I received another email from Rabbi Sue Levy. I wanted once again to share our continuing conversation with the reader. I thank Rabbi Levy for the opportunity to engage her in discussion about Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.
Rabbi Levy’s email is below followed by my response:
Dear Mr. Rahman,It’s obvious to me that no words of mine will persuade you of Shoaib Choudhury’s goodness and that no word’s of your’s will persuade me of the contrary, so we won’t accomplish anything by continuing our conversation about him.I do want to make you aware of one point. The people who support Shoaib come from a broad spectrum of opinion about Israel and everything else. I don’t agree with Sheikh Palazzi in his position about Israel and the Palestinians. In the Jewish community, we have our liberals and our fundamentalists. Those of us who are liberals do not take every word of Torah as God’s revealed word, and we do not operate from an assumption that God gave us the land of Israel. We do believe that it is our homeland, since Jews have been there continuously for more than three thousand years. Having said that, the huge majority of us believe in a two-state solution to the conflict with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and we believe in peace with justice for all sides.Those among us who are fundamentalists certainly believe that God gave us the Land of Israel, but there is nothing in the Torah which forbids us from sharing what is our’s or even from giving something away that was given to us by God, since the Torah is given to us, ultimately, as a roadmap toward a more peaceful time. There are many maps and many paths, and I hope you will understand that I am making no comparison with a rather dubious political plan by the same name.I am a member of a group called Rabbis for Human Rights. Our work in Israel includes proactive efforts to assist innocent Palestinians who are victimized by our Jewish brothers and sisters. Our members have stood in front of bulldozers in an attempt to keep them from destroying Palestinian homes and have gone into the olive groves with Palestinians to help them harvest their crops safely in place where Israeli "settlers" might have harmed them.All this has become much more difficult since Hamas has come to power. I don’t know any Israeli or any Jew in his or her right mind who would consent to giving an inch of land to someone whose sworn purpose is to destroy you. I would advocate negotiations toward a peaceful settlement, even one that includes making concessions about land for a Palestinian state, if the Palestinians could provide Israel with an honest and sincere bargaining partner. This is not likely to happen while Hamas is in power, and I find that very sad. Would you negotiate with a suicide bomber? Would you negotiate with a government that is using the "peace" process as a way of buying time so that it can strengthen and attack again?I don’t espouse genocide, and to say that all of Shoaib Choudhury’s supports do is neither honest nor fair. It is reasonable to say that there are some Muslims who believe that the Qur’an states that Allah has given the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, and that some of them draw conclusions from that upon which neither you nor I agree. And, it is correct to say that at least one of these people, Imam Palazzi, supports Shoaib Choudhury.Shoaib for his part, has taken no position regarding Israel at all, except that the government of Bangladesh should recognize Israel and establish diplomatic and trade relations with it. His editorial policy is to publish articles by people who express many opinions in the hope that the people of Bangladesh will have the opportunity to think for themselves and come to their own conclusions.All this is quite apart from any other discussions we have had about him. It is something that I wanted to clarify, while still understanding that we will disagree on many things regarding Choudhury.I’m saddened that you and others find it necessary to hold onto so much bitterness. The divisions in Bangladesh run very deep. A lot of what happens in your home country comes from people who seem to believe that it is still 1971 when, I believe, it would be healthier for Bangladeshis to move on and look to the needs of the future without reliving the past. Shoaib is not my only friend in Bangladesh, but he is the only one who has become a "public figure." In the course of the friendships I have made, I have come to care very much about your homeland, and it is hard for me to watch what people with either greed or grudges or both are doing to each other. I hope for a better time for all of us.Assalamu Alaykum,Sue Levy
Dear Rabbi Levy,Thank you once again for your response.You stated in your email that we will not accomplish anything by continuing our conversation. On the contrary, I think we have accomplished a great deal. We have both expressed our views on the matter in open debate to , I hope, the benefit of the reader. As you will recall, we began this conversation with a request from you that I retract my original post and that I apologize as well. I remain prepared to correct any errors of fact in my original post if I am provided with credible news account to the contrary. I hope you will understand that I will not be persuaded by opinions of Mr. Choudhury’s supporters unless those opinions are backed up by credible news reports.I want to thank you for making it clear that you do not agree with Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi’s views regarding the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. I also applaud your work with Rabbis for Human Rights in your effort to defend the human rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. I firmly believe the only path to peace in Israel and Palestine is through reconciliation and dialogue. I am heartened that you both share those views and champion efforts to make that happen.You said in your email that it was unfair and dishonest to say that all of Mr. Choudhury’s supporters espouse genocide. Specifically, you said the following:I don’t espouse genocide, and to say that all of Shoaib Choudhury’s supports do is neither honest nor fair. It is reasonable to say that there are some Muslims who believe that the Qur’an states that Allah has given the Land of Israel to the Jewish people, and that some of them draw conclusions from that upon which neither you nor I agree. And, it is correct to say that at least one of these people, Imam Palazzi, supports Shoaib Choudhury.I want to note that I did not accuse anyone of espousing genocide. I did however say that the Islam-Israel Fellowship, of which Mr. Choudhury and Dr. Benkin are advisory board members and Sheikh Palazzi is the co-founder, espouses the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. To support my statement, I cited some of the many commentaries written by this group and available on their web site. I also did not state, and certainly did not mean to imply, that all of Mr. Choudhury’s supporters espouse ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. If I left you with that impression, I want to clarify that it was not my intention. Specifically, I do not think I ever suggested that you were a member of Islam-Israel Fellowship or that you subscribed to their views about the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.I will reiterate what I have said before. Both Mr. Choudhury and Dr. Benkin belong to the Islam-Israel Fellowship, along with Sheikh Palazzi. Many of the contributors on Mr. Choudhury’s Weekly Blitz are members of Islam-Israel Fellowship. Given the extreme views of Islam-Israel Fellowship, to suggest that Mr. Choudhury is somehow unaware of them while choosing to remain on their advisory board once again stretches credulity. I should further note that the one person who seems to be the source of almost all "reporting" on Mr. Choudhury is Dr. Benkin, who is not only associated with Islam-Israel Fellowship, but has written numerous articles expressing views that are consistent with the group.You stated the following in your email:I’m saddened that you and others find it necessary to hold onto so much bitterness. The divisions in Bangladesh run very deep. A lot of what happens in your home country comes from people who seem to believe that it is still 1971 when, I believe, it would be healthier for Bangladeshis to move on and look to the needs of the future without reliving the past.I have to confess that your comments both sadden and disturb me a great deal. Bangladeshis are not "reliving the past" by remembering the genocide of 1971. The events of 1971 are a very important part of Bengali national identity and largely define the foundations of Bangladesh today. We are not prepared to "move on" and somehow forget the most concentrated act of genocide in the 20th century, where up to 3 million Bengalis were massacred in the name of religious extremism. Any suggestion to "move on" is an insult to me as a Bengali, to the memory of my parents, to the memory of my relatives who lost their lives, to the hundreds of thousands of women and girls who were raped, to the millions who were slaughtered, and to the Bengalis who survived the horrors and live with the scars today. 1971 is important to Bangladeshis just as the Holocaust is important to the Jews. We remember 1971 so as not to repeat it, in the same way the world remembers the Holocaust so the unimaginable savagery is never visited upon this Earth again.The memory of 1971 is especially important in the post 9/11 world. In 1971 Bangladesh fought for the ideal of a secular state against the tyranny of religious extremism. Bangladesh is proud of its founding as a Muslim majority state with a secular parliamentary democracy. While our fellow Hindu brothers and sisters were being slaughtered by the Pakistani army, Muslims and Hindus in Bangladesh came together to resist the atrocities and ultimately drive the perpetrators out. We stood up in 1971 as one nation united by our common humanity and not divided by the false seduction of religious extremism. The independence of Bangladesh was a triumph of secularism over religious bigotry.Since 1971 there have been extremist forces that have re-entered Bangladesh who continue to try to subvert the secular nature of Bangladeshi society. It is the memory of 1971 that reinvigorates the desire of the Bengali nation to resist all forms of extremism. So, no, we will not "move on" nor will we ever forget.You also stated in your email:Shoaib is not my only friend in Bangladesh, but he is the only one who has become a "public figure." In the course of the friendships I have made, I have come to care very much about your homeland, and it is hard for me to watch what people with either greed or grudges or both are doing to each other.With due respect, Rabbi Levy, while I do not question your caring for Bangladesh, I do question your knowledge of the political landscape in Bangladesh. In a post dated January 23, 2007 defending Mr. Choudhury, you wrote the following:This is taking place against a background of governmental and social instability in Bangladesh. A new interim "caretaker" government has taken control of the country after many weeks of violent demonstrations, strikes and unrest fomented by the Awami League, a coalition of parties which has most recently been in the minority in the Bangladeshi Parliament. These groups represent the radical Islamist faction whose goal it is to see a Taliban-like government take control of the country with the Islamic Shari’ah (religious law) as the law of the land. The interim government is working to meet one of their demands by correcting some large discrepancies in the lists of registered voters. It seems apparent that these radicals will win many more seats in the parliament than they have had before when elections are held in the late spring. It is, indeed, possible that they will win a majority. Al Queda is making incursions into the country, and an international group of journalists has made a statement that Bangladesh is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists who are often imprisoned and sometimes executed. [Emphasis added by me.]I am concerned that you are propagating patently false information about Bangladesh and those that come to read your posts will, because of the respect they hold for you, believe your words. You asserted in your post that the Awami League represent "the radical Islamist faction" who want to see a "Taliban-like" government and impost "Shari’ah" law in Bangladesh. It might surprise you to learn that the Awami League is the leading secular party in Bangladesh. It was the Awami League that led the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 under the banner of secular democracy. If the Awami League were to come to power, and they have held power in Bangladesh numerous times before, hell is likely to freeze over before you see a "Taliban-like" government in Bangladesh.The immediate past government in Bangladesh, led by the BNP, had within its ruling coalition, the Jamaat-e-Islami – the leading Islamist party in Bangladesh. If any party would want to bring "Taliban-like" government to Bangladesh, it would be the Jamaat-e-Islami, not the secular Awami League. Fortunately, though Jamaat-e-Islami, like other small parties in a parliamentary democracy, can form coalitions with the major parties to form a government, they do not have a following large enough to actually control a government in Bangladesh. I will take this opportunity to again point out that Mr. Choudhury, the person you defend, was intimately connected to the Jamaat-e-Islami. Yet, in your post, you state falsely that the Awami League is a "radical Islamist faction", which as should become obvious to you is quite the opposite of the truth.. Once again you do a disservice to the truth and to Bangladesh by propagating false and misleading information.I would like to conclude by asking you to continue to visit my blog and engage me and my readers in open dialogue.Shalom,Mashuqur Rahman