Thursday, September 21, 2006

Facing Death Over Pro-Moderate Views [Updated]

[Posted by reader_iam]

A Muslim editor of a weekly newspaper in Bangladesh is being sent to trial because he printed articles that criticized extremist Islam and/or were sympathetic to Israel.

The charge is sedition, which carries a death penalty upon conviction in his country. The title of my post notwithstanding, in the context of his world, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury's expression of alternative viewpoints is considered decidedly immoderate, but even after having been arrested previously and allegedly tortured while in prison, he persisted. Now, it appears, he is in real danger of paying for that with his life.
As editor of The Weekly Blitz, an English-language newspaper published in Dhaka, Choudhury aroused the ire of Bangladeshi authorities after he printed articles favorable to Israel and critical of Muslim extremism.

Bangladesh does not recognize Israel's existence and refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

In November 2003, Choudhury was arrested at Dhaka's international airport just prior to boarding a flight on his way to Israel, where he was scheduled to deliver an address on promoting understanding between Muslims and Jews. His visit to Israel would have been the first by a Bangladeshi journalist.

Choudhury was charged with sedition, held in prison for 17 months and was reportedly tortured before being freed in April 2005. But the authorities in Bangladesh, which is ruled by a coalition government that includes Islamic extremists, decided to continue pursuing charges against him.

After reading the JPost article, I Googled the name of Choudhury, with whose story I have been familiar, and was astonished to see that under the news search, only one other publication--The Asian Tribune--appears to have picked up this story. (That article provides some information not provided in the JPost one, so I recommend reading it even though I'm not quoting from it in this post.)

I guess everyone's been a little busy, what with blasting the Pope for citing centuries old texts and for being generally insensitive and provocative, and then for his inadequate apology skills. Well, that and once again explaining how we need to understand and respect the anger behind resulting Muslim riots in various parts of the world, and even--if not quite make allowances for violence, exactly, then at least put the blame where it belongs. Which, of course, is not with the rioters.

OK. That's not very nuanced of me, and probably not particularly fair. I do know and generally do better. But you know what? I'm pissed as hell at our priorities, and tired as all get out by what I consider to be a dangerous undermining, even subversion, of the principle of freedom of speech. Why it's important. Where and when it's most important (generally, when it's most controversial and dangerous). Etc.

And I'm sickened by the "respect for my beliefs, but not for thine; free expression for me, but not for thee" cancer which regrettably appears to be afflicting radical Islam, by commission, and reprehensibly, by omission, even some significant portion of the not-so-extreme followers. (Then there are non-Muslim apologists for the actions of Islamist rioters and for restricting speech, but I'm not even going to go there.)
More from the Jerusalem post article:
After his release from prison last year, Choudhury proceeded to reopen his weekly newspaper, continuing to publish articles calling for greater interfaith understanding and warning of the dangers posed by fundamentalist Islamic terror.

Last month, unknown assailants set off explosives outside the newspaper's offices and planted a bomb in the press room that failed to detonate.

According to Benkin, Choudhury's family has been subjected to various forms of what appear to be orchestrated harassment. These have included pressure from the Bangladeshi authorities to denounce Choudhury, angry crowds gathering outside their home and even physical attacks. The intimidation has stopped "for the moment," he said.

Well, why bother with intimidation, when there's a good chance you'll just be able to shut the you-know-what up for good, with the sanction of the state, and make an example of him?

Choudhoury, along with American Richard L. Benkin, who is Jewish, established Interfaith Strength to "[strengthen] the bonds of understanding among people of different faiths" following Choudhoury's release from prison in April 2005. No doubt, along with resuming publication of the offending types of articles, this was a red flag to the snorting bull(y) that is the repressive, extreme Islamist element which simply cannot tolerate either dissent or a broader worldview.

Ironically, Choudhoury reportedly expressed the following after he was releasted from prison:
“[M]y 17 months in prison will have been worth it” if the government of Bangladesh helps return that nation to the principles of tolerance and democracy that are its heritage.

Hmmm. I'll just let that sit there, for you to ponder.

Except for this: Those of you so concerned about issues of tolerance and respect and sensitivity, do you think you can find some time to spare on Choudhury's behalf? Or would you worry that might be too offensive in some quarters?

[Update, Sept. 22] Charles Krauthammer has got it right in his column this morning: Muslim extremists have no sense of irony (and less tolerance). What's more appalling, in its own way, is that there are plenty of non-Muslim extremists, or even non-Muslim non-extremists, who share the same myopic, tunnel-visioned disease:
And the intimidation succeeds: politicians bowing and scraping to the mob over the cartoons; Saturday's craven New York Times editorial telling the pope to apologize; the plague of self-censorship about anything remotely controversial about Islam -- this in a culture in which a half-naked pop star blithely stages a mock crucifixion as the highlight of her latest concert tour.

In today's world, religious sensitivity is a one-way street. The rules of the road are enforced by Islamic mobs and abjectly followed by Western media, politicians and religious leaders.

To me, the points made in Krauthammer's piece should be so obvious that he shouldn't have to take up the column inches to make them. None of them require deep thought and or knowledge of either history or current affairs to grasp. (Nor do they require any particular partisan political philosophy.)

Apparently, however, grasping the obvious is simply intolerable for some. No irony there.