Tuesday, January 16, 2007


[Posted by reader_iam]

Amba has again picked up the banner for the persecuted Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, about whom I wrote on a number of occasions last fall. Rabbi Sue Levy, noting that Amba had linked to her front-page editorial in The Daily Blitz, Choudhury's home newspaper, asked that the full text of the article be posted, lest it be lost in the standard daily refreshings of newspaper websites.

Here it is:
The Danger of Believing Lies

Rabbi Sue Levy writes from USA

Houston, Texas, USA - We Jews have a regular cycle with which we read all of the Torah once each year in our synagogue services, and then begin again so that we never stop studying the wisdom we can find there. And, every year it is fresh for us, because the circumstances of our lives cause us to focus on it in new ways. This week we begin the reading of the second book of the Torah, the Book of Exodus.

This book begins by remembering our righteous ancestor Joseph who, some four hundred years earlier, had risen to become the second-in-command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, the great king of the land. Under the reign of Pharaoh, Joseph served him so well, that his family, the great-grandchildren of Abraham/Ibrahim our father, came to live in Egypt and were well-favored there.

The Book of Exodus begins by telling us that hundreds of years later a new dynasty of kings arose over Egypt who did not remember Joseph. By that time, the ancient Israelites had long been enslaved and forced into hard labor. The Pharaoh, Rameses II, had particular hatred for the Israelites. The Torah relates that, over all those years, their numbers had increased, and they were no longer considered honored guests in a land which Joseph had saved from famine and death.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Lewis Eron, points out that there have been many times in human history when rulers have created lies and then acted upon them until, ultimately, they came to believe their own lies. The countries same crashing down upon them because nothing in their policies was based on reality. The Pharaoh, Rameses II, believed that this powerless group of Israelites who were cruelly enslaved, had enough power to crush his empire. So it was, that he ordered that all the newborn male infants of the Israelites be thrown into the Nile River. He was, as Rabbi Eron tells the story, embarking on a program of “ethnic cleansing.” It was, of course, a lie that these Israelites had any power at all, but they came to suffer enormously for the lie. And, it is from that terrible plight that God sent Moses to save them.

Today, in Bangladesh, the editor of this paper is less than two weeks away from a trial which will be based entirely on lies. The government of Bangladesh insists that Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is endangering the country by writing about the threat of radical Islam and the terrorists who are using the madrassas as bases for teaching children and as centers for their dangerous activities. Think about this. Who is endangering the country? An honest journalist or a terrorist? The journalist is blamed for the danger he reports. He is to be tried for the government’s lie.

Choudhury is an energetic advocate for interfaith understanding. If a Muslim believes sincerely in his or her faith, how can it possible threaten him to learn about what others believe? Can it hurt Bangladesh if its citizens are better able to understand what others in this small world believe? Or, is it a lack of knowledge that endangers the country by keeping people from making truly informed decisions when they are voting for the people who will represent them and enact foreign policies on their behalf? Yet, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury may be sentenced to death for bringing knowledge to people who lack any other source.

Choudhury publishes articles about Israel and urges the Government of Bangladesh to recognize Israel and normalize diplomatic relations. As a Jew, I love Israel, but this is far from saying that I agree with every policy a given Israeli government pursues. There is nothing in Choudhury’s request that implies that Bangladesh should agree with Israel; only that they participate together in the affairs of the world.

For all these reasons, which are not reasons at all, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury will soon stand alone in court to be tried for sedition, treason and blasphemy. (How can a civil court in a secular country try someone for a religious crime?) He will be tried because the Government of Bangladesh believes its own lies. Who should be tried? Choudhury, or the Government of Bangladesh? Who has committed the crimes which really damage the country?

There is much that can be read into the fact that his trial is scheduled for the day when national elections will be held in Bangladesh. The government doesn’t want you to know what happens to him. They will try him on a day when there will be so much other news in the papers around the country, that there will be no room for articles about the trial of a “common criminal” in a local court.

Our Torah has a verse which proclaims, “justice, justice, you shall pursue.” The ancient rabbis puzzled over the fact that the word justice was repeated twice. “Why,” they asked, “should it be necessary?” The rabbis concluded that, where no opportunity to do justice immediately captures our attention, it is our responsibility to go out and seek a place where there is no justice until we find a place where we can do what Allah/God requires of us. What can you do to make Bangladesh a more just and noble place? What can we do together to help our friend Shoaib Choudhury? Is there a person like Moses who will rise to bring Bangladesh from darkness to light?
I once wrote, in connection with Choudhury's case:
... 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 ... .
Hell, yeah: What she said. What Amba said. More important, what Rabbi Levy said.

Most important: The right for Choudhury to say all the things he's said ...

... and also for the "Choudhurys" who will inevitably follow: Never forget that, and never doubt it.

(I'll bet Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury never does, and never did... .)