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HEADLINES

Is Dhaka in Darkness

Is Dhaka in Darkness?

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

I apologize in advance to all Bangladeshis if my remarks seem to offend their sovereignty.  Such an offense is not meant in the least.  All sovereign nations have to face international opinion and the sovereign actions of other nations, including the policies their citizens expect them to follow. [RLB]

For most Bangladeshis, life probably has not changed much recently.  Yet, this week, the highly regarded Wall Street Journal declared “Dhaka in Darkness.”  What changed? 

The US media has never been much interested in Bangladesh.  For almost a year and a half, Bangladesh Ambassador Shamsher M. Chowdhury tried frenetically to interest Americans in Bangladesh as an ally in the war on terror and a moderate Muslim nation.  But all of his efforts were met with a collective yawn.  The embassy’s press attaché was similarly unsuccessful in getting the American media to take notice of your country.   Home Minister Lutfuzzaman Babar had a private meeting with Florida Governor Jeb Bush, brother of US President George Bush; but the papers were silent.  Even Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia’s visit to New York was not reported on by a single US paper.  What changed?

While the US (and the rest of the world) turned its collective back, a terrible sickness was quietly taking hold of Bangladesh; the sickness called radical Islam.  While the US remained uninterested, radicals began instituting themselves in Bangladeshi society.  They set up maddrassas, that taught young children to reject Bangladesh’s democracy, hate those of other faiths, and seek death in holy war.  While the US remained uninterested, the same sinister forces bought their way into large sections of the Bangladesh media.  They gained a foothold in the police and in several levels of the government.  At least equally ominous, it became a key player in determining who would govern Bangladesh.  Radical parties—sworn enemies of Bangladesh democracy and Bangladesh law—were embraced as loving partners by the ruling BNP.  So what changed?

What changed were the courageous actions of one man and a series of blunders by the current government and their radical partners.  Weekly Blitz editor and publisher Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury saw what was happening in his country and did what any good journalist would do:  he wrote about it.  But instead of accepting the existence of dissent in a free society, the Bangladeshi government arrested and tortured him, largely at the behest of the radicals in their midst.  The fact that several of their own officials—including the Prime Minister—have since made the same statements did not stop them from persisting with this self-destructive charge even after it began to draw the attention of human rights activists worldwide and the United States Congress (which Shamsher Chowdhury was charged with wooing so as to gain a US Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for Bangladesh).  Then came a succession of lies and false assurances by the government to members of Congress and their constituents.  Bangladeshi credibility had hit a new low in Washington, and Chowdhury’s goal of an FTA is a distant dream at best.

The last few weeks, however, saw a new series of blunders that took things to their current state.  First, the government made it clear that they were ready to abandon their futile and self-destructive case against Shoaib but were “afraid of angering the radicals.” So it was loath to act.  Yet, the Pubic Prosecutor finally said in court that he would not object to the charges being dropped due to lack of evidence.  Unfortunately, an openly radical judge said “too bad” and ordered the trial to proceed nonetheless.  The government was flabbergasted—and angry.  On the surface, one might attribute the anger to the immediate challenge of explaining the failure.  But the root cause was much more ominous.  Another assurance often heard from the Bangladeshi government was that the radicals were better in the coalition than “in the street.”  But this act showed both the government and the rest of the world that the BNP is not, as they have claimed, in control of that relationship.  Apparently, the radicals are.  American, Canada, and other parts of the world began to wake up.
Then, four days after police protection mysterious disappeared from Shoaib, he was brutally attacked.  Worse, with a beaten Shoaib present, the police chatted in a friendly manner with the admitted attackers and left with them still at the Blitz office.  When Shoaib’s attorney filed suit, it was ignored.  But when later that same day, the attackers sued Shoaib, the government responded immediately with an order to arrest the journalist.

Now, more and more Americans are paying attention to Bangladesh; and so are more and more members of Congress and the Administration.  Other international bodies and nations are paying attention, too.  US taxpayers are starting to object to the $64 million of their money sent annually to Bangladesh.  Other actions loom if the current government insists on taking Bangladeshis away from their traditional values and into the arms of the radicals.

But we have a saying in the United States:  It’s always darkest before the dawn.  By acting to take back their country and remove it from the list of those nations that try to silence ideas by abusing their power, Bangladeshis can assure that dawn will soon break and their country will know progress and prosperity.  If they are prevented from doing so,  Dhaka likely will remain in darkness.

 

Posted on 20 Oct 2006 by Root
 
 
 
 
 


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