MY, MY, MY MARAWI: Bedazzling Benazir. By Samira Ali Gutoc

She was tall, wearing a fashionistic long blouse, loose pants, with her hijab (head gear) and protruding teased black bangs. Her eyes with eyeliner were large pools. I mustered a teenager's courage to ask and tapped her shoulder, "Maam, can we take a picture?" She had no bodyguards, no cordon around her and gave me that Princess Di smile, "Sure." When the shots clicked, that experience was all I had to remember her by. She glided back into the wild world of politics in volatile Pakistan as a historic twice-elected Prime Minister and the first Muslim female to be elected so.
Benazir had to overcome the disadvantages of being a woman in an Islamic society. But, she said as quoted by Christian Science Monitor, in South Asia, unlike many parts of the Muslim world, cultural and historical factors allow women of high socio-economic background to ''transcend the gender gap.'' Indira Gandhi ruled in India, Sri Lanka had a female president, and the leader of the opposition in Bangladesh is a woman.
Years later in 2002, I heard of her at Oxford (she was a Masters Degree alumna, 1977), where her fellow South Asian was my immediate supervisor as a visiting fellow at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies (OXCIS). She was in exile somewhere in the United Kingdom. I wished I could see her. Outspoken Pakistanis in my boarding house were sympathetic to her and her political party Pakistan People's Party (PPP). These privileged individuals were organized too in a politicized students association. They were her technocrat supporters as well, the intelligentsia.
Benazir, I read, was the "first female leader of a post-colonial Muslim country, the daughter of a political dynasty (her father was the first popularly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and was eventually executed by a military regime that later seized power), a champion for democracy in the Muslim world, and a world leader who experienced a roller coaster ride of ups and downs from winning elections to living in exile to facing assassination attempts by suicide bombers during her triumphant return to her homeland this October."
And someone did really get a shot at her on December 27, 2007. She died at the prime of her life, at 54.
Her loss was tragic. When so few of us Muslim women are able to reach a mainstream audience through CNN or BBC, Benazir was the poster girl for the modern Muslim woman. Educated in Harvard and Oxford, she had charisma, wit, presence and grace. She was irreplaceable.
Like Corazon Aquino, Benazir represented a democratic force to counter even temper the tyranny of authoritarian leaders. In historic times against dictatorships, both were able to muster public support. Both were listened to by the masses. Their countrymen were willing to sacrifice their lives for democracy.
As the Christian Science Monitor reported, "When Bhutto returned to Pakistan from exile in 1986, she apparently hoped a wave of ''people power'' could help sweep her to victory as had happened to Corazon Aquino in the Philippines earlier that year. But the regime was not as feeble or unpopular as that of Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos. Bhutto survived and adapted."
It was simplistic for many of our Muslim men to judge Benazir merely as being a US "pawn" or corrupt politician. Many of these intellectual men, who look down on her contribution, read and watch American material and were even educated by Western curriculum anyway.
A local religious leader suspects Benazir's killers may have been political extremists because Bhutto was "being used by the US as an instrument against Islam."
But she inspired many, especially women. Many Muslim-Filipina women who met her express their admiration. "Benazir was a dynamic lady and very stunning," said Nurmallah Alonto Lucman, also a political child thrust into the political limelight as the daughter of the only Muslim lady governor in the country (back in the 70s), Princess Tarhata Lucman.
Former Cabinet member and daughter of lone Muslim female senator Santanina Rasul, Amina Rasul said, "Our sister Benazir was a powerful image for the Muslim world, a woman who was elected Prime Minister of an Islamic country where the military and the religious leaders were powerful. Her death has erased that powerful image."
Former Presidential Adviser Bai Nurhata Alonto said, "Benazir was a woman of peace and great vision for her people. A big loss to all the fighters against extremism and terrorism. The Muslim Ummah (community) lost one of its leaders, who believed in changing the course of politics in her country."
Benazir Bhutto was a woman of history and will forever be so.
(My, My, My Marawi is Samira Gutoc-Tomawis' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Samira describes herself as a "freelance writer, peace advocate, artist-wannabe, co-convenor of the Young Moro Professionals Network. She has many Pakistani friends, having studied at the Philippine School in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, she went to Oxford Center for Islamic Studies for a study fellowship. You can reach her at [email protected])