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Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Meet a Muslim Dissident
Source: Meet a Muslim Dissident
His country wants to hang him, and this could happen within the next few months. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a Bangladeshi journalist, publisher and peace activist who has left the fold of Jew hatred and madrassa building that is infecting his country in recent years.
For that, he is accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘hurting the image of Islam.’ The newspaper he publishes, The Daily Blitz, criticizes the jihad culture that is growing increasingly strong in his country and instead advocates inter-faith understanding between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Choudhury, who says he is proud to call himself a ‘Muslim Zionist,’ is partners on a peace project with a sheikh who believes that the Koran intends for Jews to be the rightful inhabitants of Israel - not what one would expect to hear from a Muslim.
In November, 2003, he [Choudhury] was on his way to speak in Tel Aviv at a writers’ conference about the role the media can play in promoting peace. If he had been allowed to visit Israel, it would have been a first for a Bangladeshi journalist since his country refuses to acknowledge Israel as a state and travel to it is not permitted. Choudhury chanced it anyway since Bangladesh also prohibits travel to Taiwan, yet it often looks the other way.
Unfortunately, however, he was grabbed at the airport by Bangladeshi officials, which started seventeen months of torture in government captivity.
Choudhury was beaten so badly his leg was broken, given only dirty water from the toilet to drink, and almost went blind because he was denied medical care for an eye condition. The charges made against him of sedition, treason and blasphemy were groundless.
Even the prosecuting attorney eventually wanted to drop them, but the Islamist judge in charge of the case insisted on continuing the show trial even without any evidence against Choudhury. Other officials have said they would like to drop the case too, except they fear, “how the radicals would react.”
In passionate yet surprisingly serene tones, he confronts the irrational hatred primarily directed against Jews and Israel that is inflaming the Muslim world, including its semi-religious belief in Holocaust Denial. Choudhury commends Israel’s democracy and progress, and proposes creating what he calls a “’Culture of peace’ with justice and tolerance for all people as opposed to the ‘culture of death.’”
His stated mission is to take personal responsibility to break down the ‘firewall of lies’ and ignorance that separate one people from another, using his talents as a writer and publisher. Are you hearing echoes of Reagan’s famous command, “Tear down this wall?” You should.
Why was it important to the Bangladeshi officials to arrest Choudhury exactly at the moment he was to leave for Israel, when he had been previously outspoken in his opposition to the rising Jihad culture? Perhaps it was because Israel’s eagerness to build a friendly culture of mutual respect between Jews and Muslims would have done damage to the prevailing Jihadist image of Jews as demonic aggressors. The firewall would have fallen. If Israel must remain The Enemy, then diplomatic ties and dialogue are certainly taboo. Another reason involves power. The muftis would lose control of Bangladesh’s masses of uneducated people, ground down by poverty, who come to life mainly under the Mullahs’ incitement to hate Jews. If the masses were animated by reason and respect, the mullahs would be out of work.
Choudhury grew up in a Muslim family that taught him to respect and love all other people, including Jews and Christians, whom he got to know as friends. That helped him ignore the ideas of prejudice and supremacy he heard from other Muslims, which were present in his youth, but were not nearly as numerous then as now.
Bangladesh, although it has a population that is vastly Muslim, has enjoyed an international reputation as tolerant and democratic, at least in so far as it has a Parliamentary system. While Islam is the state religion, the Bangladesh Constitution gives the right to practice the religion of one’s choice.
However, for the past twelve years or so, Islamist infiltration has been changing the character of the country. Direct ties to Osama bin Laden are beginning to emerge among some of the militants, it is reported, as they avow their loyalty to him. As al Qaida forces met with resistance in Afghanistan and Pakistan, they moved east, gravitating towards Bangladesh as a likely place to stage the next Islamic revolution. Once established in Bangladesh, al Qaida could launch attacks against mainly Hindu India, according to Choudhury. Bangladesh’s huge Muslim population, history of military coups since its recent birth as an independent nation in 1971, frequent famines and natural disasters, and extensive poverty, give it a certain vulnerable appeal to those who want to overthrow it. Funded by money from powers in the Persian Gulf, Islamist groups such as Jamat-i-Islam have made significant inroads towards a shari’a take-over. That would mean that democracy and the rule of law, considered blasphemous by the Islamists, would be replaced by an Islamic theocracy, similar to the ones in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Hezbollah has sprung up there too, claiming ties to the terrorist Lebanese group. The Islamists have gained influence in many parts of society. TV stations model themselves after al-Jezeera. Madrassas are set up for boys as young as five where they hear messages from Osama bin Laden. These schools are now attracting youngsters from wealthy, influential families and not just the very poor, who use them as the only way to get any kind of an education or even a bowl of rice. Many officials in the police force, the court system, and the Parliament have ties to the Islamists, and in addition, there is been long standing corruption in the government.
Bangladesh may be at a tipping point between at least nominal democratic processes and an Islamist take-over that frankly has the Taliban as its model. It is governed by a coalition of parties that appear to care more about defeating each other - and being re-elected - than the well being of the nation. So they are susceptible to influence seeking and intimidation from Islamist thugs, and the rule of law is breaking down. Frequent bombings, riots, and even suicide bombings directed at courts of law and government facilities are being used to cow the populace into surrender to Shari’ a. One such Islamist group, Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, openly states that its goal is to turn Bangladesh into a Taliban state and it uses terrorist style bombings to make its point. They demand the imposition of shari’a and threaten to assassinate any official that gets in their way. As for established political processes, in the general election in October 2001, fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami emerged as Bangladesh's third largest party, capturing seventeen seats out of three hundred in the parliament. (Do you think the fundamentalists might have been encouraged by the ‘success’ of 9/11?) Their ascendancy knocked down the staunchly secular and mildly leftist Awami League, which had been in power since 1996. With the rise to power of the fundamentalists, persecution of minority groups, mainly Hindus, has increased, as has anti-American rhetoric.
Other journalists besides Choudhury are being silenced through intimidation. In Choudhury’s case, which has attracted international attention because he continues to speak out against jihad and corruption, additional harassments were dumped on him after he was released on bail, thanks to international pressure. His newspaper’s office was bombed twice, and police refused to investigate. When a mob of about forty men assaulted him in his office, robbed him and broke his ankle, police refused to help and actually turned on him as the trouble-maker. His young children have been intimidated from going to school. He receives almost daily threats of more violence, including recent demands from a blackmailer involved in criminal activities to pay an exorbitant sum or face harm coming to his family.
Clearly, someone does not like what Choudhury is saying.
Choudhury had a chance to leave this nightmare behind him when he visited America and Europe to accept several awards for his outspoken journalism. Numerous Western countries offered him asylum, including the United States. He could have taken his family and remained abroad. But he chose to go back to Bangladesh, knowing he could be charged again, as he in fact was in October 2006, and that the trial would not be done according to standard rules of fairness. For example, his lawyer may not call any witnesses for his defense. Choudhury’s explanation for returning to the country that is persecuting him is, “Let the radicals leave. This is my country.” As he sees it, he needs to set an example of courage for the many other Muslims who share his sentiments, and for that he must return, even though he runs the risk of being hanged. I have become acquainted with Shoaib Choudhury through a series of email conversations. His mission of living for a higher purpose – and perhaps even dying for it – comes across palpably yet with an amazing absence of anger and anxiety. He radiates good cheer, a kind and sensitive nature, and devotion to his country.
If Choudhury dies on the gallows in his native land, thousands of Muslims who have similar desires for the right to practice tolerance and respect for others will feel a chill that will silence them. Or perhaps they will rise up and overthrow the Islamist tyrants. We don’t know what will happen, but isn’t there a better way to achieve peace than through the death of this sacrificial lamb?
Your prayers to spare the life of Choudhury, who supports the highest principles of our own culture, may help achieve that better way to achieve peace.
In addition, you can ask your Congressperson to help persuade the Bangladeshi government, recipient of massive foreign aid from the U.S., to end the illegal trial of Choudhury and declare him innocent.