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Barack Obama demonstrated a level of moral cowardice unmatched by anyone in either the US House or Senate

Obama Sides with Islamists in Choudhury Case

 By Dr. Richard Benkin  Tuesday, July 29, 2008

imageBarack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee has touted himself as a friend to the oppressed, as a politician who stands up for justice and human rights. 

This is a cornerstone of his campaign to the American people.  It’s easy enough, however, to define oneself in whatever way one wants; especially when no one in the media challenges you on it. 

The real test of moral courage is how one acts—not just talks—in real-life situations.  And in the one concrete instance when the Illinois senator was called upon to stand up for justice, he was nowhere to be seen. 

In fact, Barack Obama demonstrated a level of moral cowardice unmatched by anyone in either the US House or Senate. 

The case in point should be familiar to Canada Free Press readers by now:  the case of Muslim Zionist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.  When I began fighting to free Shoaib from imprisonment and torture, it was clear that success would be elusive unless I garnered support from only both sides of the political divide.  And it seemed like a good bet.  Shoaib was in prison, being tortured, and risking his life by exposing the rise of Islamist radicals in Bangladesh, urging relations with US ally Israel, and advocating genuine interfaith dialogue based on religious equality.  Moreover, he was a pro-US voice in a part of the world where we sorely need one.  Clearly this was a matter of human rights, of basic American principles, and everyone with an ounce of human decency should support us.

And, thankfully, things have turned out that way.  Shoaib Choudhury’s support on Capitol Hill has been a celebration of bi-partisan cooperation.  When the Bangladeshi paramilitary force, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) kidnapped Shoaib recently, I called four members of Congress—two Republicans, two Democrats.  All four lawmakers had previously been outspoken in their support for Shoaib, and they came through again.  Not only did all of them call the Bangladeshi government, but they also had other lawmakers do the same, which enabled us to secure Shoaib’s release before it was too late.

Last March, Congress passed House Resolution 64, authored by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY).  The vote was 409-1, Ron Paul being the lone dissenter.  I was present for the debate on the Resolution.  After a pantheon of Democratic and Republican lawmakers offered impassioned speeches on Shoaib’s behalf—and not incidentally in praise of Rep. Kirk—the Republican and Democratic floor leaders (Gary Ackerman of New York and John Boozman of Arkansas respectively) both commented on the bi-partisan nature and strong solidarity of the afternoon.  Boozman called it “a very bipartisan effort.” Ackerman said he hoped “we might bring this kind of approach and dedication” to all issues before the Congress.

A really telling incident occurred not long before the 2006 election when I approached two senators at about the same time:  Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), about as far on the left as a Senator goes; and then Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), equally far on the right.  Yet, both men responded with identical support, which included a letter of protest to the Bangladeshi government.  I later suggested to Santorum that it might have been the only time that he and Durbin agreed on anything because this is simply a matter of human decency.  In fact, I approached about 15 percent of the House and a handful of Senators:  Democratic, Republican, left, right, moderate; you name it.  And every one of them reacted with support; every one of them, that is, except one.  Who was the one lawmaker that took a pass on saving the life of an imprisoned US ally and opponent of Islamist extremism?  That’s right, my own Illinois Senator Barack Hussein Obama.

I first met with his staff in April 2005 in his DC office, the same week that Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) spent hours learning about the case and then well after “working hours” engaged in a very long and often difficult meeting with the Bangladeshi ambassador and me to secure Shoaib’s release.  I brought Obama’s staff extensive documentation of the injustice, as well as other evidence of Shoaib’s activities.  Most significantly, I told them how Shoaib was one of those rare and courageous Muslims who publicly opposed the Islamist radicals while refusing to leave his home inside the Muslim world.  He proudly proclaims himself a Muslim Zionist and pro-US.  I told Obama’s staff all of that, as we spoke for quite a long time, but they never called back.  In fact, they ignored all my subsequent follow-up contacts.  But it was, after all soon after his election; perhaps early disorganization was to blame.  I even spoke with Obama personally 13 months later at a meeting he and Durbin hosted.  To my delight, when my name was mentioned, Durbin responded immediately with praise and support, saying that it was “an important human rights case,” and asked to see me privately about the matter.  I spoke with both he and Obama, who at his best moments looked quizzical and confused.  While Durbin remained on top of the case and later sent a formal protest to the Bangladeshis, Obama never responded; nor again did he or his staff reply to my subsequent entreaties—not even a form letter.

I spoke with Obama one other time about Shoaib’s case, less than six months later.  It was a chance meeting, and I reminded him of our last encounter.  I updated him on the case and suggested several ways in which he could support the besieged journalist.  He hesitated a moment then held out his hand and said in a used-car-salesman kind of way, “Well, we’re sure happy for all the work you are doing.” Propriety prevents me from verbalizing what I was thinking then.  I offered to send him more information, which he asked me to do.  And, not surprisingly, I never heard back despite the reams of evidence I did send.  Another Illinois resident wrote Obama about the case and asked for help, but he, in fact, got that perfunctory form letter.  It stated that the Senator was “aware of the case” and would forward the information to the State Department.  The fact is, however, if he really was aware of the case he would have known that the State Department has been involved rather extensively for months.

Obama-pologists might be forgiven if they attribute all of this ire to “a vast right wing conspiracy” but he is the only one out of dozens of lawmakers I contacted from both parties who failed to act. The fact that support was never contingent on ideology speaks volumes about his real commitment to justice, as opposed to his empty and disingenuous rhetoric.  I often wondered if his refusal to act was strategic, ignorant, or simple cowardice.  No matter, the impact on Shoaib Choudhury was the same, as it would be on any freedom fighter.  Of equal importance, it is clear freedom fighters and human rights victims worldwide will be unable to count on Obama standing by them.  What sort of signal does that send to Muslims around the world who might be thinking of opposing the terrorists?  It tells them that they are on their own, indicating that Obama has already surrendered in this most crucial battle in the war against Islamist radicals.

Having observed Obama punt when a life hung in the balance, potential voters should consider this question.  If Barack Obama does not have the ability to stand up against injustice in Bangladesh, where is he going to find the moral courage to stand up to Iran, North Korea, or China?

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  Their web site is


Dr. Benkin can be reached at:

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 This piece is in Category: Cover Story

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