Fighting Injustice and Jihad in Bangladesh with the Help of the US Congress
By Dr. Richard L. Benkin 16 November 2006
The fight to save anti-Islamist journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has
entered a new and critical stage. Having put its lot with Islamist radicals
and now finding itself held hostage by them, the government of Bangladesh
put Choudhury on trial for "sedition, treason, and blasphemy," for which he
could be put to death if convicted. "If convicted" is rather perfunctory
since the judge in the trial has sole discretion over Choudhury's fate and
has made his intentions clear. He is associated with radical Islamist
parties in Bangladesh and has already said that he is "not interested in
evidence." He has also said that "by praising Christianity and Judaism,
[Choudhury] has harmed Islam." By exposing the growing Islamist threat in
Bangladesh and advocating that Bangladesh establish relations with Israel,
according to this judge, he has offended the sentiments of Muslims. The
judge also said that he will not allow any defense witnesses to be placed
into the court record.
After months of difficult negotiations, it appeared by the summer of 2006
that the Bangladesh government understood it to be in their country's
interests to drop the charges against Choudhury. Several of its leading
officials had already admitted that the capital charges were false; but they
all said they could not drop them because "they were afraid how the
[Islamist] radicals would react." That referred both to radical parties in
the ruling coalition and to voters in the upcoming January elections. Thus,
they embarked on a convoluted process that would result in the charges being
dropped in accordance with legal procedures; and, contrary to their
previously empty assurances, this one, it appeared, they were be following
throughout the summer. But in September, Judge Mohammed Momin Ullah ruled
that Choudhury would be tried for these crimes, despite the fact that the
Public Prosecutor testified that there was no evidence to support the
charges and the government would not object to them being dropped.
International outrage, however, seems to be getting the better of the
government, as on November 13 it postponed Choudhury's next court date until
2007. That would take the onus off the current government and leave it with
the new government that will take over after elections-and not have to worry
about radical voters for another five years. It also gives us more time to
fight this injustice.
The US Congress re-convened that same day. The next day-its first full day
back in session-US Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) who has been Choudhury's
champion in the Congress, introduced a Resolution urging the Bangladeshis to
drop the false charges and end all other forms of harassment against
Choudhury. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) co-sponsored the Resolution with him.
The following day, every member of Congress was notified about the bill and
urged to support it. "Congress must send a clear message: we cannot allow
moderate voices in the Muslim world to be silent.
While House Resolution 1080 does not contain specific sanctions against the
Bangladesh government, it sets the stage for them (Kirk had already secured
language in an appropriations bill that associated aid to Bangladesh with
justice in this case.) Moreover, it places in the official record that the
Bangladeshi government is wrong to persecute someone for advocating
relations between Jews and Muslims, between Bangladesh and Israel; that the
Bangladeshi government has lied repeatedly and that their statements cannot
and will not be trusted; and that the same government is engaged in a
pattern of persecution. Perhaps most significantly, it puts to rest once
and for all, the disingenuous assertion by Bangladeshi officials that the
nation does not have a problem with radical Islamists.
The resolution and attendant attention (the Wall Street Journal carried an
editorial supporting the resolution the day after it was introduced) seems
to be working. Choudhury's police protection at his house, which was
removed more than two weeks ago mysteriously re-appeared after the
resolution was introduced; and Choudhury's challenge of his case's legality
to the High Court, which was originally assigned to another hard line
radical judge, was switched to a more moderate one and given a hearing. But
Choudhury's defenders will not be satisfied with half measures. The next
step would be to cut or hold up the US's $63 million appropriation to
Bangladesh; and there already has been considerable talk in the US about not
buying Bangladeshi garments, on which that economy is totally dependent.
People who are citizens of the United States should act immediately and
encourage their Congressional representatives to Support House Resolution
1080. They should also encourage everyone they know to do the same. Kirk's
staff will be working on lining up co-sponsors and supporters over the next
two weeks. If the member of Congress has received a communication from a
constituent, it will make support of the resolution close to a certainty.
For those who do not have a way to make that contact, they can go to our web
site, www.InterfaithStrength.com and click on the instructions that will
take them to the American Jewish Committee's web site where they can do it
in a few clicks.
There is a quote at the top of that web site: "If the Choudhurys were in
Europe during the Holocaust, they would have refused to drive the trains."
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury has stood up for us at considerable peril; now
it is up to us to stand up for him.