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Last refuge of scoundrels and fools

Last refuge of scoundrels

and fools

Dr. Richard L. Benkin writes from USA

Last week should have been the final tip off for the Bangladeshi government; but true to form in its persecution of Weekly Blitz editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the government ignored signs that even a child could recognize.  Noted international human rights attorney, Dr. Irwin Cotler, spoke on behalf of Shoaib in the Canadian Parliament, at the same time making it clear that he had joined the anti-terrorist editor’s defense.  Cotler’s previous clients include Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov and other noted freedom fighters.  Now, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury’s name is being mentioned in the same breath as them; putting the government of Bangladesh in the same company as apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union.

In the previous month, resolutions condemning Bangladesh’s persecution of Shoaib had been prepared, introduced, or passed in several countries, including the United States (the largest importer of Bangladeshi garments) and the European Union (the largest donor of aid to Bangladesh).  And let us recall that in previous communications, Bangladeshi officials have admitted that there is no basis for the sedition charge against Shoaib, but that they were refraining from rectifying the injustice in order to appease Islamist radicals—not a position that sits well in these countries that are committed to fighting those same radicals.  Unfortunately, Bangladeshi officials were either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the impending disaster.

Most Bangladeshi embassies and officials remained mum on the issue, for the most part refusing to return calls from journalists and officials from their host countries.  One exception was the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington, which tried to convince American officials that it was all a tempest in a teapot.  If anything, the embassy’s action only confirmed the injustice and made passage of the Congressional Resolution in support of Shoaib early next year even more likely.  For in attempting to convince the Americans to hold back, the Bangladesh embassy made at least four critical errors.

Mistake #1:  Trying the Same Failed Argument without Anything New.  It was never a terribly compelling argument to begin with, but at one or another time previously, Americans had held actions in abeyance in deference to Bangladeshi requests so, they said, they could work their way toward justice for Shoaib.  According to highly reliable sources, that was the message that the embassy gave Americans last week regarding the impending resolution.  Yawns greeted the argument as when the advice was taken previously, the government never delivered on its promised goods.  Nor did the Bangladeshis offer a shred of evidence last week or even convincing rhetoric to suggest that this time things would be any different.  That told US lawmakers that the Bangladeshis had nothing better to offer, and that they did not think much of the Americans’ discernment.  It did not sit well.

Mistake #2:  Living in a Land of Make Believe.  The embassy tried to tell the Americans that Shoaib was fine and only concerned about getting better representation.  That was a lie on both counts.  It was difficult to believe that Shoaib was fine given the fact that his paper was bombed last summer and those thugs—including prominent BNP members—attacked him this past fall.  More ominous, the Bangladeshi government has never brought any of the perpetrators to justice—telling the country that it is open season on Shoaib.  That did not sound fine to the American audience.  The embassy also tried to re-assure the Americans with the cynical statement that no Bangladeshi journalist had ever been convicted of sedition.  That might be so, but Shoaib has angered the Islamist radicals in Bangladesh whose power—as admitted by several BNP officials—is growing.  The judge—contrary to all standards of good jurisprudence—already has made his antipathy toward Shoaib known and once indicated that he was “not interested in evidence” and that “by praising Christians and Jews, [Shoaib] had hurt Islam.”  And if the lack of sedition convictions is correct, it begs the question of why the government continues to use the charge against journalists.  Here is what the NGO, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had to say about that.  Politicians and businessmen often file frivolous defamation suits, knowing that even if the journalist is never convicted; he or she will have to post bail to avoid waiting out the interminable court proceedings in prison, and will spend years saddled with a pending criminal charge.”  And that’s Shoaib’s best case scenario if the international community abandons him to Bangladesh’s sad record with regard to journalists.

Mistake #3:  Character Assassination in Lieu of Evidence.  Given the fact that the embassy seemed to consider its mission so very important, it is curious that it never even attempted to show its audience any evidence of its allegations.  Instead, it offered up a laundry list of accusations without naming their sources, giving any evidence on which they are based, or even indicating when they were made.  These accusations ran the gamut from selling intelligence secrets—a charge so serious that it confounded listeners as to why it has never been mentioned before—to putting together a business proposal for his own interests.  Could you imagine if everyone guilty of that “terrible offense” was prosecuted and incarcerated?  The embassy’s gravest error in all of this, however, is that it only proved that the government it represents misses the essence of justice entirely. If the American concern is a false prosecution entertained for persecution, the appropriate response would be to address that if the embassy’s intention was to convince its audience of the government’s benign intentions.  It instead conveyed a clear impression that there was no evidence for Shoaib’s persecution and was relying on whatever it could fabricate.

Mistake #4:  Blame the Jews.  While protesting that any thought of anti-Jewish bias is erroneous, the government proceeded to attribute the international outrage to a facility on Shoaib’s part to mobilize “Pro-Jewish Groups.”  That is, indeed, the last refuge of scoundrels and fools.  It is particularly ironic since all but a few Jewish groups have remained low key (something about which I have been asked repeatedly).  Moreover, it is a disingenuous way of attempting to deny that any real outrage exists.  Word to the wise: such ill-conceived bigotry is made known to American voters, there is no doubt that they will march in droves to urge support of the resolution.  Such an anti-American sentiment will also cause them to feel much more comfortable purchasing garments from India or Honduras than from Bangladesh.

As if to underscore the embassy blunders, that same week, the Bangladeshi High Court refused to even consider the applicability of the charges to the law or the suspect quality of the accusations.  Instead of offering an increasingly outraged world a fair an open hearing of the matter, the court chose to cover its mendacious essence—something that also covers from the world those wonderful attributes, traditional fairness, and welcoming values of the people of Bangladesh.
Posted on 19 Dec 2006 by Root

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