A Brush with History: A Comparison of Media

by New Idiom


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When my sister asked our family to meet her new in-laws in Pakistan last Fall we all thought she was joking.  Then we realized through her continuous pleas that this was important to her. We considered the existing political turmoil of Pakistan, yet we apprehensively purchased the tickets for December.

My sister’s husband, a Pakistani Muslim, along with his family wanted us to come and celebrate their Walima, a traditional dinner hosted by the groom’s family to welcome the bride and her family.   This dinner would take place in the groom’s home town, a garrison area called Rawalpindi, situated conveniently close to Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital. We prepared for our journey in the next few months, while watching the
Pakistani national elections approach and the tension increase in the struggling democracy.

Upon arrival we assisted my sister and her in-laws in tending to all of the typical wedding preparations.  On December 26th, we attended my sister’s Walima, a tradition which has a very different atmosphere than a western wedding reception.  My family did not expect the cultural differences that we were faced with; these differences were minor, however, in comparison to the shocking event that would take place in the next 24 hours.

The next day on December 27th, Benazir Bhutto, the “Daughter of Democracy,” was attempting to campaign for the national elections, and as leader of the Pakistani People’s Party she faced much opposition from various forces within the country and surrounding factions.  We were, however, unaware of the local political rallies that were taking place that day and were excited to go out and explore the sights. We visited the archaeological ruins of Taxila, a UNESCO Heritage Fund Site, and were able to see the continual layers of strife and struggle in the surrounding land.  While leaving the ancient site, we received a phone call from my sister’s father-in-law.  He recommended that we start heading back for the evening, stating that there was heavy traffic due to political rallies in the streets. Upon our arrival to the house, we learned that Bhutto had been assassinated on the same street where the Wilima had taken place the previous evening.

Although we were there during the making of history, we did not stay in Rawalapindi to watch the aftermath of the December 27th incident. We drove to the airport the following morning to our next destination, Dubai. The unsettling thing about the drive to the airport was that Rawalpindi was calm, and the streets left little evidence of the previous night’s tragedy.  I was fortunate to be able to safely follow the unraveling of events through various national media sources. I followed the headlines carefully during my travels, seeking insights to how and why this happened. Most of all, I desired to know who did this to her… and who did this to Pakistan?

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Considering all of the varying speculations, we may never know who ultimately carried out the slaying of Benazir Bhutto.  In addition, I found much confusion about the actual cause of her death. The Eastern media that I was exposed to in Pakistan, Dubai and India reported conflicting views to their readers of the chain of events during those fatal minutes in the streets of Rawalpindi. The Khaleej Times of the Gulf region reported that “she was rushed to the hospital with bullet wounds on head and neck.” Supporting eyewitness reports reinforced these initial statements, yet they were difficult to interpret because of an approaching “cloud of contradiction” that appeared days after the slaying.  Eventually a spokesperson from the Interior Ministry retracted the previous statement that “all three shots missed her…. Instead, she was killed when she tried to duck back into the vehicle, and the shockwaves from the blast knocked her head into a lever attached to the sunroof…” The government of Pakistan unfortunately did very little in the form of forensic science or autopsy analysis to move forward in understanding the cause of death>This strange lack of investigation, along with religious rejections of autopsy and exhumation of the body, made it difficult to understand what happened that evening.

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Interestingly, the media of the West never reported directly to its readers this retraction, which stated the “new” cause of death. The New York Times in fact highlighted all of these key speculations that arose in the following days with a headline that reads: “New Questions Arise in Killing of Ex Premier.” According to many expert opinions stated in this article, the Pakistani government intentionally released a false statement to protect themselves from being blamed for lack of event security, among other things.

I realized then as I traveled and upon my arrival home that this significant, historical event would be documented and distributed in varying ways, based on the location of the media source.  I was fortunate enough to view many news sources which allowed me to analyze the situation objectively. However, many readers around the world have only a single, biased news source to understand events. In these areas the local government, with its political motives, ultimately shapes the facts that will be eventually passed onto the region’s impressionable population.

- Amy Batchu