Dr. Richard Benkin Bio
False Accusations Harm Cause of Human Rights: The Case of Mary MandolBy Dr. Richard Benkin Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Editor’s Note: On April 29, Canada Free Press (CFP) picked up a story sent by Christian Newswire about a persecuted mother and her infant son in Bangladesh. From the outset, people trying to help could not find Mary Mondol, the woman who was the subject of the story. The Chicago-based Dr. Richard Benkin, who successfully fought for the release of Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, imprisoned after writing articles in the Weekly Blitz warning the outside world about the rise of Islamic radicals, urging Bangladesh to recognize Israel, and advocating for religious equality, contacted Choudhury to track down Mary Mondol, a Christian woman living in Dhaka. Following are the results of their investigation. Since 2006, Dr. Benkin has been investigating and exposing the emerging South Asian threat stemming from the cooperation of radical Communists and radical Islamists. He has termed this the “Red-Green Alliance” and continues to speak about the atrocities and strategic advantages it already has carried out, as well as the very real threat it poses to us all.
On April 29, I read an article in Canada Free Press about anti-Christian activity in Bangladesh. The story concerned Mary Mondol, a Christian woman who, according to Christian Freedom International (CFI), was approached by a Muslim man in 2001 and given the following choice: either marry him and convert to Islam or be killed. Having no choice, she acquiesced and spent the next several years in virtual captivity, faced regular beatings even while pregnant, and was finally kicked out with her infant son in January. She sought refuge with Christian “pastor,” William Gomes, and the two then began building a case against her husband; but the authorities refused to act. Now, Gomes reportedly said, “They are threatening me to stop working for her. Now I cannot give her shelter any longer...I may be killed any time, as they are very strong and are from the majority community. Being a Christian, I am a minority, and the government doesn’t give support for us. But we are praying to save her from the Muslim family.”
It was a terribly moving story and one that is not unknown by any means in the Muslim world. Unfortunately, however, it is also false, and as such has set back the fight for human rights in South Asia, of which I am part. Having met with religious minorities who had faced persecution from Bangladeshi Islamists, I was determined to act. Moreover, the reported inaction by Bangladeshi authorities in the Mondol case also rang true and mirrored my own experiences with Bangladeshi officials in the Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury case and others. So, in fact, I called my brother, friend, and confidant, Shoaib, the famous “Muslim Zionist.” He has experienced Islamist persecution and has a history of supporting persecuted Bangladeshis no matter what their faith. He is also an accomplished journalist with an extensive network of sources. He also secured the help of Kazi Azizul Huq, a fundamentalist Muslim—that’s right, a Muslim fundamentalist—and the International Affairs Secretary of Khalafat Andolin Bangladesh (KAB). I met Huq when I was in Dhaka in 2007. We spoke for hours and though we agreed on very few issues, as I said, “Well, we’re not lobbing bombs at each other” (not too much of a stretch, especially with the “mujahadeen” in the room). We have maintained an ongoing dialogue that continues to find commonality among believers of different faiths. Huq and KAB have demonstrated their sincerity by taking public positions that are unpopular in this nation of almost 150 million; most notably, that the government should drop all charges against Shoaib and also end its ban on travel to Israel.
For several days, however, Shoaib and Huq continued to tell me that they could find no evidence of the case or even Mondol’s existence. Concerned, I contacted James Jacobson, head of CFI, on May 4 who said they had “solid documentation on [Mondol’s] situation.” He asked his “coworker in Dhaka…to contact [me] about Mary,” but thought he might not “because of security issues.” He never did, and as Shoaib and Huq continued to come up empty, things turned nasty. On May 7, Huq sent an email to a number of people calling the entire story “dubious,” based on the absence of evidence. One of the recipients, Rosaline Costa had previously said she intended to raise the issue at a May 9 Congressional Briefing on Bangladesh and responded to Huq by questioning the veracity of his contacts. That same day, Shoaib’s Weekly Blitz received a phone call from William Gomes who asked to meet Shoaib at the newspaper office, which he did on May 8. He began by clarifying that he was no pastor and that the entire story was false. At that point, Shoaib provided a car to bring Mary Mondol herself to the newspaper.
She denied most of the allegations in the story, stating unequivocally that her marriage and conversion were voluntary. Her husband became abusive only recently, and she and William Gomes filed a complaint under Bangladesh’s Women and Children Repression Act. According to Mondol and Gomes, authorities promptly arrested the husband who is still in jail awaiting trial. She said that the story took on its current form only after she went to Costa for help. She was destitute, she said, but Costa did not help her despite being part of NGOs that are supposed to do such things.
Shoaib Choudhury stands by these allegations and has offered to provide a tape recording of his interview with Mondol and Gomes if needed. Moreover, once these matters were uncovered, things began to change. Costa admitted that she knew Gomes was not a pastor as alleged, but that one of her informants added that because he thought it would “give the story more credibility”. It is also significant that no one brought up the Mondol case at the May 9 Congressional briefing, of which I was part—and the alleged actions in the story were germane to the briefing’s purpose. Gomes also contacted me and confirmed the Weekly Blitz account, repeating an allegation he made on tape that Bangladeshi NGOs “are becoming fabulously rich by cashing in on the agonies of religious minorities in Bangladesh” by issuing false reports like the Mondol case. On the other hand, no one ever provided evidence of the initial story’s allegations. This, too, is not atypical. Most NGOs go to the same set of informants (mostly on the left) who tend to have the same political agenda and often give it higher priority than religious freedom.
The false allegations already have hurt the fight against minority persecution in Bangladesh whether they are the product of noble or venal intentions. That persecution does exist and is a very serious problem. Fighting it often means confronting out and out denials, even by people holding credible positions. Our most powerful ally in those confrontations is truth. False accusations enable both friends and foes alike to question the credibility of all allegations we bring. Bangladeshi officials on condition of anonymity already have made it clear to me and others that they “know these things do exist” but must “show up liars” and others who “want to hurt Bangladesh. They expect the Mondol case to come up again and again. It almost seems in response to the revelations in the Mondol case that a flood of minority persecution stories has been flooding cyberspace. What is truly unfortunate is that many—or even most—of them are true, but people are giving them less credibility than they did previously.
The fight against Islamist injustice is difficult enough. Far too often, we come up against western officials who would rather give Islamists and their fellow travelers the “benefit of the doubt” and accept their “assurances” that “everything possible is being done” to secure minority rights, as I was told recently by another government official.