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Awami League Blowing its Chance

Sunday March 01 2009 15:11:44 PM BDT

By Dr. Richard L. Benkin, USA

As an individual from one country who often finds himself protesting the actions of another, I frequently am told that doing so or demanding change is an affront to a nation’s sovereignty. That is seriously ironic, considering the continuous demands placed on my country, the United States, and my people’s country, Israel. Bangladeshi officials and governments, for instance, have demanded that Israel withdraw from territory, give free reign to Hamas terrorists committed to its destruction, release murderers of its people, give away its capital Jerusalem, create and fund a hostile state, and so forth. Some have demanded the US quit Iraq or close the terrorist holding base at Guantanamo. So be it; that is their prerogative.

It is, however, quite disingenuous for representatives of that same government to try and avoid their own country’s responsibility for its actions by complaining that my protests of its persecution of journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury insult its sovereignty. It reminds me of a debate I had last year in the public square of a West Bengal village where I interviewed Hindu victims of Islamist attacks. The ruling Communist Party (CPIM) was trying to intimidate the residents into silence and the local commissar told me that “only the CPIM is allowed to solve our problems.”

“What?” I said outraged. “I should think that a moral government would first and foremost want its problems solved then worry about who gets credit for it!”

Hence, the irony of an inefficient Bangladesh complaining about my solutions to its long known problems of oppressing dissidents and journalists.

The protests are falling ever more on deaf ears in today’s global society. With examples in front of us from Darfur, Rwanda, and elsewhere, it is very difficult for moral individuals to buy that “sovereignty” defense as a justification for the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Bangladeshi Hindus, who have fallen from almost one in five Bangladeshis to fewer than one in ten.

People around the world, however, hoped that December’s free and open elections meant that was changing. They were ready to accept the new government’s promises that it would move Bangladesh away from a past that has been characterized by suppression of individual rights and minority oppression, patronization of Islamist radicalism, and massive corruption whereby leaders enriched themselves while impoverishing the nation. After 60 days in office, however, the Awami League (AL) already is blowing that goodwill.

The AL presented itself as the party that would end the oppression of Hindus and other minorities in Bangladesh, and it was successful in thereby getting the minority vote and an assumption of honesty in those claims. Yet, from its very first day in office, the AL had a golden opportunity to show everyone just how serious it is about ending that oppression; but it never even came close to taking it. It has thus far taken no action to repeal the Bangladesh’s racist Vested Property Act (VPA); a law that even otherwise careful officials have labeled “a black law that [the new] government must repeal.” Imagine what it would have done to boost optimism among Bangladeshis and improve the country’s standing worldwide if within the first few days of taking office Sheikh Hasina said her government would repeal the VPA and thereby end a shameful chapter in her nation’s history. It would not be very different than US President Barack Obama’s recent address to Congress in which he stated loudly and clearly that he will close the US base at Guantanamo. Closing Guantanamo is even more complex than repealing the VPA, but Obama’s statement indicated his determination to make it happen nonetheless even without actually doing it yet. The fact that the AL has given no indication that things will be any different under its rule while at the same time doing nothing to stop the daily attacks on Bangladeshi minorities is slowly eroding the optimism with which it was greeted.

The AL’s other mistake was allowing a gang to invade the office of dissident journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, severely beat the peace activist, and refuse to leave the premises. There is extensive evidence showing that the attackers were Awami League activists, which according to reliable sources, is why the police have refused to press the case against them. The incident is already causing a great deal of consternation in Washington, where the admittedly false charges against Shoaib Choudhury have been the reason why several pieces of pro-Bangladesh trade legislation have been defeated without ever getting out of committee. Assessing the government’s actions and knowing that the Bangladeshi Embassy has a pretty good understanding of them one individual who works with Congress told me on conditions of anonymity that people wonder if “Dhaka even looks at anything coming out of the embassy.” Another Washington insider said that at this point, “words won’t cut it and if the Bangladeshis have any hope of tariff relief, they will have to take action first in the Choudhury case.”

Given Congress’ pre-occupation with the economy and President Obama’s promise to cut the deficit by 50 percent, individual foreign aid appropriations are likely to come under increased scrutiny. In such an atmosphere decisive action might be the only way to avert deep cuts in US aid based on the Bangladesh government’s failure to address oppression of dissidents and minorities or to comply with House Resolution 64 on the case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Dr. Richard L. Benkin, USA
E Mail : drrbenkin@comcast.net


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