Chicago cab driver Syed Raza was so overcome by the news of Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto’s assassination that he stopped his car on Devon Avenue and said he probably won’t work for the rest of the day.
“She was the only hope for democracy,” said Raza, a 42-year-old Pakistani who has lived in the United States for 22 years. “She was open-minded.”
Bhutto assassinated in attack
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Like many Chicago area Pakistanis, Raza was shocked by today’s news and deeply concerned about how Bhutto’s death will play out in volatile Pakistan. Raza met Bhutto five years ago when she spoke at the University of Chicago.
Raza said he implored Bhutto to try to do something about extremism in Pakistan. She gave him the thumbs up sign, he recalled.
Several local Pakistanis predicted bloody chaos in their former homeland.
“Pakistan is burning right now and I can only pray for my country,” said Rana Javed, 53, who is president of the Illinois chapter of Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party. Like Raza, Javed also met Bhutto when she came to Chicago. As he spoke, he was on the verge of tears and held a framed photograph of Bhutto and himself sitting on a sofa.
Mateen Hyder, 52, a United Airlines technician, came to Devon Avenue today in search of updates about the unfolding situation in his former homeland. Hyder said Bhutto made a mistake by returning to Pakistan in October after an eight-year exile.
“People were warning her,” Hyder said. “She didn’t take it seriously.”
Reem Rahman, 21, of Naperville, has relatives living near Rawalpindi, where the attack occurred. No one has been able to reach them.
“I heard about the news on my morning commute,” she said. “Everyone is calling Pakistan to see if their families are okay. It’s a scary situation.”
Many Muslim organizations were quick to denounce the violence, including the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Political assassinations fly in the face of Islamic and universal principles,” Ahmed M. Rehab said. “They are highly offensive to Muslims who abide by their faith's teaching.”
The American Islamic Congress, a national civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C., also condemned the assassination with an additional appeal to Muslim women.
“Young Muslim women around the world should not let this murder dissuade them from speaking out and claiming their rightful place as equals in society," a statement said.