Friday, December 28, 2007

Reflections on Bhutto's Death

Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, died yesterday after being shot by someone who then blew himself up, taking more people with him.

I feel both angry and sad. Angry at Bhutto for needlessly subjecting herself and innocent onlookers to totally predictable mayhem and death, and angry at the zealot who inflicted the carnage. Part of me would like to see him burn in screaming agony in hell for a thousand years or two before being consigned to everlasting oblivion.

Yet, I also feel sad that all those lives were lost for no good reason that I can see, and that Pakistan lost a leader who might have helped that country to reform. And I'm sad to see senseless violence motivated by pathological political and religious zealotry just go on and on and on with no end in sight.

Someone might argue that at least the assassin-terrorist died for a cause in which he believed. In what do I believe for which I would be willing to kill others including myself?

I believe that I might well kill an aggressor to prevent him from harming me or others without justification, and I would like to think that I would sacrifice my own life to save the life of a loved one or even just an innocent child or other person I don't even know.

Well, what if the man who killed Bhutto, himself, and the others believed that he was doing it to save more lives from misery and death than he took? How different is that from my killing others or sacrificing myself to save others? There intuitively seems to be a difference, but when one subjects that intuition to the spotlight of reason and tries to explain precisely what that difference is, it isn't so easy.

For instance, one could argue that killing is justified only when done to protect oneself or others against an imminent threat of severe harm or death, and that killing Bhutto didn't fulfill that requirement. But suppose one had the chance to kill Hitler or Stalin and had to endanger or kill innocent people to accomplish the task. Can one definitively say that this would be wrong? Of course, I'm not comparing Bhutto to Hitler or Stalin. I'm merely suggesting that the assassin may have perceived her as an evil person or as someone who could, if allowed to live, end up being responsible for tremendous evil befalling Pakistan, and so he acted to eliminate the threat.

What bearing should a person's motives have on our assessment of his actions?

Bhutto interview

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