Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
When Fatima Bhutto was just a precocious little girl with "a mouth that never stopped running," family members often commented on her similarity to her aunt, Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first—and so far only—female prime minister, assassinated in 2007. "'You're just like your aunt' was often used as both a compliment and an admonishment," writes Fatima in her new memoir, Songs of Blood and Sword. She'd likely be insulted by the same comparison today. Now an author and journalist based in Karachi, Fatima as an adult is one of Benazir's most outspoken critics. She now characterizes her aunt as an arrogant, manipulative leader who climbed to power without any plan of what to do once she got there.
But her criticism comes paired with an old family grudge: Her father, Murtaza Bhutto, was also a political activist in Pakistan. Unfortunately for the Bhutto dynasty, Murtaza's views diverged sharply from Benazir's, and he spent much of his life in exile. In her memoir of the Bhutto family soap opera, Fatima spins an alternative history of the clan and Benazir's troubled times as prime minister.
Fatima's no Kennedy; she denies having political aspirations. Nonetheless, she remains loyal to improving Pakistan—even if it is, as she puts it, "a nuclear state that cannot run refrigerators." She spoke with Mother Jones recently about feminism, Egypt, and the ongoing plight of the Pakistani flood victims.
MJ: Do you think the recent unrest could spill over into Pakistan?
FB: You know, I can't overstate how much I hope that would be the case.
Mother Jones: Do you think that the recent unrest in parts of North Africa and the Middle East could spill over into Pakistan? Have you seen any signs of this?
Fatima Bhutto: You know, I can't overstate how much I hope that would be the case. We haven't seen any rumblings in Pakistan just yet, it hasn't seemed to reach people in the way that it's spreading across North Africa and the Middle East, but you know the parallels are incredible. These are generations of Tunisians and Egyptians, for example, who have known nothing but the Ben Ali family, the Mubarak family, in the same way my generation of Pakistanis have come of age in the era of dictatorships. We have only known military dictators or corrupt civilian autocrats. We have more than one name, maybe three, where the face has changed but the policy has stayed the same: the ability for the state to impose emergency rule on its people, the ability for the state to censor and to hinder the liberty of its citizens is incredibly familiar.
But it hasn't happened in Pakistan yet, so of course all of the objective conditions exist. And is it because Pakistan is a country reeling at the moment? We have the most disastrous natural disaster in our history, in 80 years; we hadn't seen anything like the floods that hit the country this fall and winter. Twenty million people were affected. We're also an international battleground; some 2,000 Pakistanis have been killed in drone attacks in the last two years, largely civilians. You know we have a government that takes great support and great strength from foreign power. Are these the factors that are keeping people from reacting as they are in Egypt and Tunisia? I don't know, but I certainly hope that they can be overturned.
Last week, the GOP backed down from its attempt to limit the definition of rape under federal abortion law. But hold your applause: While the Republican leadership was removing the controversial "forcible rape" provision from the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) was busy slipping a provision into a related bill, the "Protect Life Act," that could prove just as controversial.
Supporters of abortion rights say Pitts' latest effort would allow doctors and hospitals to refuse to perform any abortion, even one that was needed to save the life of a pregnant woman. A Pitts spokesman told Talking Points Memo on Friday that the bill simply clarifies existing law and suggested that the new measure does not go beyond current law. (That's the same claim that defenders of the "forcible rape" language made before ultimately scrapping it.) But contrary to Pitts' attempt to downplay the new provision, a close look shows that it may change what hospitals are required to do in the very rare cases when an abortion is needed to save a woman's life—and the provision itself may even be unconstitutional.
According to French-Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, Chileans really know how to butcher Spanish. "Every culture has their own slang, but I think in Chile specifically we speak very bad," she says over the phone. "So we have a lot, a lot of slang."
Despite this, or maybe because of it, Tijoux has an incredible way with words. Even if listeners don't understand her Spanish, they will sense the graceful fluidity of her style, which often relies on unusual syncopations and internal rhymes. Tijoux, who spent a childhood in France after dictator Augusto Pinochet forced her parents into exile, says she's "always been fascinated by the aesthetic of words." As down-to-earth as they come, she manages to make use of quotidian conversations, minor details, and yes, plenty of "slahng" (as she pronounces it), to render the world in poetry.
"Can you imagine what it feels like to have a black cloak drawn over the country and everything is cut off?" Laura* asks me. She's stuck in her apartment in Cairo, and finally cell phones are working again, for now. I got through to her twice on Saturday, and she's been filling me in on what it's like to be a foreigner in the city. She's grateful to have phone service again, because on Friday, that means of communication had effectively vanished. "You couldn't call anyone. You couldn't access the internet; everything was just shut off."
Laura, one of my best friends, has been in Egypt for less than a month. After spending nearly two years traveling around West Africa, she was looking forward to a calmer existence in cosmopolitan Cairo, where she'd be working with refugees. Then, shortly after she moved there, the protests began and chaos erupted. When I spoke with her on Saturday, she described the scene on the ground: "I'm looking out my balcony and it's gotten to this point where police are basically gone, the military is guarding the square and certain ministries, but there are just thugs and bandits in the streets with guns, and a lot of looting is happening."
"I have a bag at the door with a passport and some water in it in case we have to run. I don't want to be alarmist, but things are deteriorating very quickly.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's attempts to suppress protesters by cutting off internet and cell phone service only seems to be making the situation worse. Thousands continue to defy the police, ignore the imposed curfew, and rally to demand that the current regime step down. And sadly, in some cases the protestors have been met with brutality. "I saw an old woman shot in the face yesterday," Laura tells me.
Even worse, police seem to be shooting people and then beating them afterwards.
We were walking along the Kornish next to the Nile, and we saw these people on the bridge, not even protesting, just looking at what's going on. Police trucks—not military, but police, there's a distinction because they're not necessarily working together—went across the bridge and opened fire on people standing there. Then there were these plain-clothed police—that's the scariest thing, is that they've hired thugs who are dressed in normal clothes and carry canes to beat people—going up onto the bridge and taking them down off the bridge and beating them. Because if you've been shot, that's evidence you're a protester, so therefore you need to be beaten.
Laura and her friend saw a young woman who'd been grazed by a bullet caught amidst a frenzy of canes. They grabbed her and dragged her away from the mob. "We had to link arms with her and walk her through these checkpoints so she would stop being beaten," Laura explains. "It's so fucking unreal. I don't know what's going on."
On Friday afternoon, Laura and her friend made a trip to the American Embassy, just blocks away from Laura's apartment, to register in case anything happened to them. When they got there, a curfew had just been declared and they were forced to spend the night. During their stay, the Embassy came under attack, and it was rumored that a group of looters stole armored Embassy vehicles.
Now back at her apartment in the relatively calm Garden City neighborhood, Laura can do little but peer out from her balcony at an apocalyptic city echoing with gunshots. "We keep looking outside and seeing these men walking around with sticks, and we assume they're defending the neighborhood. But no one knows who anyone is."
I talked to Laura again a little later, around 3 AM on Sunday morning, and she sounded like herself again; sense of humor intact. She said the men wandering the streets below were her neighbors on a make-shift patrol, trying to maintain order since the police had fled. "The men downstairs have swords, but they're eating yogurt," she tells me, laughing a little. "One guy on the corner has an AK-47."
Every so often, she hears tanks rambling down the Kornish, a street running parallel to the Nile about a block away. Her neighbors have moved big flowerpots in a maze-like pattern on her street so that cars won't be able to zoom through very quickly. And even though tension is high and drama continues to unfold around them, life for those not directly involved in the protests is, for now, a waiting game. The American Embassy has encouraged those with "their own means of transportation" to leave the city, but so far have ordered no emergency evacuations for US citizens.
"I have a bag at the door with a passport and some water in it in case we have to run," Laura tells me. "I don't want to be alarmist, but things are deteriorating very quickly. It's probably fine, probably nothing's going to happen to me. But at the same time, no one expected any of this to happen."