I did not write about the death of Benazir Bhutto when it happened yesterday, because I did not feel I had anything interesting to say. I still don’t, but it is without a doubt one of the defining moments of this year, and thus deserves a mention. The posts on my front page are beginning to look a little stale, like the left-over turkey in our fridge.
Deaths and disasters are always discordant, inconvenient things, which disrupt the normal order of one’s day. But this is more so at Christmas time, which should be characterized by lighter emotions. You’re surrounded by torn wrapping paper and chocolate papers, and suddenly Huw Edwards is telling you that James Brown or Gerald Ford is dead, or that earthquakes and tsunamis have ripped apart other people’s homes, or that another nameless teenager has been stabbed in our capital. There is nothing to do but continue with Christmas, but now you know that somewhere, people are mourning. The next tangerine is more sour than the last.
Most depressing, in this case, is to watch the optimism die along with the woman. Political momentum takes years, or even generations to build. It colours the air slowly, like a smog, slowly pressurizing a government and a people into action. And then some cretin comes along and blows it all away. The clock is reset, and we start all over again. The last time I felt like this was after the London bombings.
The Bhuttos, Zulfikar and Benazir, took two generations to build a following and a reputation that could hold a military dictator to account, in the way Benazir did with General Musharaff earlier this year. Her death now, at the moment of a new victory, is a waste, the classic ‘tale told by an idiot’. She is suddenly gone, and in place of the political pressure, there is a vacuum, and no-one is optimistic about what will fill it.