The Strange Case Of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
On January 16, 2007 Congressman Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, sponsored a sense of the House resolution demanding that the Bangladesh government drop all charges against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a journalist facing sedition charges. According to the resolution:
Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.
Whereas Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a Bangladeshi journalist who, because of his beliefs in an interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims and criticism of Islamic extremism, is on trial for sedition, an offense punishable by death;
Whereas on November 29, 2003, Mr. Choudhury was arrested at Zia International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on his way to board a flight bound for Tel Aviv; Mr. Choudhury’s passport was seized, along with considerable sums of money and several personal items; on that same day police raided Mr. Choudhury’s home and newspaper offices, seizing files, computers, and other valuables;
Whereas moderate voices in the Muslim world must be supported and protected to advance the security of the United States and its allies: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that–
(1) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
(2) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately return all of Mr. Choudhury’s confiscated possessions; an
(3) the Government of Bangladesh should cease harassment and intimidation of Mr. Choudhury, take steps to protect Mr. Choudhury, and hold accountable those responsible for attacks against Mr. Choudhury.
On February 15, 2007 the resolution passed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs by voice vote.
On February 24, 2007, Dr. Richard Benkin reported in the Asia Tribune that Congressman Steve Chabot, a co-sponsor of the House resolution, met with Mr. Choudhury at the American Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Mr. Choudhury, who according to the resolution has been charged "because of his beliefs in an interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims and criticism of Islamic extremism", has many friends and well-wishers around the world and in the US Congress. PEN USA has made him an honorary member; the Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned his detention; Reporters without Borders has condemned an alleged bomb attack near his office; the New York Times has editorialized on his behalf; Bangladeshi bloggers I respect have championed his cause; and a diary has appeared in Daily Kos supporting his cause.
Mr. Choudhury is also a darling of the conservative side of the aisle. Michelle Malkin has taken up his cause; Atlas Shrugged has been on the case; Melanie Phillips has bemoaned his abandonment; and so has Debbie Schlussel. The Wall Street Journal has demanded his freedom, as have the New York Sun and the Washington Times.
Mr. Choudhury is a rare man - he has united the right and the left as a champion of freedom of the press and a voice of moderation against radical Islam.
As those who read my posts know, I have spoken out against extremism in Islam and against unjust detentions everywhere. Last year I spoke out against the unjust detention of Mirza Tahir Hussain. I have also written posts about Islamist extremism in Bangladesh. It would be natural for the reader to assume that I would, in this instance, take up the cause of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. However, I will not - and here is why.
I warn the reader that the story is long and complicated.
But first, here is how the New York Times frames the story:
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim editor and commentator in Bangladesh, has a rare virtue — he champions dialogue and decency in a culture hemmed in by extremism and corruption. When his weekly newspaper, Blitz, published articles favorable to Israel, it was blacklisted by various companies. Some people demanded that the paper be banned. Mr. Choudhury was thrown out of a private television company.
But all of this pales compared with what happened last month. As he boarded a flight in Dhaka, the capital, on his way to a writers’ conference in Tel Aviv, Mr. Choudhury was arrested by security personnel, accused of being a spy and thrown in prison. The charges are a baseless sham. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières have vigorously condemned his arrest. Governments, including Washington, need to demand his release.
The Tel Aviv meeting Mr. Choudhury was planning to attend was called ”Bridges Through Culture” and the lecture he hoped to deliver concerned the role of the media in establishing peace. Mr. Choudhury, who was going to open a Bangladeshi branch of a group called the International Forum for the Literature and Culture of Peace, would have been the first journalist from Bangladesh to speak publicly in Israel.
Mr. Choudhury’s mistreatment is not occurring in a vacuum. Muslim extremism is growing in Bangladesh. Moreover, violence against journalists who stand up to the ruling party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, has been increasing, especially in the south and especially for those exposing links between politicians and organized crime. On Dec. 4, a correspondent for a southern regional daily was beaten and stabbed by members of the party’s youth wing after publication of an article critical of a key local politician.
On Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières sent letters to Khaleda Zia, the prime minister of Bangladesh, expressing grave concern over these developments. Their alarm is quite justified. Bangladesh may now be among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes Mr. Choudhury’s courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable — and vital to defend. [Emphasis added by me.]
The New York Times makes a convincing plea. However, the New York Times is suffering from a lack of reporting and a basic understanding of the facts. They are repeating a tale that has been spun by dint of repetition.
Mr. Choudhury was arrested on November 29, 2003 at Dhaka airport. Here is the original news report:
A man was arrested at Zia International Airport (ZIA) yesterday morning on his way to Tel Aviv for his alleged Mosad connection.
A leader of Bangladesh chapter of ‘Iflaq’, a Haifa-based organisation, Salauddin Shoib Chowdhury was carrying compact disks (CD) and papers containing write-ups on some sensitive issues including ‘minority repression and the al Qaeda network in Bangladesh’, police said.
Shoib was managing director of the planned Inquilab Television until he was sacked last year.
Members of different law enforcement agencies and ZIA immigration officials apprehended him at the immigration counter minutes before he was to leave for Bangkok by the Biman flight, BG-084, at 10:30am.
"He introduced himself as the editor of the ‘Blitz’, an entertainment magazine published from Dhaka, and said he was going to Bangkok," a top police officer said yesterday on condition of anonymity.
"Searching his luggage, we found a number of CD-formatted write-ups and papers that clearly proved his contact with Tel Aviv," he said. "He was going to take part in a conference in Tel Aviv scheduled to begin on December 1," the police officer added.
It was however learnt that Shoib’s movements were being monitored for quite sometime on suspicion of his connection with the Israeli secret service ‘Mosad’.
"He was going to Bangkok first and was scheduled to fly for Israel, a country Bangladeshi citizens are barred from travelling to," he said.
Mr. Choudhury has quite an interesting past. The article goes on to say:
A correspondent of Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Shoib was sacked from his job but soon joined now defunct ATV owned by Aziz Mohammad Bhai. During his job there, he was arrested on charge of smuggling information out of the country and was awarded a three-month term in the case.
Shoib later joined Inquilab Television as managing director. But he was sacked from his job on allegation of fund embezzlement last year.
He joined the Bengali daily Inquilab as special correspondent, but is no longer there for reasons unknown.
Though Bangladeshis are forbidden to go to Israel, Shoib visited the Israeli capital last month, sources said.
All reports in the Western media refer to Mr. Choudhury as having worked for a private television station and on a Bengali newspaper prior to becoming editor of an obscure Bangladeshi newspaper known as the Weekly Blitz. Those reports however leave out the most salient parts. Mr. Choudhury was the managing director of Inqilab Television, a private television venture run by the leading Islamist party in Bangladesh, the Jamaat-e-Islami. Mr. Choudhury was also a correspondent for the Daily Inqilab, the mouth-piece of Jamaat-e-Islami and published by (until his death last year) well-known war criminal and leading Islamist Maulana Abdul Mannan. Yes, boys and girls, Mr. Choudhury was an Islamist.
The story gets more interesting. At his bail hearing Mr. Choudhury explained his financial entanglements, and some new information dripped out:
Shoib told the court that he was arrested by police at the behest of the editor of The Inquilab, AMM Bahauddin.
"I am a 30 percent share-holder of the ITV. Earlier, Bahauddin sold out my share to Salman F Rahman at Tk 6 crore without my consent," said Shoib who also claimed himself as the incumbent managing director of the ITV.
He said when he demanded his share back the Daily Inquilab editor influenced police to arrest him in order to muzzle him. He also told the court that Bahauddin threatened him with death, as he demanded his share of the money. He said a few days back he filed a general diary with Uttara Police Station in this connection.
Shoib was arrested in July 17, 1999 on charge of sending e-mail to the then prime minister Sheikh Hasina, her family members and some influential ministers threatening their lives. Charges were pressed against him on May 3 in 2000 and he was jailed for six months.
Police said Shoib used to introduce himself as an ultra Islamist. He was engaged in defrauding people. He often took money from foreign visa seekers. When he was in the daily The New Nation in 1999, he faxed a write-up to the Daily Dinkal where he mentioned that editors of different newspapers took money from the Indian High Commission.
A correspondent of Russian news agency Itar-Tass, Shoib was sacked from his job but soon joined now defunct ATV owned by Aziz Mohammad Bhai. During his stint there, he was arrested on charge of passing information out of the country. [emphasis added by me.]
While he was a good little Islamist he threatened to kill the then prime minister of Bangladesh, the leader of Bangladesh’s largest secular party. However, he had a falling out with his Islamist buddies over a very large sum of money (approximately $1 million). After his falling out, his life became even more interesting.
Mr. Choudhury, through the Weekly Blitz (founded after his falling out with his Islamist friends), went on an offensive against his former partners. He became a darling of some pro-Israel friends. Here is Mr. Choudhury’s article on extremism in Bangladesh (a topic he knew well) written in October 2003:
The Daily Inqilab acts as a mouthpiece of the fundamentalists in Bangladesh. the, It is an extremist sort of provocative newspaper spreading the theme of jihad amongst the local population Inqilab was initially funded by Iraq’s deposed autocrat Saddam Hussain and presently it receives regular cash support from a large number of hidden organization in Bangladesh and abroad. One of the owners of this daily is based in Dubai where from global activities of this organization continues. It is believed that Inqilab enjoys very close contact with Osama Bin Laden, and it has extremely good relations with a large number of small and medium ranking organizations and parties in Bangladesh. Some of these organizations are on the regular pay role of the daily.
Pressure to conform to extremist opinion is intense. Since my newspaper, the Weekly Blitz, published several articles that were favorable to Israel, we have been subject to various threats from local fanatics as well from the Palestinian ambassador in Dhaka. Our newspaper was black listed by some of the local companies financed by the Islami Bank, another organization that patronizes and nourishes extremist groups here. There were a number of applications to the Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka to cancel the registration of our newspaper. Hackers entered our Web site and tried to disrupt it, but were foiled by our technicians.
I received numerous threats from the local extremists and from the editor of an extremist daily, and in one case I had to lodge a written complaint with the local police station. Under the instructions and inspiration of Islami Bank, Ibn Sina Trust and some other religious extremist groups, I was thrown out of a private television company where fanatics suddenly acquired the major portion of the stock. Until now I have not been paid the price for my 20 percent share in that company. [Emphasis added by me.]
Please note the Mr. Choudhury fails to mention that he in fact was affiliated with the "extremist daily" and that the "private television station" was also affiliated with the "extremist daily" and was its namesake. It is this article, and a few others, that Mr. Choudhury and his supporters now cite as the reason for his arrest and detention.
About the same time, a curiously seductive op-ed appeared in the leading English language newspaper in Bangladesh. It was written by Dr. Richard Benkin (if you scroll up, you will note that I cited Dr. Benkin as the reporter for the Asia Tribune). The op-ed was entitled "Dear Bangladesh: An American Jew’s Perception". It praised Bangladesh for its secular democracy and urged it to become the broker for Middle East peace. To do so, the op-ed suggested that Bangladesh should first open diplomatic relations with Israel:
also believe that Bangladesh is uniquely positioned to help bring peace to a region that has resisted peace for so long: the Middle East. What? Am I daft? Bangladesh is a small nation with its own problems to solve, you might say. We might remind ourselves, however, that when the United States negotiated a peace between Russia and Japan in 1903, it was still a relatively minor player on the world stage. More recently, modest Norway attempted to broker a peace between Arabs and Israelis. Other historical events are also instructive. From the end of World War II until the 1970s, America refused to recognise the People’s Republic of China, demonising it, and not accepting its legitimacy. The president who finally changed that was one of the least forgiving of those old cold warriors, Richard Nixon. A liberal Democrat who tried to do it would have faced tremendous opposition. Similarly, the first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country was signed not by doves from each side, but by two men who fought vehemently against each other’s peoples: Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. So, what country is better qualified to broker a truce than a non-Arab Moslem nation and a democracy at that: Bangladesh.
Why should the world assume that only a superpower like the United States, or a European country like Norway, should offer itself as a broker for peace? Bangladesh is really a more logical vehicle to bring together Israelis and Arabs. On the one hand, you share a Muslim heritage with Arabs. On the other, you share Israel’s religious diversity. (Do you know, Israel has approximately the same percentage of Jews as Bangladesh has Muslims?) You share the Arab world’s past subservience to western powers; but your democratic government is much closer to Israeli democracy than Arab autocracy. There is only one thing missing to complete the equation.
It would be very difficult for Bangladesh to play such a role in this conflict while it does not formally recognise the sovereignty of one of the parties. It would be difficult to broach such an issue when there is no Bangladeshi diplomatic corps in Israel to contact its Israeli counterparts. (Before trying to broker Middle East peace, the US allowed Palestinian Arabs to open a diplomatic office in Washington, and recognised the Palestinian Authority.) Imagine for a moment what would happen if Bangladesh established diplomatic relations with Israel, then announced its intentions to hold a peace conference for the parties in the Middle East? Although it would not be the first Muslim nation to recognise Israel, your action still would no doubt shock many around the world. For you would be denying the pernicious belief, which holds that a sovereign Jewish state can exist in the Middle East only at the expense of Muslims. Consign that lie to the ashbin of history where it belongs! Declare to the world that Jews and Muslims can live side by side as equals, and the world can know peace. Your bold action would demonstrate to the world a level of courage and maturity that too few nations possess. And it would place Bangladesh on the centre stage of world events.
Peace is possible in the Middle East, but it will take a special kind of wisdom and courage. Most nations are too mired in self-interest, stilted thinking, and ideologies to take that leap of faith. Let the nation and people of Bangladesh be the one to lead us out of those traps and into a new era of peace.
It was a curious request and yet seductive in its appeal.
[Click on the above image for an enlarged view.]
Mr. Choudhury is the editor of the Weekly Blitz. Mr. Benkin is its USA correspondent. A certain Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, along with Ada Aharoni (of IFLAC), Asher Eder, and Yehushua Friedman, are listed as special contributors. Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi and Asher Eder are the founders of Islam-Israel Fellowship, while Yehushua Friedman is on its Board of Directors. Mr. Choudhury and Mr. Benkin are Advisory Board Members of Islam-Israel Fellowship.
The Islam-Israel Fellowship describes itself as follows:
The Islam-Israel Fellowship of the Root & Branch Association promotes cooperation between Jews and Muslims both within the State of Israel and abroad, and between the State of Israel and Muslim nations, based upon a correct Jewish understanding of the Bible and Jewish tradition, and a correct Muslim understanding of the Qur’an and Islamic Tradition.
Promoting cooperation between Jews and Muslims seems to be a worthy goal. However, all is not as it seems. A reading of the commentaries from the Islam-Israel Fellowship will make it clear that the "cooperation" they seek is similar to the kind of peace Daniel Pipes advocates:
Like many other Middle East scholars, Daniel Pipes sees a way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But unlike most of his peers, Pipes sees no room for negotiation, no hope for compromise and no use for diplomacy. "What war had achieved for Israel," Pipes explained at a recent Zionist conference in Washington DC, "diplomacy has undone."
His solution is simple: The Israeli military must force what Pipes describes as a "change of heart" by the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza — a sapping of the Palestinian will to fight which can lead to a complete surrender. "How is a change of heart achieved? It is achieved by an Israeli victory and a Palestinian defeat," Pipes continued. "The Palestinians need to be defeated even more than Israel needs to defeat them."
I live in Rome and I am a clergyman (Imam) of the Italian Islamic Community. I consider myself a good friend of Israel and am trying my best to help Muslims free themselves from anti-Zionism and to develop a positive attitude toward Jews in general and towards Israelis in particular.
I believe that Israeli Arabs live in a privileged position: they are the only Arabs in the Middle East who live in a democratic State. The comparison between the positive way that Israel treats them and the terrible way that refugees from "Palestine" were treated by their so-called Arab "brothers" is incredible.
I believe that "Palestinian identity" is something completely artificial: it was forged as a propagandistic tool against Israel. The strange fact is that, at least here in Europe, I have never heard an Arab from the Land of Israel ("Palestine" ) say: "I am Palestinian."
The real "Palestinian State" is Jordan, and from a linguistic, ethnic, religious and cultural point of view there is nothing that can be identified as "typically Palestinian" and "non-Jordanian."
I doubt that there is in today’s world a more corrupt and criminal organization than the "Palestinian Authority." Arafat [Abdul Rauf el-Codbi el-Husseini] and his mob travel around the world asking for money to "help the Palestinian people." They hide this money in Swiss and Kuwaiti banks, while Arabs who live in Judea and Samaria (the "West Bank" ) and Gaza go hungry.
By signing the so-called Oslo Agreement, Israel made the worst of mistakes: it legitimized a gang of killers in the eyes of worldwide public opinion. I believe that the Israeli government should have dealt with Arafat [Abdul Rauf el-Codbi el-Husseini] in the same way that it dealt with Adolf Eichmann.
A Palestinian State will be a disaster for both Israelis and Arabs. The Israelis will lose their security and the Arabs will lose their freedom of speech under a criminal government.
Since I love Israel, I ask God to protect it, and to help its leaders to understand that the only way to survive is to declare the Oslo Agreement null and void.
Besides "Am Yisrael" (Jewish People), is there really another nation around today that is anything other than an established myth? The Palestinian nation is certainly a Johnny come lately, but so were the Americans in the 18th century. I’m sure that the British wrote gobs about the fake American identity. The Palestinian nation is perfectly legitimate as such; the problem is that their territorial claims conflict with our prior claim, and more importantly, with the decree of the Almighty.
Therefore, Palestinian national identity does not entitle them to a land. They "are" entitled to whatever culture they choose to develop. And if they should, "rachmana latzlan", succeed in establishing a state on our land, they wouldn’t be the first to do so. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was cherished by it’s Christian inhabitants just as much as the Palestinians cherish "Palestine".
There is no stronger nor no nobler claim to a piece of land than the connection between "Am Yisrael" (Jewish People) and "Eretz Yisrael" (Land of Israel). I truly believe that in the End of Days, the whole world, Palestinians included, will accept this connection, and it won’t really matter who qualifies as a nation and who not.
Let us focus on this essential issue and not be side-tracked by debates about nomenclature.
In sum, there are many nations and nationalities, and I see no reason not to enumerate the Palestinians amongst them.
However, there is only one nation with a Divine imperative to settle the Land of Israel: The Jewish Nation.
With peacemongers like these, who needs the Peace Process.
The rest of the diagram above fills in rather nicely. Dr. Richard Benkin is a member, and author of a couple of position papers, of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), with Daniel Pipes on its board. Daniel Pipes of course has also taken an interest in Mr. Choudhury. The soup of Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, David Horowitz’s Frontpage and Jihad Watch are well documented. Of course, some of the experts from the Middle East Forum happen to also be contributors to Mr. Choudhury’s Weekly Blitz. It is all tied nicely in a bow by Sheikh Palazzi, who happens to be the go-to guy for Frontpage magazine when it comes to Islam-Israel fellowship.
Now we come back to Dr. Richard Benkin. Dr. Benkin has been a tireless crusader for Mr. Choudhury’s cause. He maintains the FreeChoudhury website and has worked with Congressman Mark Kirk to shape the sense of the House resolution on Mr. Choudhury’s behalf.
Crusading Muslim journalist, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, suffered a major setback in the government case against him for alleged “sedition, treason, and blasphemy.” The current government of Bangladesh had recently given explicit assurances to several US and other officials that the admittedly false charges would be dropped and done so “within the framework of Bangladeshi laws.”
We have learned that the procedure would have three successive court dates at which government witnesses failed to show, forcing the charges to be dropped. That happened on January 22 and was supposed to happen again on February 28.
Instead, two government witnesses did show and the radical-affiliated judge signed an order forcing the trial to continue and accusing Choudhury of being a “threat to the security of Bangladesh.”
It appears that the trial is set to go forward, in spite of pressure from the United States and Dr. Benkin and friends.
There is something very odd about Mr. Choudhury and his friends. His association with Sheikh Palazzi and the Islam-Israel Fellowship certainly suggests that he is not, in the words of the New York Times, the "champion" of "dialogue and decency". Mr. Choudhury recently used some decidedly neo-conservative language in showing concern for his friend, Sheikh Palazzi, and his "noble message":
Certainly there are thousands of hidden axes of the Islamist radicals, waiting to execute voices like Imam Palazzi at the first chance, because, if such noble message will get spread, possibly in a very near future, blood-monger Islamofascists will not find any more innocent pray to fall into their traps of so-called holy war.
The nexus between Dr. Benkin, Sheikh Palazzi, the neo-conservatives and Mr. Choudhury raises a lot of questions. The story of Mr. Choudhury spun in the West leaves out much of the unsavory aspects of Mr. Choudhury’s resume. The curious op-ed by Dr. Benkin in a Bangladeshi newspaper before Mr. Choudhury’s arrest smacks of a coordinated propaganda campaign by the Islam-Israel Fellowship and their affiliates. The involvement of the extremists from the Fellowship in Mr. Choudhury’s tabloid, the Weekly Blitz, is also rather curious. Mr. Choudhury, Islamist turned Zionist, may be an opportunist or a patsy, or both.
I am unconvinced that the Bangladeshi authorities have a hollow case against Mr. Choudhury. As they say, there is far too much there there. I, for one, would like to see a trial where the charges are aired and Mr. Choudhury has a chance to defend himself. However, given American pressure and the typically obtuse and heavy-handed tactics of the Bangladeshi government, this strange case may eventually be swept under the rug.