Middle Israel: Can assassins shape history?

Bhutto's murder is a symptom of the Islamists' success in keeping the world off balance.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit:)
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
"Just one bullet," Yitzhak Shamir once said, "that's all the Jewish people needed to prevent the Holocaust." The former prime minister, who knew a thing or two about assassinations - as a leader of the Lehi underground he is believed to have been involved in the slaying of UN envoy Folke Bernadotte in Jerusalem and Lord Moyne, the British minister for the Middle East, in Cairo - was possibly right in the narrow sense. Who knows what course history would have taken had that one bullet been fired sometime between Weimar's downfall and the invasion of Poland, and arrived somewhere between Adolf Hitler's mustache and forehead. However, as the world watched the horrifying pictures of Benazir Bhutto's murder this week, the jury was still out on the broader question: Can assassins, whether cowardly or brave, controlled or emotional, boorish or sophisticated, chart history's course? SOME ASSASSINS were downright cowards, like those who in 2004 poisoned Ukrainian leader Viktor Yushchenko and disfigured his face, or those who bombed former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri's motorcade in Beirut in 2005, or the one who in 1986 shot Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in the back while he was walking home with his wife from a movie theater, or those who threw pro-Western Czech foreign minister Jan Masaryk out of his bathroom window in Prague in 1948, and then said he committed suicide. Such assassins were cowards because they didn't have the guts to reveal themselves or even state their aims anonymously. Cowards were also those who ganged up on Julius Caesar who, though making no secret of their identity, still needed each other to confront him, and then had the gall to shed crocodile tears while proceeding to succeed him. Other assassins were heroic. The German officers who nearly killed Hitler, and then were themselves executed, knew what they were risking and still did it. The biblical Ehud, who killed King Eglon of Moab after entering the royal summer chambers, was so poor that he had to improvise his own dagger, but once he faced his target he stabbed him so hard that his home-made weapon got lost in that oasis-sheikh's fat. And the killers of Czar Alexander II in 1881 first threw a bomb under the emperor's carriage despite its detail of Cossack bodyguards. Then, having seen he survived that explosion, they had another man throw another bomb at his feet, the one that killed him. Czar Alexander's assassin was part of a team - in fact there was a third bomber at hand in case the second also failed - and so was the killer of Alexander the Great's father, Philip II, who after slaying the king at his own daughter's wedding fled toward his associates who awaited him with horses, only to be caught and killed several yards away from his salvation. Most assassins, however, were lone rangers, much in line with their understanding of power, which attributed disproportionate significance to the role of the individual in shaping history. Still, assassins they all were (with the possible exception of Palme's killers, who may have had other motives), since they killed for a political aim, whether it was their victim's sheer removal, or, better yet, the shock it would invariably cause and the repercussions that shock would hopefully bring. SOME ASSASSINS' slingshots sure shook heaven and earth. Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian nationalist who murdered Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie could not possibly have predicted that the trigger he was pulling would touch off a chain reaction that would ultimately kill at least 10 million people and bury three monarchies. Czar Alexander's killers, who had Jewish accomplices (one, Hasia Helfman, could not be hanged because she was pregnant with an illegitimate baby, the fruit of the free love which she and her colleagues espoused) touched off massive pogroms that in turn sent the first massive Zionist immigration to Palestine. And Salvador Allende's killers - who apparently forced him to commit suicide - indeed wrested Chile from him and stemmed Marxism's advance throughout South America. Yet even so, assassinations, while practically as old as government itself, seldom accomplished their goals, even when they hit their targets. Abraham Lincoln's assassin restored neither slavery nor the Confederacy, and Martin Luther King's murderer couldn't stem the civil rights movement's momentum. The anarchist who killed president William McKinley could not kill American government nor impede its rise to global dominance. Czar Alexander, who had liberated the serfs, simplified legal codes, empowered local governments and planned to establish a parliament, was succeeded by reactionaries who fought his reformist legacy. The zealot who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin wanted the Oslo process abandoned, but in fact accelerated it, as Rabin's successors summarily retreated from all Palestinian cities. And Anwar Sadat's assassins wanted to turn Egypt into an Islamist republic, but instead had his successor hunt, jail and often also kill thousands of Islamists under a perpetual emergency rule. It is therefore also tempting to say that Benazir Bhutto's murderers, whoever they were and whatever they wanted, also defied rather than represented history. Sadly, that is not the case. The post-colonial Islamic world has produced mankind's most explosive societies - demographically, politically and literally - as its leaders systematically fail to produce the social contracts that nurture stability, prosperity and happiness. Whether or not her performance justified this image, Bhutto, the first woman to lead an Islamic state, symbolized the quest to part with her co-religionists' frequent submission to anti-modernity and intolerance. Her murder, even if done by others, is still a symptom of the Islamists' success in keeping the world off balance, and occasionally ablaze. As things currently stand, with Islamist fury continuously seething from the Maghreb to the Philippines, and with Islamic moderation failing to match its enemies' zeal, it is Bhutto's modernist quest that seems the exception, and her assassins' prevalence the rule. www.MiddleIsrael.com