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Benazir Bhutto

Benazir Bhutto shares views on power, democracy

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has lots of firsts in her long list of accomplishments. She was the first woman elected head of an Islamic country. Only 35 at the time, she was the youngest woman or man to be elected prime minister in any country.

As a postgraduate student at Oxford University, she was elected president of the debating society, The Oxford Union. She was the first woman and the first person from outside the United Kingdom to achieve the post.

“I was told I could not be elected so I should not run, but I did run,” she said. “I ran and I won and I overcame the fear of losing.”

Bhutto visited UT Arlington in March to deliver the pinnacle address in the Conversations lecture series in conjunction with this year’s OneBook shared reading experience in which all freshmen and much of the University community read the same book. The book, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, is set in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Russian domination of Afghanistan and in the years after, when the Taliban ruled.

In the afternoon, Bhutto answered questions from a select group of students from every school and college on campus. In the evening, she addressed a capacity Texas Hall audience on the Islamic extremists’ rise to power, the failure of military regimes and her dreams for a democratic Pakistan.

“To understand the present and to change the future, we must understand the past,” she said. “The Western world has cohabited with dictators to achieve short-term goals (like defeating Russia in Afghanistan), and that has led to long-term disasters.”

Pakistan has been under military control for 25 of the last 30 years, Bhutto said, and these regimes “played the West like a fiddle” because they have nothing to gain by stabilizing their countries.

“Then the flow of money would stop and the Western world would demand free elections,” she said.

An ardent supporter of democracy, Bhutto said she learned much as an undergraduate at Harvard University.

“I was here during the Nixon years and the Watergate trials. I was amazed at the power of the people in a democracy. They could take down the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States.”

Bhutto planned to be a diplomat after completing her education. She returned to Pakistan in 1977 and was preparing to take the admission exam for her country’s diplomatic service when her father, Prime Minister Zulfikar Bhutto, was deposed, arrested and, two years later, hanged. She spent the next seven years in exile or under house arrest.

“Fate then took over my life,” she said. “Our destiny is not always in our own hands.”

Although Bhutto now lives in exile in Dubai, she still heads the Peoples Party of Pakistan, which she believes will win this year’s elections, if a fair election is assured. Then she will return to Pakistan to fulfill what she says is her destiny.

And if she’s elected for an unprecedented third time? That would be another first.

– Sue Stevens

Time columnis Joe Klein

Time columnist Joe Klein talks politics

Best-selling author and journalist Joe Klein gives low ratings to President George W. Bush’s administration, saying it is characterized by “arrogance and incompetence.” But the work of another Texan, a UT Arlington alumna, stands tall in his esteem.

“I am proud to be in Arlington, the home of that wonderful American saint, Tillie Burgin,” he said on his recent campus visit.

A few years ago, Klein spent several days in Arlington observing Burgin’s work while researching an article about faith-based social services. Burgin, a 1953 graduate of Arlington State College (now UT Arlington), founded Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex in 1986 after a career in education and mission work. She continues to run the nonprofits with tireless dedication.

Klein covers national and international affairs for Time magazine. He wrote Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, which director Mike Nichols made into a film starring John Travolta and Emma Thompson. He also wrote a second political novel, The Running Mate, and two political nonfiction books, Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You’re Stupid and The Natural: The Misunderstood Presidency of Bill Clinton. The winner of the 2004 National Headliner Award for best magazine column, Klein appears frequently on Meet the Press, The Chris Matthews Show and other broadcasts.

He previously wrote for The New Yorker and Newsweek, but after the 2000 election, he retired.

“I had covered seven presidential elections,” he said. “I was going to stay home and write books. But all changed after Sept. 11, 2001.

“Nine of my neighbors did not come home that night.”

Home is a small town north of New York City, a place where the neighbors all know each other.

One 9-11 widow asked him if he would explain to her children, when they were old enough to understand, why their father died.

Klein, whose closest friend is a Shiite from Bangladesh, said he knew Islamic teaching bears no resemblance to the perversions attributed to the faith. He felt he had to learn more about that part of the world and that the best way to do that was to return to journalism.

– Sue Stevens

Ben Stein

Ben Stein entertains, informs

Since the 1970s, America has morphed into an aristocracy, Ben Stein told an eager Texas Hall audience in February.

“Basic equity has been lost in modern America,” said the actor, economist, lawyer and writer, who went on to present some startling facts.

One-tenth of 1 percent of Americans own 50 percent of U.S. assets. More than 8 million Americans are millionaires, yet 40 million people in this nation can’t afford health care.

Stein said the wealthy should remember that America is not a Darwinist nation where only the elite prevail.

“The strong should take care of the weak,” he said, “and the rich should take care of the poor.”

He entertained questions on topics ranging from Social Security and immigration to the war in Iraq.

Despite the heavy subject matter, he acknowledged that he’s probably best known for his signature, monotone voice. So he recited “Bueller … Bueller … Bueller” to the delight of the many Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fans in the audience.

The crowd loved him, and Stein loved them back.

“You have made me feel like I am a Maverick, and I appreciate it very, very much indeed,” he said. “I will be a Maverick now for the rest of my life.”

– Camille Rogers




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