Address by Dr. Richard L. Benkin

South Asia Forum

“Challenges before India and Israel and areas of co-operation”

8 March 2009

Constitution Club; New Delhi, India


The greatest challenge facing any free society in a time of war—and make no mistake about it, that is exactly what time it is for the world—is to remain a free society while effectively fighting that war.  As the great American statesman, Benjamin Franklin, once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”  The worst thing we can do is to allow our enemies to dictate an agenda by which we sacrifice those qualities that we believe distinguish us from them.


So, how do we do that?  I am neither Indian nor Israeli, although I have strong feelings for both nations; I am nothing more than an individual American citizen.  As an American, however, what I have in common with the Indian and Israeli gentlemen on the dais with me is that I am a citizen of a free society that has been marked for extinction by the same global adversary:  radical Islam.  Let me repeat, our free societies have been marked for extinction by the same global adversary:  radical Islam.  Not terrorism, which is only a tactic; or unspecified radicals, militants, or whatever politically correct word is in fashion at the moment but radical Islamists.  For the words we use are important.  They can help us act, or they can hinder action.  If we merely are engaged in a war on “terror,” then all we are doing is reacting to a tactic after it occurs. It means we are not engaged in a comprehensive effort to defeat the terrorists and those who send them.  If our enemies are merely “the extremists,” it means we have decided to abandon the search for any ideology or force that unites those extremists and motivates them.  That is why we hear simplistic analyses that say land disputes or poverty are the cause of these horrible acts.  Does anyone take that seriously?  We simply cannot do that; it dilutes our struggle, weakens us, and strengthens our enemies.  This is the same reason why I always refer to Bangladesh’s racist Vested Property Act.  It is a law which empowers that government to seize Hindu-owned lands and distribute them to Muslims.  That is racism, and we need to call it racism.  If we do not, if we are soft about it ourselves, how can we expect others to see how atrocious it is?  The same applies to radical Islam.


We also have to recognize that not all Muslims are the enemy; some, such as Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury of Bangladesh, are our friends.  Shoaib Choudhury has faced imprisonment and torture all because as a journalist, he wrote articles about the rise of radical Islam in Bangladesh and also urged relations between Bangladesh and Israel.  If we lump all Muslims into the same category, we will treat friends and foes alike.  We will send a message that religion not behavior is our real concern, which would make us no better than our enemies.  But that aside, our deadliest foes are united in their adherence to their interpretation of Islam; not Hinduism, not Judaism, nor any other religion, but Islam.  When appeasing elites or those who try to give our enemies a kind face, object that, ‘well there are radical Hindus or Jews or Christians,’ they create a moral equivalency that simply does not exist.  When was the last time Hindus flew a plane into a crowded building in Islamabad?  Or the last time a Jew blew himself up in an Arab restaurant or market?  I also have another example of what free societies do—the difference between real commitment and false denials.  In 1994, a man by the name of Baruch Goldstein walked into a mosque and started shooting.  Did the Israeli government talk about the frustration or anger that motivated him?  Did it try to gain political capital from the event?  No, it did not.  It condemned him unequivocally, as did the virtually entire Jewish world.  Later, when some people wanted to make his grave a pilgrimage site, the Israeli government destroyed it.  That is what free societies do!


It is important that we understand this for two reasons.  Dictates of political correctness would have us erase this distinction between free and unfree societies.  They would have us omit the word “Islam,” “Islamist” or any other variant from this discussion.  My own country’s Voice of America just issued a directive in that regard.  But in doing so, they are undermining any effort to defeat our enemy, which again, is radical Islam.  No?  Well, the terrorists who murdered 3000 of my fellow Americans on September 11 were not terrorists from Mars; neither were the 26/11 terrorists in Mumbai.  They were Islamist terrorists; and it is hopelessly naïve and destructive not to identify them as such.  For if we are too scared even to name our enemy, how in the world do we stand any chance of defeating it?


But there is another reason.  Because we are free societies and must remain so, we blanch at the thought of identifying any religion with something so heinous as wanton murder.  While that is to our credit, one of the most effective ways we can deal with our enemy is to stop giving it the status of a religion.  Using the dichotomy offered by American scholar, Dr. Daniel Pipes, we must recognize that Islam is a religion that has roots going back to the seventh century.  Radical Islam is not a religion but a millenarian ideology with roots as far back as the 1920s.  A religion seeks to transform its adherents in an image that is pleasing to God.  The ideology of radical Islam seeks to transform the entire world in its image, and as dictated by its own warped interpretation of the religion, Islam.  That includes adherents and kaffirs like us.  We have two great religions represented here today—Hinduism and Judaism—whose tenets most emphatically reject forcing others—or even encouraging others—to convert.  That, my friends, is the height not of religious tolerance, but religious respect.  That should be the standard that free societies use to measure religious freedom:  who can practice their faith freely and who seeks to impose their faith on others.


To the extent that apologists treat radical Islam as a religion, they actually undermine the very institutions they believe they are upholding with their craven appeasement.  Let us prove our point with a simple case study for South Asia.  Last night, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf addressed the India Today conclave.  In a rather rambling speech, he spoke of the need for India and Pakistan to come together and end the conflict that has plagued the two states since their birth—a nice thing to say.  And he spoke at some length about terrorism in the region, which he said can be stopped only by addressing it at its “root.”  Again, nice words; but what do they mean in terms of action.  What is that root?  He said that the Kashmir conflict has given rise to numerous “militants” (his word) that feel very strongly about the matter; strongly enough to murder innocent civilians to express their anger.  And thus he said the “key” to stopping terrorism is Kashmir.  Now with all due respect to the General, is there anybody here who can say with a straight face that resolving the land dispute over Kashmir will get the terrorists to say, “Okay, I’m satisfied” and stop murdering people?  Can anyone say with a straight face that those terrorists will accept any sort of compromise on Kashmir at all?  If history teaches us anything, it is that rewarding bad behavior only encourages more bad behavior.  And by the way, throughout his entire speech, Musharraf never once—never once—identified the terrorists as Islamist terrorists.  Political correctness grows on both sides of the Line of Control.  A millenarian ideology never says “Enough” until it has sated its insatiable appetite.  The millenarian ideology, radical Islam, is much closer to other such ideologies like Marxist-Leninism and fascism than it is to the religion of Islam.  And we know that the only way those two ideologies stopped expanding was when free societies stopped them.


Radical Islamists have murdered more Muslims than non-Muslims.   The apostles of political correctness are not helping anyone except maybe themselves.  As long as we treat radical Islam as a religion and not as the pernicious ideology it is; and as long as we use that false equation to stop individuals from naming our enemy, we are signing our own death warrants, or at the very least insuring that more will die before we triumph over those forces that are antithetical to free societies like India, Israel, and the United States.


Let me provide one more example of who we are fighting.  Some years back, my family was enjoying a meal in a Jerusalem restaurant.  Several weeks later, an Arab terrorist entered that very restaurant and blew himself up, taking 15 souls with him; and I realized that had that been the day my family was there, the people who sent him would have celebrated their deaths.  And at that moment it became very clear.  Anyone who could glory in the deaths of my loved ones is an enemy so vile, so antithetical to basic notions of right and wrong, so happy to kill that which means most to us, that with that enemy there can be no quarter, no negotiation, no compromise; and in the fight against it there can be no rest.  For it was also clear that while my loved ones were not in Sbarro’s that day, others were.  And our enemy celebrated their deaths; just as they have in New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai, and elsewhere in India and around the world.


So that is the first challenge I wanted to address:  the challenge of ourselves.  That is, we all can sit here and agree that radical Islamist terrorists are bad guys.   But we hardly need go to the trouble of convening a conference to come up with that.  There is a very famous passage from William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Ceasar:  “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves.”  Our worst enemy might be radical Islam, but our most dangerous enemy is ourselves.


All of us are courageous enough to shake our fists at radical Islam, but if we are to succeed in this war, who is courageous enough to look critically at ourselves?  Clearly, the need to balance democratic principles with defeating an enemy that just loves to use those principles against us is no easy feat.  Sometimes we make good choices; sometimes not.  That’s the price of freedom, I suppose.


But there is one way to address this that is unequivocal; that should be supported by every decent human being on the planet.  And that is by identifying a specific issue—a specific human rights issue—that happens to be part of global jihad.  For me, that issue has become the murder of Bangladeshi Hindus and the racist Vested Property Act.  Let me show you what I mean.


Imagine if India had a law that empowered its government to seize the land and property of non-Hindus and distribute it to Hindus.  Imagine that for a moment.  Then imagine the outcry from around the globe—from every nation that can issue a statement, from the halls of the United Nations, from every NGO like Amnesty International which claims to defend human rights.  “Racism!  Racism!”  They would cry.  And you know what?  I believe the loudest cries would come from Indians themselves; for we simply do not do that sort of thing because we are free societies.  But the nation of Bangladesh has such a law, and has had it on the books since 1974, except as a Muslim-majority country, its law empowers the seizure of non-Muslim land.   Let us listen for the outcry.  Do we hear anything from the UN, Amnesty International?  What about the government of India, or my own government of the United States?  Nothing.  Silence.  This is legal racism, legalized thievery; and it has not made any difference which party held power in Bangladesh.  All of them upheld the law and benefited from the spoils equally.


Worse, during the same time period, the number of Bangladeshi Hindus has fallen from almost one in five to less than one in ten.  Demographers have made it clear that such a drastic drop could not come as a result of natural increase and decrease.  Almost every day, reports come out of Bangladesh that name individual Hindus who have been murdered, women gang raped in ritual fashion; or this.  Some young Hindu girl is walking by the side of the road, perhaps on her way to school or to draw water; when all of a sudden, she is abducted, raped, and forced to live in a cut-rate harem.  These things happen with frightening regularity.  There is no attempt to apprehend the perpetrators—and again, the world is silent.  Professor Sachi Dastidar of the State University of New York has estimated that the dead and those who were never born as a result of these atrocities number in the tens of millions.  But no one says a word about it.  Do you know the last time that Amnesty International even mentioned the Bangladeshi Hindus?  It was in 2006 and then only as one sentence in a much larger piece about Bangladesh.


This—the murder of millions—this should be an issue that leaves no one unmoved.  It should not matter to anyone that the victims are Hindu and the perpetrators are Muslim.  What matters is the death of innocents.  If it is part of a greater Islamist jihad to cleanse Bangladesh of its Hindu population, then it might help some of our compatriots see how ruthless our enemies are.  But the key is focusing on this atrocity that should outrage every decent human being on the planet, regardless of their religion or politics; but it does not.  People respond with ‘wait and see’ while another innocent girl is abducted.  Let us be clear that anyone who uses political correctness to avoid taking action is complicit in every death, every rape that occurs; and we need to call them on it.  How some of these people can sleep at night is beyond me!


It is also highly significant that we are talking about Bangladesh.  This is a nation where radical Islamists have gained some ascendancy; they were even part of the last elected government before the current one.  But—and this is an important but—while institutions in Bangladesh have been radicalized; the people have not.  They are still the same good people they always were; sometimes unduly influenced by their radicalized institutions; but decent people.  By focusing on this humanitarian calamity, we could be helping them take back their nation, and in doing so, strike a blow against our common enemies.


But the key is recognizing that although there could be implications that go beyond the issue itself, we must remain focused on the horrible human rights violation.  Do not let anyone dissuade us.  Do not let anyone hijack our agenda with partisan questions about their favorite issues.  Focus on this great wrong!  That should be something that no one—no matter how politically correct or fearful—NO ONE should remain silent about—ever again!


One more thing.  As a Jew, I can’t think of anything worse than watching your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, even children murdered and the world is silent about it.  In the 1940s, one third of my people were murdered in a brutal and horrible fashion.  During the 1930s, all the signs were there, but the world was silent; their silence saying, “Go ahead and kill the Jews.”  Afterwards, a phrase became familiar to us:  “Never Again”; never again would we let this happen.  But never let it happen not only to the Jews but to any people.  And so I say to the Bangladeshi Hindus:  “Never Again.”  I will not sit by while you are slaughtered!  I will not keep silent!


Remember, it is up to us and only us.