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HEADLINES

Rise of radical Islam causes problem

Rise of radical Islam

causes problem

Srabanti Majumder

Sadanand Dhume, Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society Washington Center. He is also a journalist and author of the forthcoming book "My Friend the Fanatic” on radical Islam in Indonesia rightly described the rise of radical Islam as a “very special problems arising in countries with Islamist movements”. Commenting on state of press freedom in Southwest Asia in a talk show titled ‘On the line’ on Voice of America, which basically wanted to discuss what is the state of freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Southwest Asia? How serious is the threat of Islamic fundamentalism that journalists there are trying to report on? And what is the U-S doing to promote greater respect for human rights, Mr. Dhume said, I think the problem with press freedom exists across the world: different parts of Asia; the Philippines has a problem; and Singapore and Malaysia, so it's not unique to the Islamic world. But I think with the backdrop of the rise of radical Islam, you have very special problems arising in countries with Islamist movements, and that is that you don't only face threats as a journalist from the government as you may in other places but also from a certain kind of mob intimidation, and I think Mr. Choudhury's case is really a classic example of that. So you have the government persecuting him, but I believe he's also been attacked and physically beaten up. And if you go to the root of what he's talking about, in fact -- better relations with Israel -- you realize why there really isn't much cultural room to hold an unpopular opinion, and I think that's the root of the problem.”

Describing the on-ground situation and the false sedition, treason and blasphemy charges brought against him, editor of Weekly Blitz, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury said, “the government [Bangladeshi government] has recently withdrawn the sedition charges which were brought against seven journalists by the previous government, but as to me and my case, they don't intend to withdraw the case because the fear that by withdrawing the case, they might annoy the Islamist radicals or radical forces in my country. Because the reason they brought the sedition charges against me, was I wrote about the rise of the Islamist extremists in my country and national growth of the kindergarten madrassas. So, those are the things the previous government, perhaps some people in the coalition government, they thought that it was not liked by them, and they didn't want me to speak that way. They wanted to silence me, so that was the reason why the sedition charges were brought.”

Tariq Karim, former ambassador of Bangladesh in United States said, “The government has, on the one hand, stated that they respect and would like to have a free press. But at the same time, I think the prolongation of the state of emergency allows them to be selective in applying the rule of law and the laws available. And we'll have to see how they play off. They have done some good things, and there are some things about which I have mixed feelings.”

Commenting on room of expressing unpopular opinion in Bangladesh, Blitz editor said, “There was no room to express unpopular [opinions] in Bangladesh when we spoke in 2003. Mr. Karim also knows that “Israel” or "Jews” -- to utter those words were a kind of taboo in Bangladesh. Nobody could even just express those words. But now, after four years or five years, yes, we find some room for expressing the unpopular -- whatever themes, or whatever you say. And we’re hopeful that, finally, there will be something else, some changes in the whole system. People will start understanding the reality that the Islamic forces and the radicals, who are so deep-rooted in our society, especially in a country like Bangladesh or Pakistan, they have their own agendas, and in the mosques and madrassas, if you go to the sermons they're teaching the people the culture of hatred, religious hatred. I think we have been able to at least crack that wall, and the room is being created now.”

Sadanand Dhume said, “I’d just like to say that it's very courageous of Mr. Choudhury, because, specifically the issue of Israel is a bit of a third rail in the Islamic world, and Israel has been demonized so much over the years that to even make the most innocuous statement, such as, “Well, perhaps we could have friendly ties” or “Perhaps there could be something in their point of view” is seen as beyond the pale. And by touching this third rail, I think that what Mr. Choudhury has done really is significant beyond Bangladesh, because you need to see people willing to conflict, willing to raise questions that conflict with the most dearly held beliefs of the Islamists.”

Former Bangladeshi ambassador Tariq Karim said, “What Mr. Choudhury did was really a very bold step forward by not just a journalist but any person in society. Advocating good relations with Israel and building bridges with the Jewish community was or used to be a no-no -- no-go area. So, he really treaded on forbidden territory in that sense. Given the recent history of rising Islamism in Bangladesh, it's always very, very easy for a small, well-organized, closely knit, well-coordinated fringe movement to intimidate the larger sections of society. Generally, people don't like to get involved in trouble. They don't like to come out and have their normal daily routine lives upset, their comfort zone being taken away from them. And that’s the area in which the fringe movements can operate to intimidate people and not come and, for example, join with him in this voice.”

Replying to another question as to how does he [Choudhury] confront, though, the intimidation factor, and how does he get others to be willing to join him in confronting and standing up against the intimidation, Shoaib Choudhury said, “we have already faced the worst time. I know now there is no chance for anyone else, even if they support Israel or speak out for anything of relations with Jews, any type of dialogue; they are not going to face the same consequences that we have faced. That will be history in Bangladesh. Now it is a new time when people will start speaking. As Mr. Karim said, even Islamic radicals -- they are also talking about having relations with Israel because there was a time in Bangladesh when they could create a kind of fear in the minds of the people: that “don't utter “Jews” or “Israel”,” and people were not having the courage to speak. But when we spoke, they had done everything they could do to me, and now, finally, at least we have got one victory that, in Bangladesh, you know in my newspaper we are publishing every week articles on Israel, articles on interfaith dialogue, and criticizing the Islamic militancy. We call it "Islamofascists.” And we know now it's a new time when many people will join. People have been waiting to see what would happen to us, and now it is a time for people of Bangladesh to really raise their voice in demand of having relations with Israel. This is number one. Number two, Israel has been the first fourth country which recognized Bangladesh after the independence. Those so-called Islamic or Muslim Ummahs, they waited until 1975 to recognize Bangladesh. A country that recognized us when we were born -- we should be grateful to them. And, on the other hand, well, we have no reason not to have relations with Israel because we have relations with Pakistan -- a nation whose army has raped our women, who has killed our people. We can have diplomatic relations with Pakistan. Why not with Israel? Israel did nothing wrong to Bangladesh, nor to anyone else. They did nothing wrong to any of the Muslim countries. Why should we not have relations?”

Mr. Dhume said, “I agree with that entirely, and I think that you also have another issue which is of critical importance, particularly in the Islamic world today, which is cultivating a culture of introspection -- the idea that everything that's going on in the world is not necessarily someone else's fault. So what you have in countries like Bangladesh, which are so far removed from Israel, really have nothing to do with it -- Israel, as Mr. Choudhury said, recognized Bangladeshi independence -- is really a kind of displaced anger. It makes no sense to us sitting over here. Why would there be any kind of rage? But what's happening here is a tension between a modern notion of national interest and a primeval, tribal notion of Islamic solidarity, and it's on that fault line that Mr. Choudhury's work falls, and that's what makes it so fascinating, because it has lessons for the other parts of the Islamic world.”

Celebrated journalist Eric Felton anchors On the Line program on VOA.

Posted on 22 Aug 2007 by Root
 
 
 

 
 



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