Dr. Richard Benkin
[NOTE: This article was written before certain actions by the IDP caused me to reconsider my support. That is why my support has been given in stages, and at this point, it is not clear that the IDP can (or possibly is willing to) realize the promise spoken of in this article.] Several people from very different political viewpoints have criticized Bangladesh’s new Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) as little more than a front for the banned Harkatul Jihad Al Islami (HUJI). Many question my own support for the IDP as I am an American Jew and an outspoken Zionist who has fought radical groups like HUJI to defend Bangladeshi Hindus and others. Radicals have written that my own and Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury’s involvement suggests that Israeli intelligence is behind the IDP although they have not even tried to offer evidence for the claim because there is none. The very thought of Israeli designs behind this group of devout Muslims is laughable. (Just how amazing do these radicals think we Jews are?) Others have wondered how I could support a group when so many of its members have such dubious roots. Am I naïve, deluded, or on the IDP payroll? The answer to all of them is “No.” Kazi Azizul Huq, an IDP official, and I have a relationship going back almost two years. We met for several hours in Dhaka in 2007 and frankly admitted that we disagree tremendously on many issues that concern our peoples; but we also acknowledged a kinship in our mutual devotion to God—him through Islam, me through Judaism—and “agreed to disagree.” Since then, Huq has demonstrated his democratic bona fides by taking public positions for an end to Shoaib Choudhury’s false prosecution, an end to the government’s ban on travel to Israel or relations the Jewish state; and he recently wrote “that neither the Zionists nor the Americans are the real enemy of the Believers and the Muslims.”
And he does so while upholding his strong Muslim faith. For my part, I have defended Islam in a public argument with the head of a major Jewish organization and elsewhere; and doing so while maintaining my moral opposition to Islamist radicals and my defense of minorities, non-Islamist Muslims, and both the US and Israel.
Bangladesh has been plagued with corrupt leadership that has fanned the flames of communalism no matter which party was in office. The Bangladesh National Party and Awami League plundered Hindus equally through the racist Vested Property Act; their Islamist party allies also took about ten percent of the loot. They placed the well-being of their leaders over the well-being of the nation, forcing the January 11th coup and the chaos that preceded it. Out of nothing more than personal ambition and weakness, both parties agreed to include Islamist radicals in their coalition, parties that demand all Bangladeshis be subject to Sharia law. Those who screamed the loudest against these abuses called themselves “secularists.” Many were communists, and their writings are distinctly anti-religious. Thus, even while campaigning for the people’s right to enjoy the freedoms their founders had promised, secularists dismiss the deep religious sentiments that run powerfully throughout so much of the Bangladeshi population. There was no strong voice that spoke out on their behalf; that is, until the IDP. It offers Bangladesh and South Asia its best chance to see Muslims, Hindus, and others work together to end communal strife and pseudo-secularism. Its leaders believe that religion should unite people of different faiths, not divide them.
But does that philosophy translate into specific actions and positions? I asked IDP Chief Maulana Sheikh Abdus Salam and IDP Advisor Huq about that.
RB: Is the IDP willing to condemn all terror attacks, including attacks on Israeli civilians, and do so without any “but's”?
[RB: If terrorism is wrong—if the deliberate murder of individual civilians is contrary to our moral and religious principles—then it should not take a treatise of justifications and “understanding” for the perpetrators. The answer is simple whether the victims are Israelis, Rohingya Muslims, Bangladeshi Hindus, or anyone else. One of the reasons why statements by Muslim leaders have lost any credibility among so many audiences is their consistent refusal to condemn Palestinian terrorists for what they are; to condemn the terrorists who murdered thousands in New York and Washington on September 11 without resorting to angry condemnations of the United States or ridiculous theories that it was all a Jewish or CIA conspiracy. The IDP’s simple answer is the best answer, and I look forward to seeing it put into action.]
RB: Will the IDP condemn the racist Vested Property Act and pledge to eliminate it if in parliament or other offices?
IDP: IDP has already expressed its disapproval of the Vested Property Act and has openly declared that IDP is seeking advice to formulate strategy to solve the problem avoiding as much as possible new conflict and chaos in the country. Most of these properties are in the possession of rich and powerful people who were or are public representatives belonging to Awami League or BNP or JP. Further, IDP wants to create an environment in Bangladesh which will effectively: End Silent Migration of Hindus from Bangladesh to India; Ensure opportunity and scope for those to return to Bangladesh who were obliged to illegally migrate to India.
[RB: Imagine if a country like the United States had its own Vested Property Act and used it against Muslims.]
RB: Will the IDP condemn the oppression of minorities in Bangladesh and even call on fellow Islamists to end it?
IDP: IDP is against any direct or indirect oppression of minorities in Bangladesh and is determined to stand beside affected person or family. We are trying to motivate others including the ruling elite in this regard. You have to note that the so-called Islamists are not the real obstacles. The real obstacles in this regard is the Administration and the vested interests related to mainly Awami League, BNP and JP. Even JI is not amongst the real obstacles.
RB: Will the IDP actively work with me in stopping attacks on
Bangladeshi Hindus in Bangladesh and India? May we work together? Can
we take action together?
[RB: Pakistan has reduced its Hindu population to about one percent. There are those in Bangladesh who are trying to do the same and have cut Bangladeshi Hindus from one in five to less than one in ten. Bengalis have a history of being able to live together in a society with people who observe many religions. Those who are brutally attacking the Bangladeshi Hindus are attacking the very nature of what it means to be Bengali.]
RB: What is the IDP's position on rescinding the travel ban to Israel?
IDP: IDP wants that citizens of Bangladesh should not be barred from traveling to any land in the world. Specifically Muslims and Christians of Bangladesh must be allowed to visit all their Holy Places including those in Palestine and Israel.
RB: What is the IDP's position on establishing relations between Bangladesh and Israel?
IDP: IDP wants Israel to peacefully materialize the two-state solution as soon as possible to quicken establishing diplomatic relation with the State of Israel. IDP requests Israeli administration to work more closely with Saudi administration because Saudi position in this regard is the most influential one for Bangladesh. Israel also needs to neutralize powerful secret British and Indian opposition to Bangladesh-Israel relation. Bangladesh Foreign Ministry is heavily under British influence.
[RB: Dozens of Muslim countries have relations with Israel on a range of levels—from quiet economic cooperation to full-blown diplomatic relations. Those Muslims are deriving tremendous benefit from Israeli technology in a number of areas from medicine and agriculture to security.]
RB: What is the IDP's goal with regard to Sharia Law, and would all Muslims be compelled to follow it? What about non-Muslims?
IDP: IDP wants Sharia Law and Sharia Court only for the willing Muslims (when plaintiff and defendant both are willing) who seek justice according their own religion. IDP wants to continue existing civil courts and civil laws.
[RB: This is a critical position for the IDP, in opposition to
groups like HUJI who want to impose Sharia Law on all Bangladeshis.]
RB: What is the IDP's position on establishing true religious equality in Bangladesh?
IDP: IDP wants equality and autonomy for Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Tribals as per the spirit of the Medina Charter.
[RB: This call for minority autonomy makes the IDP the strongest
political advocate for religious minorities, taking a position that the
Awami League never tried to implement.]
RB: What will the IDP do about corruption, which is contrary to all religions?
IDP: IDP considers that the Government should be protected from being led by atheists, materialists, perverts, greedy, opportunists, criminals, corrupts, mercenaries and such other harmful people. IDP proposes screening of nomination for public positions.