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American Jewish Committee Honors Courageous Muslims

Created 2006-05-10 11:15

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from Washington

It was 4th May 2006, in Washington DC. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) bestowed their prestigious Moral Courage Award on two Muslims who have been persecuted for their stance in favor of interfaith understanding and in opposition to radical Islam, especially terrorism.

One of the two recipients, Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali was present to accept the award.

The other, Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, was not, because his government refused at the last minute to allow him to leave the country.

Within hours of when he was scheduled to fly to Washington, Choudhury was advised not to leave the country while facing charges. A government official told him “since your trial will begin on the 23rd of this month, it will not be good for you to travel now,” adding that the inevitable press coverage of his plight would inflame radical opinion against him and possibly taint his upcoming sedition trial.

Choudhury was arrested in November 2003 after writing articles that warned his people about the rise of Islamic radicalism, urged Bangladesh to recognize Israel, and advocated interfaith understanding and religious equality. He was hauled in and out of court for three months without charge before being accused of sedition in 2004. If convicted, Choudhury would face extremely long prison terms or even the death penalty.

When Choudhury first wrote of the growing Islamist threat, Bangladesh had not yet experienced the suicide bombings; nor had had Islamists issued their demands to overturn Bangladeshi law in favor of Sharia, both of which have occurred since then. Even one of the judges reviewing the case noted that support for Islamists among a strong and vocal minority in Bangladesh is an open secret. High government officials have also admitted that what Choudhury warned of three years ago is true (although those who refer to the editor of Blitz do so only in private).

Countries East and West have shown little interest in helping Bangladeshis in their fight against those who would overthrow their government and continue killing innocent citizens in their quest to attain that goal. The attention attracted by the Choudhury case, however, holds out promise for changing that. Choudhury’s absence at the AJC centennial caused the assembled press and dignitaries to focus on the reasons for his not being there and invariably led to questions of why.

While many of the attendees expressed outrage against the Bangladesh government for preventing Choudhury’s attendance; many others were also concerned about the strength of Islamist forces who might be pushing the government in a direction it otherwise might not go. Discussions continued well into the evening’s banquet, which featured speeches by US President George W. Bush, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan..

David Harris, Executive Director of the AJC, presented the awards praising both Ali and Choudhury for their courage in maintaining their principles and right to speak out against the Islamist menace despite threats and persecution.

This reporter accepted Choudhury’s award on his behalf; and after the awards were presented, arranged for Ali and Choudhury to speak with each other. The two Muslims expressed their mutual admiration for one another’s efforts in their common struggle.

When Choudhury suggested that he foresaw Ali receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, she responded, “it’s mutual.” Ali also said that she would “continue supporting your efforts” and that she hoped to meet him some time in the future.

- Asian Tribune -

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