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New York Times wrongly rips BD

New York Times wrongly rips BD

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

On April 15, The New York times ripped the current government of Bangladesh as a “military dictatorship.”  It also challenged the Bush administration for remaining silent given its goal of “promoting democracy, especially in Islamic countries.”  Unfortunately, The Times did not bother to produce any evidence to support is assertions; but then again it did not have to given the dearth of information about Bangladesh among Americans.  A search of The New York Times itself showed only a handful of articles about Bangladesh among the thousands upon thousands in its database.

Successive Bangladeshi governments have done a singularly incompetent job of making Americans and others aware of the people and nation of Bangladesh.  Despite a concerted effort to do what others could not, the recently departed Bangladesh ambassador had no more success.  Nor did lobbyists The Washington Group hired at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars make even a dent in this wall of ignorance.  Unless they find themselves living near South Asian immigrants, most westerners view

Bangladesh as a nothing more than a beggar nation, with a history marked by natural disaster and little else.  Thus, The Times was able to get away with sweeping statements that bear little resemblance to Bangladesh reality.

The Times does not even offer any indirect evidence to support its charge that Bangladesh is the world’s “second most populous military dictatorship.  For instance, it chooses to ignore the fact that January’s State of

Emergency was called in accordance with Bangladesh’s constitution and in no way resembled a coup d’etat.  And the civilian government that called the State of Emergency continues to govern albeit with different personnel.  While there was some curtailment of rights immediately following the change—press restrictions, occasional communication interruptions, curfew, and so forth—it was short-lived and not at all uncommon for security reasons during a brief transition period such as Bangladeshis experienced.  Moreover, I was in Bangladesh at that time and witnessed no killings; nor did any of my own sources indicate that any killings were taking place.  As I told my family and others back in America, my personal safety was greater after January 11th than before.

Relying on the unsupported assertions of a notoriously sparse and unreliable group of informants, The Times made much of the fact that the government arrested “many of the country’s top civilian leaders.”  Earlier, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a press release charging mass arrests and killings by the new government to several

US Congressmen and others.  Nowhere in the release and at no time since did it provide evidence for the claims.  HRW based its assertions on unverified testimony from its interested sources inside Bangladesh.  Research indicates that the charges against the new government are coming from former BNP and Awami League members anxious for another meal at their familiar trough of corruption, and fearful of having to face the music for their decades of public malfeasance.

The New York Times accuses Washington of being “dangerously shortsighted” in not aggressively protesting the arrests of former Bangladeshi leaders.  But it gives no context for the arrests; like HRW it does not deign to consider whether the arrests are justified or carried out in support of the rule of law; it just opposes the arrests.  It ignores decades of corruption on such a massive scale that there was sense of triumph in Dhaka recently when Transparency International dubbed Bangladesh the third most corrupt country on earth in its annual and authoritative study.  The cheering celebrated the fact that for the first time in a long time, Bangladesh was not deemed the most corrupt.

The current government is forcing those who plundered the nation to pay for their crimes.

But The Times article begs another question:  Should it matter to Bangladeshis what Americans think?  Of course, the answer is up to individual Bangladeshis.  Consider, however, that Americans are as free and sovereign as Bangladeshis and are under no obligation to purchase their garments from any nation in particular.  If the only view we get of Bangladesh is of the sort reflected in The Times editorial, it is highly unlikely that US lawmakers will prevent trade legislation that in effect gives preference to garment manufacturers from, say, Latin America, our neighbors who already have the Free Trade Agreement Bangladesh covets.  Latin Americans also have been drooling over the prospect of increasing their share of the American garment market.  Or perhaps American importers will look more to Asian giants

India and China who because of their size can for a focused period mass produce garments for far less than countries like Bangladesh can.

Currently, a trade bill that sits with a United States Senate committee would give Bangladesh the trade advantages it covets.  But this bill, which normally would pass with little notice, already faces opposition as it is because of US perceptions of Bangladesh, including the ongoing persecution of Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

Bangladesh can continue to roll over at editorials such as the one that appeared in The New York Times; or it can take the editorial as an opportunity to mount a strong and effective public relations campaign to educate American lawmakers and garment importers about the reality of today’s Bangladesh.  As one foreign diplomat told me, the events of January 11th “probably saved that nation.”  Seize the opportunity to refute the accusations with fact; with perspective; with history; with information about the government’s anti-corruption and anti-radical programs; and by ending the illegal prosecution of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, something that would win immediate friends and supporters on Capitol Hill for the government’s efforts.
Posted on 26 Apr 2007 by Root


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