards."

I guess we can kiss the state of New Hampshire goodbye!

Not to mention Charlton Heston, though I don't think he was sincere, being one of those Hollywood types.

Brave or cowardly, blowing oneself and others to smithereens is a crappy option.

Dang it, Ral! I don't think I can handle someone hitting the post button one second before me anymore.


A factoid from the Wikipedia:

In 1971, the General Court, the state legislature of New Hampshire, mandated that the phrase appear on all non-commercial license plates, replacing "Scenic."

Sorry, John.

Brave or cowardly, blowing oneself and others to smithereens is a crappy option.

Right, so maybe trying to argue the cowardice or bravery of the suicide-mass murderer isn't very fruitful. I kind of find the discussion interesting, but it seems to get people too upset to be worth it. Or not.

Brave or cowardly, blowing oneself and others to smithereens is a crappy option.

Right, so maybe trying to argue the cowardice or bravery of the suicide-mass murderer isn't very fruitful.

We give medals to soldiers who throw themselves on grenades, or who charge machine gun nests, to protect their squadmates.

Should we cease giving any praise of that behavior as "brave," because it "isn't very fruitful"?

Alternatively, trying to evaluate the virtues of a particular behavior -- giving one's life for a cause -- on the basis of what we think of the cause, is simply illogical. That the cause may be good or bad doesn't change the behavior's virtues. The context will change the virtues of the result of the behavior, but, again, that's a separate thing from the moral qualities of the behavior itself.

Neither is giving one's life for a cause, however virtuous or evil we think that cause, the same as a suicide without point or intended point.

It helps to not confuse all these things together, but rather to separate them out as the distinct and unrelated issues that they are: the merits and demerits of giving one's life for a cause, the merits and demerits of giving one's life for no good cause, and the merits and demerits of a given cause.

Three separate things: not one.

Whether "bravery" or "cowardice" best applies to any of those things is yet a whole 'nother question.

But generally speaking, it seems to me that people tend to regard sacrifice of one's life in a good cause as brave.

Whether sacrifice of one's life in a cause the observer views as a bad cause is regarded as brave or cowardly seems considerably more debatable, although I'm more inclined to see that as prejudice, rather than logic, on the part of said observers. But reasonable people can disagree.

Sacrifice of a life for no cause at all is usually regarded as tragic. It probably doesn't belong in a discussion of sacrificing one's life for a goal, such as to save others, or defend one's nation/people/community/family. At the least, the two acts should likely not be confused.

We give medals to soldiers who throw themselves on grenades, or who charge machine gun nests, to protect their squadmates.

Should we cease giving any praise of that behavior as "brave," because it "isn't very fruitful"?

No, but they aren't suicide-mass murderers, particularly in the case of throwing one's self on a grenade.

I don't really disagree with anything you wrote. I'm just not sure what the value is of the bravery/cowardice discussion in this particular case relative to the upset it seems to be causing at least some of the commenters. Maybe it doesn't matter. I might be ambivalent about it, or maybe not.

Meanwhile, at the behest of the Iraqi government, the foreign agent inhabiting the White House unexpectedly vetoed the Defense Authorization because of a small clause which might have made Iraq vulnerable to foreign lawsuits.

Can suicide bombing be far behind?

See Kevin Drum.

Military pay raises, Veteran's care and lots more now in limbo and jeopardy.

The Bill passed by overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

What's next? Will the IRS be abolished because the Saudis object to paying taxes to infidel governments?

I'm skipping 2008. That way I can look back at the year and wax nostalgic because nothing happened.

This might be somewhat a rehash of what you wrote, Gary, and somewhat not. But I think one reason some people get upset in a discussion like this one, regarding the bravery of terrorists who knowingly sacrifice their own lives, is that some of the commenters are engaging in a more academic sort of definitional discussion, without applying much in the way of a value judgement, while others are thinking entirely in terms of value judgements.

In the case of the soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his fellows, the same thing might occur in a discussion of whether or not what that soldier did should be considered suicide. One person, simply applying a definition of the word "suicide" that involves knowingly committing an act which will result in one's own death, will consider it suicide from a purely technical standpoint without respect to value or virtue. Another, who attributes great negativity to suicide, but admires such sacrifice as that made by the subject soldier, would find "suicide" an offensive way to describe the soldier's behavior.

an on-topic quote from an off-topic B. DeLong post:

    Of the soldiers of the Confederate Army, I would say that they fought as bravely and nobly as any group of men ever fought--and for as bad and evil a cause as well.

"Another, who attributes great negativity to suicide, but admires such sacrifice as that made by the subject soldier, would find 'suicide' an offensive way to describe the soldier's behavior."

Could be, but that wouldn't change the meaning of the word. Heroic suicide is suicide, and has never been considered an oxymoron.

Which is perfectly popular usage. Everyone has seen how many war/spy movies in which someone tells another "You can't do that! It's a suicide mission!"

And sometimes it isn't, but sometimes it is, and the one who dies is a hero.

Although the U.S. has never been in so precarious a situation as to make suicide missions a strategic initiative, as the Japanese did, one hardly has to look hard in accounts of war to find numerous individual examples of Americans, if one prefers them as examples, in various wars and situations, picking up satchel charges and dashing into an enemy strong point and, yes, blowing themselves up at the price of buying a lot of the enemy's farms, along with themselves.

Plenty of American soldiers have blown themselves up to take a bunch of the enemy with them, if it seemed necessary: it's happened in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam, and perhaps in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, though I can't say for sure on the latter two.

We give those Americans medals and call them heros.

Our fiction is rife with people doing that, as well. Vasquez and Gorman in Aliens. Mr. Data in Star Trek: Generations. Cowardly murderers? (One might argue that Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove was no hero, certainly, but you can't argue that he didn't ride one awfully big suicide bomb into its target.)

How many times have you seen or read a character in fiction heroically manning the controls of the doomed ship/plane to ram the villains and blow them up?

Were the "300" (forget the slaves and allies!) cowards for knowingly going to sacrifice their lives?

If so, a rational case would need to be constructed to demonstrate it.

Next we can argue Masada.

Needless to say, however, let me note that, of course, suicide in normal life is most often a horrible tragedy, and anyone whose life has been affected by it will naturally be be very upset by any reminders of that. That isn't at issue in the slightest, and my heart goes out to all who have been damaged by a suicide.

(My own father was a bit of a slow suicide, and it's always been something of an open question as to whether the automobile accident that put in the hospital for the last time, which killed him a few weeks later (back in 1988), was, in fact, a suicidal gesture of some kind; we'll never know for sure.)

"Mr. Data in Star Trek: Generations."

Star Trek: Nemesis, that is.

"Sterling Hayden in Dr. Strangelove"

Shoot, how many attributions can I get wrong in a single comment? I meant Slim Pickens as Maj. T.J. 'King' Kong, of course.

So does it still count as bravery if the suicide bomber is convinced that s/he will be rewarded with eternal bliss for committing that act? Or does that turn it into a simple cost/benefit calculation?

I still don't disagree with you, Gary. And I hope someday to be able to spell "judgment" correctly with some consistency. My detector almost always goes off well after the fact with that one.

I feel a certain sympathy with ThirdGorchBro's viewpoint. I think it's because (and you will have to pardon me for attempted mindreading) we both assume that a worldview that would so prefer to take up violence rather than tolerate the results of a democratic process that could produce unwished-for results is immature in a certain sense. That is, one of my visceral reactions to men (and the occasional woman) who don't believe that women should be allowed to hold political office is, "will you grow up?" Holding that viewpoint in contempt, and what it motivates people to do, seems to me fundamentally different, in a bad way, from "Live free or die." Although I'm sorry to say in my low-blood-sugar, in-household-filled-with-sick-children state, I'm not capable of carrying the thought much further.

Like hsh, I don't feel like I have more than about an eighth or sixteenth of a dog in this hunt, and don't want to further upset folks.

KenB, do the World War II soldiers who undertook suicide missions not count as brave if they believed in an afterlife?

"So does it still count as bravery if the suicide bomber is convinced that s/he will be rewarded with eternal bliss for committing that act? Or does that turn it into a simple cost/benefit calculation?"

My own subjective thought is that if you have any doubt at all as to your reward -- which is the state of most human beings, though certainly not all -- it's an act of bravery and a leap of faith, right or wrong.

If, on the other hand, your brain chemistry has you absolutely convinced that you're just making a transition to another state of being, I don't know whether I'd call that a decision on that basis "bravery," but it does tend to describe what at least many people like to think is an accurate description of heros of their religious faith, so saying it isn't bravery might tend to suggest that you're calling innumerable religious figures of so many religions "cowards." Just a thought.

"and don't want to further upset folks."

No one wants to upset anyone who doesn't deserve it, I'm sure.

"And I hope someday to be able to spell 'judgment' correctly with some consistency."

Either way is correct; it's a preference. Consistency in such things is a virtue, but still not mandatory.

(I note the latter because I'm rather crappy at consistency in usage in random blog comments, though I think I should do better.)

I haven't put a lot of thought into a definition of "bravery," but I suppose it might run along the lines of "doing something that knowingly brings danger of harm to one's self or what's important to one's self for an outcome one hopes makes it worthwhile."

Comment from any and all on that?

"Invalid email address '[email protected] '"

Oh, crap. Why do I bother?

I mean, that took 8 tries of variations. Why are we supposed to fight the site like that to post? Can't someone fix it, please?

Gary, that's the second time you've quoted that error message with a space after the ".com" (before the closing single quote). Is it possible you've accidentally got a space at the end of your address and the Typepad system is too stupid to ignore it?

So does it still count as bravery if the suicide bomber is convinced that s/he will be rewarded with eternal bliss for committing that act?

When I ask that question in regards to the crucifixion, people frown at me. (He said, injecting perhaps a little levity or deflecting the controversy.)

You have an awfully strange definition of levity, Phil. Unless you're making a pun on the Ascension in which case, rock on!

My brother says a thing in conversations like this- "Hitler tied his shoelaces".
That is, we tend to attribute evil to every action and defect to every characteristic of those who commit great evil, sometimes to the point of absurdity.

Maybe this is comforting, to think of the world in black and white in times of crisis, by force of will pretend that everything is very simple, so that if it cannot be made good it can at least be grasped. At least we can know where we stand.

But it's wrong, and it's- bluntly- stupid and dangerous. It's only a few more steps from there to the idiotic freedom of 'all Muslims are evil'. It is precisely at times such as these that we need to think as clearly and deeply as possible to understand events and to steer the future onto the best course we can chart.

I have never seen logic in calling suicide bombers "cowards." Despicable for other reasons, yes, but not cowards. Quite the reverse.

People dislike attributing virtues to their enemies. It may help, in this regard, to consider Kant's maxim that "the only thing which is good without qualification is a good will," (because any other virtue, used in the service of a bad will, merely magnifies the effect of the bad will).

"My brother says a thing in conversations like this- 'Hitler tied his shoelaces'."

I've tended to think of it as "Hitler also enjoyed drinking water."

It doesn't indicate that drinking water is bad.

I suppose I'd go out on a limb if I wrote a comment characterizing what I think is virtuous about Islamic terrorists. But it wouldn't be hard to write. Neither would it mean I thought they were right. The Nazis weren't all bad, either. Neither Stalin. Neither just about anyone.

Being 92% bad is bad enough. Really.

"Is it possible you've accidentally got a space at the end of your address and the Typepad system is too stupid to ignore it?"

That would be easy, but, no, you've just spotted an artifact of my sometimes sloppy pasting, is all, I'm afraid.

I'm OK, I have just been at the APA interviewing candidates for a fellowship, which is time-consuming.

This is unspeakably bad. I am trying to catch up on the commentary now. But the only real question is exactly what flavor of unbelievably dreadful it is, as far as I can see.

Bear in mind that the number of institutions -- not counting things like 'Islam', but institutions -- in Pakistan that approach having a national base is very few. The army is one; it's discredited (though of course still very powerful.) Bhutto's party was another; it was a party built around one (1) person, who is now dead. The other parties have much less of a truly national base.

I also agree with Juan Cole: as far as I can tell, the violence in the aftermath of this has been underreported. (Less so now than this morning, though.) It has apparently been very, very bad.

Also: bear in mind the polls, electoral results etc., that I compiled here, on the question whether Pakistan is in any imminent danger of being taken over by Islamic extremists. The answer is: no.

Attitudes towards suicide are always a bit complicated. I'd highly recommend a book by A. Alvarez called _The Savage God: A Study of Suicide_. Alvarez is a poet who both knew Sylvia Plath and had his own bouts with attempted suicide.

Also, there was this Esquire article entitled The Falling Man that also touches on this subject.

Picking up on Hilzoy's comments I have to say that the comments I've read from Pakistanis on the bombing give me hope. They back up the polls that Pakistanis reject suicide bombing, Islamic extremism, and assassination. Many of the posters think Bhutto was an irredeemable crook deserving nothing other than life in prison but they too condemn the assassination unstintingly.

The problem in Pakistan seems to be that there is no institution for the basic good will of the population to be put into practice. I have to say that Musharraf is probably the greatest threat to a favorable outcome since he is actively attacking the judiciary and the electoral process, which is a grave threat to any civil society. The crazy fundies in the ISI and to a lesser extent the military have much greater ill-will than Musharraf but I think Pakistani society has already turned against them to the point that they would not be able to rule now. The poll changes over the last few years are very encouraging.

KenB, do the World War II soldiers who undertook suicide missions not count as brave if they believed in an afterlife?

I think one could argue that they might not count as brave exactly to the extent that they thought they were setting themselves up for a cushy afterlife. I know exceedingly little about their motivations, but offhand I doubt that they made their decisions primarily due to what they would personally gain from the bargain.

saying it isn't bravery might tend to suggest that you're calling innumerable religious figures of so many religions "cowards."

Hmm, absence of bravery doesn't equal cowardice. I think I've spent about 98% of my own life being neither brave nor cowardly. But in any case, it does, as you suggest, depend on the degree of certainty one holds, as well as (IMO) the degree to which that belief itself is motivating your actions.

When I ask that question in regards to the crucifixion, people frown at me

As a practicing but non-believing Christian (guess I just need more practice!), I confess that I never really grokked the whole "fully man, fully God" thing. If Jesus was divine, I don't see why I should be impressed that he sacrificed himself -- he was just doing what he knew needed to be done. And if he wasn't divine, well, that kind of spoils the whole story. Anyway, you'd get no frown from me.

The "cowardice" of a suicide bomber matters because it's typically Bush's strongest and first criticism of such people. The fact that his first criticism is something that's not actually true, 6 years after this became a big deal for Americans, demonstrates the poverty of his own sense of ethics. Most people would criticize suicide bombers first and foremost for killing innocents and for doing this heinous crime in the service of an evilly distorted religion. But Bush also kills innocents in the service of an evilly distorted religion, so he doesn't criticize that. Instead he makes something up.

I don't know who was the first to state that without fear one cannot be brave, i.e. bravery is not the committed act but the mental hurdle that has to be overcome to be able to do it.

If we take the gospel for gospel ;-) Jesus was extremly afraid of what would happen to him and he desperately prayed to be spared. On the cross he (at least temporarily) believed that God had forsaken him. The bravery was in him stating "if You insist I will obey (and not run away)".

Hitler's suicide has been described as an act of physical courage but otherwise cowardice* because he was unwilling to really face the consequences** and trying to take the country with him (the "Nero orders"). In fiction Hitler commits suicide by atomic bomb occasionally, doing the "taking everyone with me" personally. Imo that would indeed have fitted his personality.

A brave suicide bomber would be one acting with the firm belief that as a result (s)he would end in hell (provided that was not the expected destination anyway).

There has been the observation/claim that the Norse pagans were actually more virtuous because "being good" meant choosing the losing side in the final battle*** (the rebirth of the world was probably introduced only after christianity came to the North)

*Sebastian Haffner predicted exactly that in 1939. He wrote that this would be the "courage" of Hitler in the end.
**There has been speculation what Dubya would have done in Hitler's position. Some consider him too much a personal coward to "choose the easy way out".
***Valhall being only a temporary paradise. The baddies win when Ragnarök comes.

I'm rewatching some of The Matrix. What dialogue occurs?

"This is loco. They've got Morpheus in a military controlled building. And even if you get inside, those are agents holding him. Three of them. I want Morpheus back too, but what you're talking about is suicide."

Neo goes. Cowardly?

More dialogue follows.

Morpheus believed something, and he was ready to give his life for what he believed. I understand that now. That's why I have to go.


Because I believe in something.

And so on.

This is what our culture finds admirable.

Does anyone want to argue it isn't admirable?

Does it become less admirable if it's from one of three particular books full of looniness? Does anyone want to argue that one book is loonier than the other two?

Because that's the case that would be necessary to make to get us to think worse of one particular book, and its followers.

Given that all three books are full of indefensible and irrational and hateful material, that seems difficult.

But, to be sure, ObWi would be famous if someone demonstrated that one particular tale is more alarming than another, so we should all enjoy any forthcoming such demonstration.

From Joseph A. Palermo's column at HuffPost: Barack Obama, RFK, and Blackwater

Let's hope that the Blackwater elements can be thoroughly flushed out of the federal security services. Let's also hope that the Secret Service does a better job protecting Obama in the coming election year than Pakistan's ISI did in protecting Benazir Bhutto who didn't live to see election day.

What must be done with Blackwater is what President John F. Kennedy said he wanted to do with the CIA following the Bay of Pigs disaster: Tear it up into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the wind. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and JFK are rolling in their graves at the privatizing of the armed forces that George W. Bush has rammed through. With privatization comes a lack of control on the part of the government over its own military and security services. Bush gave Blackwater and companies like it a free ride on the government's dime and they no doubt want the gravy train to continue. Obama promises to apply the brakes. He therefore has some well-armed and lethally trained enemies that stand to lose their livelihoods if he follows through on his promise to end the Iraq occupation.

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