Roger’s Rules

Dramamine alert! Dept. of Bhutto apotheosis

As the pious cataract of eulogies for Benazir Bhutto accumulate and briefly eddy before draining away, the connoisseur of cant is tempted to wade in and examine the specimens: which of these cringe-making hagiographical exercises is the worst? The competition is stiff, if for no other reason than that the Musharraf-Bhutto spectacle made for such facile political drama. I cannot claim to have examined all the contenders; nevertheless I would be willing to cede the palm preemptively to the truly stomach-churning performance by Bernard-Henri Levy in, of all places, The Wall Street Journal. “They have killed a woman,” Mr. Levy begins. “A beautiful woman. A visible, indeed a conspicuously, spectacularly visible woman.”

Students of rhetoric will wish to study Mr. Levy’s histrionic communique. What accounts for its singular awfulness? How has he managed to crowd so much cloying insincerity and grating exhortation into fewer than 800 words? I note that the piece was translated from the French, and it is true that piece is even more horrible if read aloud in a faux-French accent (though that has the compensating advantage of bringing out its unintended comic elements). Yet even when all due allowances are made for that imperfect art, most observers, I suspect, will grant that the author, not the translator, is the source of the essay’s emetic qualities.

[N]ow they have killed Benazir Bhutto–killed her because she was a woman, because she had a woman’s face, unadorned yet filled with an unswerving strength, because she was living out her destiny and refusing the curse that, according to the new fascists (the jihadists) floats over the human face of women.

Actually, al Qaeda killed her not because she was the latest incarnation of Das Ewigweibliche but in order to remove a prominent (also, n.b., at least intermittently corrupt) critic and to destabilize an already fraught country further. But the breathless fanzine rhetoric Mr. Levy trowels onto his subject obscures that reality under a suffocating layer of unearned moralism and pseudo-concern.

“The best, the most beautiful way of responding would have been for Angela Merkel, George Bush, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy to have gone immediately to Pakistan for her funeral.”

Really? Or would that have been an act of grandstanding political folly guaranteed to make an already dangerous situation much worse?

Doubtless the Augean stables of sentimentality have more in store for us on this subject. But to date, Bernard-Henri Levy’s intervention is the most appalling piece of sentimentalizing rubbish since irresponsible journalists abetted the transformation of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales from a nuisance for the Paris tunnel cleaners into an international embarrassment.