News of the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Bhenazir Bhutto at a political rally in Rawalpindi on Thursday was a seismic event in that politically volatile nation. But Bhutto's murder also reverberated powerfully in neighborhoods around the world where Pakistanis have come to live. To gauge the reaction in the United States, VOA's Adam Phillips traveled to a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, that locals call "Little Pakistan."
The mosques in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where a majority of New York's Pakistanis live, are usually busy on Fridays. But crowds inside and outside the humble stucco structure were far larger past Friday, as community members and the media tried to make sense of Benazir Bhutto's assassination Thursday. One boy in his early teens stood off to the side of the crowd, watching.
"I heard that she got killed and hit with a bullet on her neck and her head," he said about the assassination. "I felt really angry because Musharraf is doing bad stuff and she was about to win the election to be prime minister. And Musharraf didn't let her win it."
Ali Nawaz, a middle aged man standing nearby, said he feels grief, rather than anger.
"I feel bad. I feel sad. I didn't go to work last night. I drive cab. I not [don't] belong to her party, but I still feel bad what happened. She was a very intelligent, nice woman. She was famous internationally. She survived nine years. She was lucky. Now she's dead," he said.
Evidence suggests that Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber. If so, he or she was presumably hoping to become a holy martyr in the cause against her. But for Sajad, who had just finished his prayers, that assassin was deeply misguided and will pay a price in the afterlife.
"This brutal killer, he make her a target, he is going to paradise? That's what he's thinking? Allah [is] gonna put him in the worst place because he put the country in darkness," said Sajad. "He killed democracy and prosperity and hopes of the people and he's thinking he is going to Paradise? I wish I would have been there when the bullet come into her!"
Bazah Roohi, an accountant and part-time human rights worker, is expressing her grief by setting up a candlelight vigil outside her office with photos of the fallen leader.
"Yesterday I was sleeping at 8:30, and one of my friends, he called me and he said 'I am sorry to wake you up because there is a very bad news. Benzi died.' I jumped from my bed and there on the TV was the news. About the first 15 minutes I was like [a] statue. And after that I cried a lot," said Roohi as she described her reaction to the assassination.
"She deserves it, to cry for her," she added. "She was elected prime minister twice and you know in Islamic countries, in Pakistan, the women don't have much rights. And she fought hard. I was crying for her and I was crying for our country. I think democracy died. Because she was the big sign of democracy and she was the big leader of the big party."
"She wasn't an angel," answered Roohi, when she was told "of course, she also had her critics. When she was prime minister she got into lots of trouble for corruption and nepotism." She said, "We all have some weak points in our personalities."
Mohammad Razvi, executive director of the Council of Peoples' Organizations, a social service center for new immigrants, attributes Bhutto's enormous appeal here in Midwood to her three visits to the area - two of them in this past year.
" The people here when she came here, they were able to talk to her openly. Many individuals here if they were back home it would be too difficult to have communication or talk to her. But here, when she came, she was able to do that. It didn't matter if you were a leader or a person on the street, she'd talk to you," he said.
According to news reports, fires and looting were widespread Friday in many cities across Pakistan, and Razvi says his clients are deeply concerned for the safety of their relatives back home.
"We're telling the individuals, the members here to call up their loved ones in Pakistan to stay at home because of the riots that are breaking out and all the commotion that is
going on. It's a difficult time for everyone," he said.
Malik Saleem Akber would agree. He is one of many Pakistani-Americans who are pessimistic about their homeland's political prospects following the Bhutto assassination.
"And what will happen now is [that] the path we were about to start to democracy after the elections is not going to be happening any more. There will be very strict martial law in the country and I see the basic rights of the people will be taken away. The media will again be under pressure and we will go back another ten or fifteen years," concluded Akber.