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Readers' Opinion

Syed Aslam Prefers Sloganeering to Facts

Monday April 09 2007 18:29:48 PM BDT

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin, USA

Syed Aslam seems obsessed with Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and the tremendous support he has received all over the world. It is a shame that his “burning curiosity” is not coupled with good journalism. Published in News From Bangladesh (March 28), his flaccid attempt to take on noted Indian journalist Anita Mathur revealed more about his own inadequacies as a journalist than it shed light on the Choudhury case.

He begins his second paragraph, “as everyone knows,” something that would have flunked him out of a beginning journalism course. And what does everyone know, according to Aslam? That Shoaib “has been writing against all the secular people in Bangladesh for at least 15 years wile working for the fundamentalist news paper Inqalib.” Not only is it wildly general (it, too, would not make it out of Journalism 101), but it is simply false. Fifteen years ago, Shoaib was the Chief Corrrespondent for the Russian News Agency Tass, followed by several stints with an array of Dhaka media. He did not begin writing for Daily Inqilab until 2001, and remained there for about a year and a half before splitting over his refusal to attend an Inqilab-sponsored pro-Saddam Hussein rally.

Aslam continues by dredging up another discredited matter: my alleged role as a hired lobbyist “to put in a good word for the BNP/Jammat government in early 2006. They had signed a deal with him to pay him $5000 a month.” First, let Aslam produce this alleged “signed deal” because it never existed. Although I have addressed this in print and elsewhere, some prefer to ignore the facts. The allegation began with a speech by the Awami League’s Saber Hossain Chowdhury in April 2006 in an effort not to discredit me but as a political attack on the BNP. While it was given wide coverage, no one has ever confronted me about it. Chowdhury’s evidence is my own filing with the US Justice Department as an agent of a foreign country in scrupulous adherence to US law. In April 2005, after extensive efforts on our part, the Bangladesh government finally released Shoaib from jail and was promising to drop the sedition charges against him.

I was advised by a range of people that the government’s action—and accompanying words—could be signaling a change of direction; and that it behooves us to support such efforts. That is why when I was approached by former Home Minister Lufuzzaman Babar to work on Bangladesh’s image in the United States, it seemed the right thing to do. After all, Americans knew little about Bangladesh. I was becoming ever more impressed with its people and could foresee the country playing an important role as a moderate Muslim-majority nation.

Moreover, such image-building efforts are very common in Washington, and doing so tends to be in the country’s interests. In fact, not engaging in them threatens to send a country to the back of the line for all sorts of benefits. Unfortunately, our arrangement lasted only one month, and I accepted only one $5000 payment—a rather small sum in the world of lobbying and public relations. I found the BNP government unreliable and duplicitous. For their part, they expected instant results and even suggested I pay top journalists to write positive stories. That was it. What this has to do with justice for Shoaib has never been specified.

If anyone can produce evidence of a more extensive or conspiratorial relationship, I challenge them to do so. Let them show evidence of a money trail beyond the $5000. Let them explain why that same BNP government refused me entry into the country three times in 2006 if we were so close. And let them explain my consistent opposition to that same government once their promises proved empty, their intentions duplicitous. Above all, let anyone interview me and confront me with their “evidence” if they have the courage to come out from behind their curtain of sloganeering.

Aslam says that his information came from a meeting with noted Bangladeshi dissident Shahriar Kabir. I, too, met with Kabir when he was in the United States. He even said he was trying to seek me out. We spoke extensively about our mutual goals and frankly about the rift between Shoaib and dissidents allied with Kabir. Kabir mentioned Shoaib’s articles for Inqilab but never threw out the ridiculous fifteen year assertion that Aslam so glibly tosses about. In fact, the upshot of our meeting was an agreement that our similarities far outweigh our differences and that all people would benefit by our working together; and I look forward to bringing the same effective advocacy with which I defended Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury to other Bangladeshis.

To be sure, some healing is necessary, and that process has only just begun; but it seems that Syed Aslam is far more interested in the sound of his own voice than in the ultimate triumph of freedom and equality. At the conference Kabir and I attended, a major point was that while our enemies are unified, we are not; and that our eventual success requires the same kind of unity. Allowing our individual differences while maintaining that unity is what makes us stronger than our adversaries.

Syed Aslam appears to have missed that point.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin is a correspondent for Dhaka’s Weekly Blitz and Amader Shomoy, and his articles appear in other papers in Bangladesh and worldwide. He was recognized by the US Congress as a “tireless human rights champion.” He invites people to visit his web site, http://www.InterfiathStrength.com and to contact him for appearances and for honest dialogue.
E Mail : drrbenkin@comcast.net


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