Press Release Author = Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Industry = Media
Press Release Summary = Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a senior journalist, columnist, author and editor of Bangladesh's largest tabloid weekly newspaper Blitz. He was arrested on 29th November 2003 when he was about to leave for Israel to attend a symposium organized by Hebrew Writers Association.
Press Release Body = Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a senior journalist, columnist, author and editor of Bangladesh's largest tabloid weekly newspaper Blitz. He was arrested on 29th November 2003 when he was about to leave for Israel to attend a symposium organized by Hebrew Writers Association. Later Bangladesh government brought sedition charge against him, saying he was the spy for Israeli intelligence agency. Choudhury was in prison for 17 months and was released on 30th April 2005. Till date, the false sedition charge hangs on him, despite number of appeals from international community and even members of US Congress. Choudhury received PENUSA's Freedom to Write Award in 2005 while this May he will be given prestigious Moral Courage Award by American Jewish Committee. Although he was expected to be in Washington DC to receive the award in presence of World leaders, Bangladesh government did not allow him, as because he had been LAND ARRESTED in his own country. On the occasion of the anniversary of his release from prison, he wrote this article.
Even till the last date of April, I was quite sure that I shall be able to join you all at this auspicious celebration of American Jewish Committee. But, finally, the Bangladesh government played every trick, causing executive and judicial complication, thus barring me from joining the grand occasion of this evening. It makes me sad; it makes me to feel that I am land arrested in my own country, which has very unfortunately gone into the grips of Islamist radicals. Any way, as Jewish proverb says, where there is life, there is hope. As I am alive, I have the reason to believe, in any of their future occasions, I shall be able to be there. I know for sure, things are changing in positive direction. In today's world, with my mission of peace, I can not only find lots of people around the world, extending their support to me; but also in my own country, gradually people are raising their voice, against, religious hatred, Islamist militancy and they too are echoing the concept of establishment of relations between Israel and the Muslim countries. People are punished for crime, for creating anarchy and for putting humanity into horrifying terror. But, could we ever believe that someone would be arrested, tortured and imprisoned for long 17 months just for being in favor of global peace, inter-faith dialogue, ending religious hatred and thinking of everything good and noble for mankind? In my case it did happen and after being released on bail keeping the sedition charge very much alive. According to the allegations, my crime is: I am a living contradiction to today\'s phenomenon in the Muslim world, a Zionist, a defender of Israel and a devout, practicing Muslim living in the second largest Muslim country in the world. The very first person I was in close contact in Israel was Dr. Ada Aharoni, a scholar and leader of International Forum for Literature and Culture of Peace (IFLAC). Then I came to know Dr. Richard Benkin, a person committed to the cause of peace and bravest of the braves I have ever seen in my long career as a journalist. Dr. Benkin is no more just only a friend, but my loving brother, with whom I am proud to be teamed to work. On 10th of January, 2005 when a Charge Sheet was issued against me, I was shocked to see names of Dr. Benkin and that of Dr. Ada as my contacts. I was really not sure how they would react! Anyway, I had to inform Dr. Benkin through my brother Sohail Choudhury. To my utter surprise, Dr. Benkin\'s reaction was, \"I was with Shoaib, I am with Shoaib and I will be with Shoaib; no matter if I have to face a trial in any court within this world\". I didn\'t want my brother Richard to face any hassle in a country where my fate was already uncertain. I communicated with my lawyer Advocate Samarendra Nath Goswami for his opinion if Benkin has to be in Dhaka? Mr. Goswami replied, \"Dr. Benkin is a US citizen, he can ignore Bangladeshi courts for obvious reasons\". This message was transmitted to Richard through Sohail. Richard again said if my brother can take the pain of being in prison and face trial for achieving a common goal, I can at least be in Bangladesh to see my brother and tell him \"I am with you\"! Unfortunately, most of the Muslims in Bangladesh as in many of the other Muslim countries are under the impression that Jews are the ultimate enemies of Muslims and of Islam. My request to them, please visit Israel at least once, meet the Jews or at least find one Jew anywhere in the world. Many Muslims believe that devils have embodied themselves in the Jews. I question those Muslim brothers and sisters, \"ARE YOU TALKING OF HIGHER INTELLIGENCE?\" If so, you can too merge with the higher intelligence if you just have a little more patience, tolerance and true pursuit for knowledge. If their question is again, how? My answer to them would be finding a Jew like Dr. Richard Benkin. I once wrote, that when I was in prison, and my family was in danger, and it seemed that my own people had abandoned me; that it was my Jewish brothers and sisters who stood by us; who dedicated their time, their resources, their very soul to my freedom. And that is a very important point, because in today's world it seems impossible to most that a Muslim and Jews could be friends, let alone brothers and sisters. But we can be, and in fact so can others. Fundamentalists are men who emulate the looks and actions of the Prophet Mohammed. Yet, they give the Prophet and Islam a very bad name, as they perpetuate and even add to the western perception that Islam was won by force or the sword. By this I mean by the sword and not by conversion. Yet these self-righteous and arrogant men claim to be speaking in the name of Allah and act like the Prophet. They try to squash any positive action of peace by not only squashing but trying to kill all those who oppose them, making their vision that of a totalitarian theocracy that will allow no free exchange of ideas, the development of thinking such as ijtihad or even speech. The golden age of Islam was built on this ebullition of ideas that made it prosper and which gave so much to the world, such as algebra, alchemy; they even kept and preserved philosophy. Under such forces it will lead the Islamic world into the Dark ages which were similar to the European Dark Ages and the Middle Ages instead of the Renaissance and the other periods where discovery, science and even technology was invented. One of the strengths of the Muslim world has been the shared power between, two types of power one that is secular and was held by the governing Caliph or Sultan and the other was led by the Ulama or the religious faction; the two balanced each other out, as one cared for the body the other for the soul. In a fully secular world, from a socialistic up to and including communism; there is an absence of religious principles or of God, it is believed that man knows best. However, in a theocracy men speak in the name of God. Be it in a fully secular world or in a theocracy, there is imbalance as both have replaced faith with belief. Because, there are no check points; hence the people become ruled over by men who believe they have all the answers or by men who believe they speak for God. In either case a despotic type of governance results and people suffer as it weakens the strength of shared power, body and soul being ruled over by people of faith. Such is the case of the fundamentalists or the secularist who try to impose their ways on the people they claim to want to liberate. They also hinder those who have a balance and who know the difference between personal faith and politics. One of the Biblical and Qur'anic stories that have influenced my way of thinking is the story of the bad Pharaoh and Moses. This evil man said, there were too many Jews. He first ordered abstinence when that did not work he ordered the killing of every male child. When a radical person comes and gives an order to young men and women to commit suicide in the name of God, I am reminded of that story. The order given by the evil Pharaoh, to kill Jewish male children for the simple reason they are Jewish. In the case of radicals they are not killing Jews they are killing Zionists. Where would we be today if Moses had been killed by Pharaoh? Why then do fundamentalists use the prison and even death to kill all chances of peace? Why do they not see they are the followers of evil Pharaoh and not of the prophets? Radical movements be it religious or secular also have a trend that is their madness increases as time goes by. We demand equal time, or you cannot say this or that on the air. You are not allowed to speak of us in a bad way. You are a racist. You fear my religion and we are the religion of peace. When that tactic does not work they go after one person and start harassing them, the go over the head of the person and complain, meet with the bosses, demand an apology and then use pressure tactics to get their way. They are after power and control hence medias are not safe, nor journalists because the radicals flood emails, telephone lines and faxes with letters of demand. They order their people to write to call to make them heard. However, the majority of those callers are uninformed; they never heard or read the offensive article. They react blindly to an order that comes from above, the earthly leader who claims to speak in the name of God. Their aim is to get the person fired. If this fails they go for human right commission, law suits and try to get money. The bottom line is they are after power, control and their aim is MONEY, the mighty dollar. All of this is done in the name of God, let me ask you since when does God ask for money? When does God ask to harass, lie, control others into doing His way? God gives us freedom of Choice these radical take away that freedom in the name of God. Interfaith dialogues and meetings based on a will to know the other will lead to understanding and respect of each others' faith and beliefs and it is primordial at this time. Because, it prevents generalizations and statements such as "all Jews, Christians, Muslims are like this or that". I do caution interfaith dialogue that is solely based on theology, which is what the religion should be and it is not what it is or how the people practice. Theological debates are interesting within a community yet they are restricted for the most part to scholars who use one lineage of thought or ideology. It also gives a moral conduct to people however it often negates who people are. Here is one example from the Christian or Catholic side, women are forbidden to use contraceptives including condoms. Yet, there are women who have pre-marital sex and hence they expose themselves to sexually transmitted diseases. Muslim Theologians or Sheikhs will tell you that a man can have four wives if he can take care of them properly; however most Muslim women prefer having a monogamous relationship with their husbands. Very few will like to share their husband with other woman, except if they cannot bear a child or have a to do great deal of physical labor to do such as farming etc. Jewish theologians will say it is the man that grants a divorce to a woman, however in Canada religious Jewish decided to have a Canadian law to help women get their religious divorce. In talking between ourselves as members of a religion we can add more depth to these statements we can agree or disagree however, the end result will be that we all have pet peeves and we cannot follow all those religious laws as they are at times a burden in our lives. Dialogue breaks down the idea that a group is homogenous and everyone follows the leader blindly. More than likely this is how people make the difference between a person of faith and a person of beliefs. A person of faith will know that God will understand and even forgive them however the believers will rationalize that the law will not forgive the transgressors. Hence those who transgress need to be punished as non-believers even if the people are people of faith. The question that arises is we people of belief or people of faith? What guides our the lives our faith in God or our belief in the Law? Rebbetzin Esther Jungreiss once gave a talk on the idea of faith and trust in God; she said that every one says they have FAITH in God but when asked do you TRUST God there is a hesitation. Dialogue is what will help us learn not only about theology but also how women feel about the laws of theologians. Faith and trust in God, it seems that as people we do not know or forget that faith MUST include trust. We have faith in God, and often times think that our God is ours and not on else. God is our property as we have all the answer to salvation. In knowing other's faith we soon find out that God created the entire world and every person on earth has his or her own interpretation or divine revelation, be it monotheistic or polytheistic. In the case of monotheism, the common link is Adam the Bible, at first the first covenant found in the Torah, the second in the New Testament and the third revelation in the Koran. Everyone will say we have faith in God, and then proceed to say from their own perspective and interpretation: who is God? The conclusion is that people have faith in God, however how many trust God? How can we trust God and also learn to trust one another? Dialogue is the way the door of can be opened and remain opened. Through interfaith dialogue we get to know not only about the person's religion, but also his or her understanding. We also get to know about culture and most importantly we get to know another person faith, beliefs and hopefully we become friends. It is through faith that our beliefs are often challenged. There is a difference between faith and belief. I might believe that my religion is the only true path to God. I can believe that I am right. I can believe in the law. I can believe that I have the only way. I can believe that I am right and everyone else is wrong. I can believe the other is evil and bad. Fear is what prevents me from reaching out and challenging my beliefs. Fear is also what motivates me to be very vocal and try to influence others in my beliefs. Fear is what makes me use force to impose my beliefs. Because I have never challenged my beliefs I will remain ignorant to other possibilities. It is through dialogue, honest debate, that I can not only challenge my own beliefs but gain new insight in myself and the other. I might even find out that someone else has the same belief and if the fear is broken, the bridge is built, then a dialogue can take place. My belief is transformed into faith in God and in His/Her diversity. After the internal journey, the challenge of my own core beliefs what remains is faith that is based in God, the Creator of the universe. How could this be? How can I still be true to myself? I have a choice, either I stay and learn or go away and remain close minded. I have been challenged, if I accept the challenge and base my research on fact instead of theory or fiction a new reality takes shape hence a transformation from within. I start growing as a person and hence become better human beings. If I stay as and remain firm in my erroneous beliefs I am deluded then I regress and fall into the abyss of darkness because I have closed myself off from reality "Mine and the Other". This is what the message that prophets and saints have preached for years and no one listened. No one wanted to do the internal journey they only too the external path and not the internal one. Rabbiah of Iraq the Muslim Saint and mystic used the metaphor of setting heaven on fire and extinguishing the fires of hell, so people stopped to pay lip service and being hypocrites because they did good deeds to secure their path to heaven. Christians use to buy indulgences or relics at one time. It is time for each person to take charge of our self and look deep inside and ask, the question: "Do I pay lip service or am I sincere and honest?" Through dialogue we can learn about one another's beliefs and faith. You and I, yes we can challenge belief and build on faith. By this simple action we deepen what it means to us as individual and as a group the idea of being guided, inspired and even acting according to God's plan. The whole idea of faith, trust, and belief is a philosophical debate between individuals from the central point our self and the peripheral our community. Religions can be based on theology but more importantly it should be based on our perception and understanding of God's words as individuals and not as a mass. This had been the reason as to why I promote interfaith dialogue. Religion does not promote hatred however men have promoted hatred by favoring one religion over the others; usually it is their interpretation of what religion means which is based on theology or the word of God as interpreted by men of small minds. Some monotheists accuse others of worshipping idols and having false gods. Some radicals go as far as destroying historical temples. This can be seen when Christians had statues to represent images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary they were either destroyed or painted over. Romans destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Christians and later Muslims destroyed Hindu temples in India or parts or other parts of the world. The first Christian priests were destroying the spiritual icons of natives, and saying they worshipped idols in nature. Hindus destroyed Muslim and Christian Mosques and Churches. The list goes on an on. However, there is another aspect of religion that is often forgotten those from the tradition who have made a contribution to stopping hatred, which promotes better understanding. But, while advocating peace and interfaith dialogue, like most Muslims around the world, I have been a victim.
Like most Muslims, I've been victimized by a socially supported information flow; one that taught me to look the other way when facts seem to contradict the politically-mandated and politically-correct weltanschauung that we are supposed to adopt. I was taught that much of the world is in essence my enemy, and that Israel and the Jewish people are the embodiment of evil. And I was taught to distrust-even though we all admired-Americans.
And that is the case because the enemies of freedom have wormed their way into most social institutions in the Muslim world-the press, the media, governments, and schools. I have seen this in my own nation-a nation of good people, who seek nothing other than the things all of us want in life. These enemies of freedom seek to control my people by controlling our access to information and our contact with those who offer a different point of view.
And so I am not misconstrued here, I must emphasize that such practices are neither Islamic nor culturally mandated. They are political. And, thankfully, politics change.
In my own case, I was fortunate. My parents raised me to be open and moral, and I had a journalist's natural curiosity and access to information via the Internet. I began to see that there was more information than we were being force-fed; information that quite often contradicted the political orthodoxy. And it opened my eyes. I saw that the United States is not the greatest threat to us; neither are the Jews, Zionism, western culture, nor so-called "infidels."
No, the greatest threat to us is the same thing that threatens non-Muslims, that threatens us all. It is a dedicated cadre of individuals who justify killing innocents by falsely-falsely-using our faith.
And so like any good journalist, I began writing about it, warning our people about the rise of terrorism, advocating interfaith dialogue, and urging Muslim Bangladesh to recognize Jewish Israel. Colleagues outside of my country-both Muslim and non-Muslim-joined me in this effort. And as we wrote, people listened. Not all of them agreed with us; in fact, most did not. But our efforts sparked the beginning of public discussion and debate on these issues. And my people began to recall the interfaith respect that is our true heritage.
But all of that changed on November 29, 2003.
Our free exchange of ideas had angered some powerful people who were setting the stage for a "surprise" that would put free debate in Bangladesh on hold.
As I was about to board the aircraft to address a group of Israeli writers, police grabbed me. They ransacked my bags, took my passport and possessions.
At first, they did not charge me with anything but leaked that my alleged crime was espionage "in the interests of Israel against the interests of Bangladesh." You see, anyone who even suggests that all faiths are equally legitimate must be demonized, and you can do that by preying on people's vulnerability to wild and untrue conspiracy theories involving the Jews.
Conditions were terrible for me and my family while I was in prison. I was purposely kept in a wing for the mentally insane. The constant screaming, the terrible heat, the filth, and the accusations were intended to break me. My family was threatened and attacked. Police refused to act, blaming it all on my "alliance with the Jews." My brother, Sohail Choudhury, twice had to flee Dhaka for his safety. They wouldn't even let me attend my mother's funeral.
But while my health deteriorated, my spirit did not.
For I had, first of all, faith: my Muslim faith; and a general faith in G-d and in the justice of our cause. And I had something else. Just before I was taken away, I saw Sohail and asked him to contact my Jewish brother Dr. Richard Benkin, who fought for me without stopping; traveling here and there, writing articles, speaking publicly, and petitioning his government. He even went to the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington, along with honorable Congressman Mark Steven Kirk-who is neither Muslim nor Jewish, demanding my release, and to whom I am also so grateful-joined him in the cause, and this interfaith team eventually secured my freedom.
Today, our efforts to build a Coalition of Understanding continue. For were this persecution just about me, it would be unjust, but little more. However, there are many people of many faiths being persecuted for their stance on behalf of interfaith understanding and for trying to warn their people about the terrorist threat; and many more who are afraid to speak that which are in their hearts. And that is especially true in Muslim nations, where such beliefs are opposed both the by accepted political orthodoxy and by the terrorists in our midst.
Working together, Dr. Benkin and I seek to empower Muslims and others to embrace the religious diversity of our world; to accept that G-d has given us many paths by which we can come to Him; and not seek a return to 7th century political and intellectual constructs that deny all but one set of believer's equal legitimacy.
I am a devote Muslim, and I know that my faith, my Koran does not award 70 virgins to those who murder children and seek to destroy the faith of our mutual prophet Moses-our Jewish cousins who preceded us in our journey of faith.
We continue to write without ceasing-and now publish unmolested so we can counter the lies that pass as journalism in most of the Muslim world. We seek to provide my people with information-facts, as well as opinion-that most of the media is either too ignorant or too fearful to publish. For it is only through the light of truth, of free access to information, that we can overcome those who seek to overturn centuries of progress. Under extreme adversities, Weekly Blitz and Weekly Jamjamat are continuing publication, which are presently known as most vocal against Islamist fundamentalism and extremism. Each week, number of readers is increasing, although, our advertisers are hesitant to accord support with their advertisements, for reason unknown, despite the fact that, Blitz by now has turned into the leading tabloid weekly in Bangladesh.
Slowly, we are gaining adherents to our cause. Slowly, we are exchanging information and ideas with more and more people who seek the same peace that we do. Being inspired with our mission of peace, Bangladesh Minority Lawyers Association (BMLA), under the courageous leadership of Advocate Samarendra Nath Goswami, has expressed its solidarity to our cause. They are the first organization in Bangladesh, which issued statements asking the government to immediately withdraw the false sedition charge that still hangs on me, and end harassment.
We hope to participate in and perhaps empanel seminars and informational events around the world-events that further our goal of true interfaith understanding. Perhaps we will do this in own Bangladesh-a nation that is struggling, valiantly at times, against terrorism and the evil incarnate that is attacking my people.
We do so even though the forces of evil remain arrayed against us. But each one of their lies, each death threat against me and my brother only confirms that they realize our efforts threaten their attempts to drag our world into an abyss. The intensity of their opposition is perhaps the best measure of our success. I salute those brave Muslim brothers and sisters who have the courage to say: "NO!" to hate; "NO!" to Holocaust-denial; "NO!" to jihad; "NO!" to the demonization of Israel, the United States, and the Jews.