Dr. Richard Benkin Bio
Support for anti-Islamist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Fundamentalist Muslim wants Bangladeshi Government to end its ban on travel to IsraelBy Dr. Richard Benkin Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Meet Kazi Aziz Huq. While many Bangladeshis only whisper their support for anti-Islamist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, he shouts his! Kazi Aiz Huq has written to countless members of the government, calling the charges against Shoaib false and demanding that they be withdrawn. Almost alone in his country, he has sided publicly with Shoaib in calling on the government to end its ban on travel to Israel. He helped found the multi-religious Human Rights Forum, with a Hindu chairman, one of its goals being “the security and rights of the religious and ethnic minorities of” South Asia. And as such, they have unequivocally condemned Islamist violence against Bangladeshi Hindus and Christians, even joining forces with us in opposing these attacks and government inaction.
Huq also calls “Palestinian daily rocket firing from HAMAS’s Gaza strip into Israel provocative.” And he has written to the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Bangladesh, often lecturing them about how their anti-Jewish policies are contrary to the Quran. And, oh yes, Kazi Aziz Huq is a fundamentalist Muslim and an official of an Islamic organization, Khalefat Andolin Bangladesh [KAB]. He does all of this in the third largest Muslim-majority country in the world and one that has seen the rise of a sometimes violent, ever threatening radical Islamist movement.
I first met Huq in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka in January 2007. I had come to stand with self-declared Muslim Zionist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury whom rogue Islamists and an Islamist-appeasing government were threatening to kill. Three days after I arrived, however, a military coup ousted the crowd that imprisoned and tortured Shoaib, however; and he was insistent that Huq and I meet. Huq had never met an American or a Jew, and this was his chance to do both.
After a brief and formal meeting, we nevertheless agreed to meet more extensively the next day in my hotel room. Shoaib was with me, and Huq brought a colleague who, like him, was dressed in traditional Muslim garb. He introduced his non-English speaking friend as a “commander of mujahadeen forces in Afghanistan.” I stiffened.
“Was he there fighting the Americans or the Soviets?”
“The Godless Russians,” Huq said.
“That’s good,” I said, “because if he was involved in killing young Americans, this meeting would have been over right now!”
If it sounds as if I was tense and a bit testy, so was Huq. As Shoaib recalls the meeting, both Huq and his friend “refused to shake [my] hand at first or accept food from [my] hand,” which I had provided in traditional Bengali fashion. Still, no one wanted to pass up this opportunity.
“Look,” I said. “I consider this a great honor and a real opportunity. Just as you’ve never met someone like me, I’ve never had the chance to speak with someone like you. But if we are going to make this effort to talk, we have to do so with complete honesty for it to be worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s a waste of our time.”
He agreed and I continued, “I understand that you’re going to defend your faith and your people. I should expect nothing less. But you must realize that I’m going to be every bit as passionate in defending mine. I’m an American, a Jew, and a Zionist, and am very proud of all three—even here in a Muslim country. You need to know this. There’s no point in talking if we are only going to show each other how weak we can be.”
So, we spent the next four hours talking about Israel, Osama Bin Laden, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and many other things. Naturally, we agreed on very little; yet, as I pointed out, “Well, we’re not throwing bombs at each other, are we?” Huq concurred and said that “we must agree to disagree.” This is a refrain he has used countless times since and with many different people; something that most of us would not expect to hear from a Muslim fundamentalist; and that what Huq is. Moreover, he is proud of and committed to his faith. The fact is that the warming relations between us were not significant in spite of our disagreements, but because of them.
Our fight is not against people who disagree with us but against people who deny our right to disagree with them. As our relationship grew in the succeeding months, Huq continuously agreed with that and acted accordingly. In their attempt to demonize the entire Muslim faith, people can cite as many Quranic verses as they want that talk about jihad; and I will cite just as many from the Torah, the Gospels, and writings of the saints that should make our skin crawl. What has and continues to separate Islam is not what these holy books say but what people do. For the most part, when Muslim clerics condemn Islamist terrorism, they do so with a “but.” We condemn terrorism—but others are also terrorists; but we must understand the terrorists’ alleged frustrations; but certain people, like Israelis, cannot be called innocent victims; but we refuse to tell the world that the terrorists do not represent Islam and harm Muslims more than anyone else. That has to be our litmus test; what people do; how public and unequivocal are people and consistent in their claims to morality.
Kazi Azizul Huq—a profoundly religious Muslim—passes that test with flying colors.
Shortly after our Dhaka meeting, he used his influence as a Muslim
leader to confront Bangladeshi intelligence over its persecution of
Shoaib Choudhury. Huq told him that the false prosecution and not
Shoaib has hurt Bangladesh’s image. “We do not know why Shoaib
chose to openly defend Israel while no one in Bangladesh openly defends
Israel. It seems he is an upright man who spent many months in jail for
taking up a stand which previous two regimes disliked. I do not know
any other journalist in Bangladesh who spent so many months in jail for
expression of opinion or for standing by a policy disliked by rulers.”
That is, the issue for Huq is the same as it is for all of us:
justice and admiration for a man who is willing to sacrifice for
Recently, Huq and the KAB circulated a statement entitled: “Identifying Friends and Foes.” They posted it on their blog and sent it to various Muslim political officials. The statement begins, “We have found that neither the Zionists nor the Americans are the real enemy of the Believers and the Muslims. The actual enemy of Believers and Muslims are European racists and atheists.” For many people today, the world can be divided into two camps: Muslims and non-Muslims; and for many on both sides of the war we are waging, it is the most important division on the planet. But for Kazi Azizul Huq, there is a far more critical distinction: that between Believers and Non-Believers. That is, there are those people who recognize that there is a God and strive in all ways to act as He would want us to act; and there are those who do not. But for Huq that division is a false one. “Faith and Righteousness is more important today than religious ethnicity….Is it piety for any Muslim to call the Jews sons of pigs and apes?”
He has complained that Islam’s biggest problem is that only a small percentage of its members actually study the religion. This, he has said, makes them vulnerable to those who use Islam for their own partisan causes. “Many of the so-called modern western educated Muslims hate Jews at heart and [only] pretend to be friends,” he told me. “Materialist education and culture increases ego and makes people revengeful and hateful. Materialists do not know what love is, what compassion is.”
He noted in the recent statement that “probably about 50 percent ethnic Muslims of Bangladesh today do not even know the very Qalimah without which one can not be counted as a Muslim, while more than 50 percent ethnic Christian population of USA make prayer to God before taking their food. US Government continues to inscribe on its Dollar “In God we trust”. People may criticize but they declare proudly that they are Believers in God. Maybe this is why they continue to be the leader of the world [and] because US Government [allows] Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Choice including Religious Freedom.”
Many times in our interaction, Huq and I have expressed serious disagreements. In some cases, each of us presented the other with information that helped us learn. In others, we continued to “agree to disagree.”
No one who knows me can say I am soft on Islamist terror, or that I try to create pretend “moderates” that do not exist. Yet, I am distressed at the regular flow of articles insisting that Islam itself is evil. Moreover, these diatribes are written by astute individuals; people who have studied history and source material; people who are important allies in our war against Islamist extremism. We also read the same opinion—albeit less reasonably expressed—on blogs and radio talk shows with numbing frequency. Many of those who take that position are our allies; many are erudite; most are passionate. But we have to understand that all of them are wrong.
There are several alternative explanations for the historical patterns they cite in defense of their position. There is the fact that Islam younger today than Christianity was at the time of church-sanctioned blood libels, the murder of heretics, the Inquisition, and regular murder of Jews with the blessings of local priests and ministers. If official Christianity can so develop, is it impossible for Islam to do the same? There is also the theory that religion is only sullied when it is firmly wedded to political power—as Christianity was in the past and as Islam still is today. But even these arguments are academic. We are rather told by our traditions to judge people by what they do. We should rather direct those who claim Islam is evil to tell their tale to Muslims like Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury (who has been imprisoned and tortured and remains a devoted Muslim), to Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi (one of Europe’s most passionate Zionists and a Muslim leader); and to Kazi Aziz Huq a fundamentalist Muslim whose stated goal is to “end suspicion and barriers between us,” and who more importantly acts on it.
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Dr. Richard L. Benkin secured the release of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in 2005. The two continue working together to fight Islamist radicals and their allies in South Asia and elsewhere. For more information on how to help, please contact Dr. Benkin at firstname.lastname@example.org. Their web site is [url=http://www.InterfaithStrength.com]http://www.InterfaithStrength.com[/url].
Dr. Benkin can be reached at: email@example.com