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Posted by Joan O'C on 18:10:35 2005/04/12
In Reply to: Choudhury - deserves our support! posted by Joan O'C
Apr. 12, 2005 22:30
The Muslim media's culture of death
By SHOAIB CHOUDHURY
What a thrill it is for me to be here in Israel! You know, it might be unexpected from a Bangladeshi, but I must tell you that coming here has been a lifelong dream of mine. The moment I stepped off the plane and onto Israeli soil, I realized that dream; and I cannot thank you enough for helping to make it a reality.
Today, I stand before you perhaps as a living contradiction: a Zionist, a defender of Israel, and a devout, practicing Muslim living in a Muslim country.
Like you I believe in the justice of the Zionist dream. I also acknowledge this historical reality: that the world has endeavored to crush that dream and, yes, even destroy the viability of the Jewish people.
At the same time I live in an environment where people believe just as passionately in an opposing view that sees Israel as illegitimate and the Jewish people as evil incarnate. Witness the recent statement of outgoing Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed that "Jews rule the world."
A true culture of peace is far more than the cessation of hostilities. It includes justice and tolerance for all people. It allows each person to have pride in one's own faith, while respecting the pride that courses through the veins of those who follow other paths to God.
In Israel, you have any number of viewpoints being aired in any number of forums. You have Likud; you have Labor. You have Shas; you have Shinui. You have Peace Now; you have the Temple Mount Faithful. You have The Jerusalem Post; you have Haaretz.
Most of the Muslim world takes your diversity as a sign of weakness and disunity, a lack of resolve; we know it is your great strength. It's messy, to be sure. But the fact that you do not feel it necessary to control the flow of information to your people means you respect them far more than we do ours from whom we keep the news and forswear open dialogue, especially when it comes to Israel and the Jewish people.
For some, the Muslim world may seem one large, undifferentiated mass. In some ways perhaps it is. But, of course, that image is a simplistic one. Allow me to tell you a little bit about my country, Bangladesh. For I believe it is uniquely suited to help us build a culture of peace in the Muslim world.
Many of you might remember when Bangladesh was called East Pakistan part of the Muslim portion carved out of the former British colony. In fact, Bangladesh today is about 83 percent Muslim, and with a total population close to 140 million, it is one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. But Bangladeshi Muslims are known for being among the most tolerant Muslims on the globe.
The greatest number of non-Muslims in Bangladesh are Hindu. Others adhere to other so-called "Eastern" and "tribal" religions. But we also have a small Christian population, and I want to share our experience in Bangladesh, because I believe it is very instructive.
Christian missionaries, as we know, are active throughout the world, including in several Muslim countries. They operate churches and schools with the goal of convincing people to embrace Christianity. Muslim leaders have not always welcomed them. In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere they have been attacked, arrested and expelled. But among the tolerant Muslims of Bangladesh some 400 such missionaries operate free of such harassment. And they have been successful in converting some 500,000 members of tribal groups and various minorities to their faith.
Do we Bangladeshi Muslims consider this an offense against The Prophet? Do the converts face legal or other disabilities? No, because that is not our way. Christmas Day is a public holiday in Bangladesh, even though Islam is our state religion.
But even in Bangladesh and certainly elsewhere in the Muslim world many of us have a blind spot. And I am ashamed to say that it is with regard to the Jewish people and Israel that too many conveniently ignore the nobler, and even essential, principles of Islam and of basic human decency.
The Islamic missionaries who have taken root in Bangladesh recently have, of course, a very different agenda than their Christian counterparts. Funded by shadowy sources in the Middle East and Africa, they operate under charitable-sounding names like Islamic Hospital, Free Ambulance Service, and Kindergarten Madrassa.
But charitable they are not. Whispered allegations for louder objections place you at considerable risk that Islamic kindergarten madrassas train children for guerrilla war found support when many of their graduates went on to real battlegrounds in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some even volunteered to fight alongside the PLO and other terrorist organizations here.
Repatriated Soldiers from Palestine, an organization in Bangladesh, cares for "soldiers" wounded in the fighting here, then recruits a fresh batch of terrorists to take their place.
You might think such revelations would placing these organizations in a bad light. Yet, if anything, to my chagrin, it improves their standing in the eyes of many Bangladeshi citizens.
That popularity has taken them to more affluent neighborhoods, away from the poorer areas that were once their exclusive location. Children of prominent Bangladeshis now attend the madrassas, where they learn Bangla (our vernacular), Arabic, Urdu, English and, in some places, French, as well as other advertised subjects. But they also learn the theory and practice of guerrilla warfare. Old hates are taught as faith, and they learn to revere Bin Laden, Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein and the shahids. Innocent Muslim children are lured toward "jihad," taught to hate Christians and Jews and encouraged to kill them and destroy their property as a religious duty.
It so distresses me that we are allowing these children, the future leaders of Bangladesh, to be brainwashed with hatred and extremism. These institutions are surely breeding thousands of Bin Ladens and Arafats for the future.
I have listened to this filth since childhood. When I grew up, I turned my eyes to the Bible and many other books, had Christian and Jewish friends, and now am convinced that what the mullahs taught was not merely false, but also evil. That is clear not only to me but to many others in my country.
For there to be any chance of lasting peace, this must change. How can we have peace when most Muslims still believe Israel was behind the September 11 attacks on the US? How can we have peace when Muslims see their own leaders refusing even to recognize Israel's right to exist? How can we have peace when we neither hear nor read anything to the contrary?
We can't. Quite simply, there will be no meaningful Muslim presence in any peace dialogue without an effective media in the Muslim world to combat the false images that today build a culture of death.
Islam does not endorse terrorism, the killing of innocents or even destruction of property. Under normal conditions, Muslims would not do so either. And yet so few Muslims object to what is being done in the name of their religion. Opportunists don an Islamic mask to justify their misdeeds, and our media support them and, thereby, our own impoverishment, ignorance and oppression.
Only a strong countervailing media presence will make for positive change, as our initial efforts in Bangladesh suggest. Our weekly tabloid, Weekly Blitz, is about the only place in the Muslim world where people can read positive things about Israel.
Certainly, our initial steps are tentative ones, but they are yielding the early fruits of success. In Bangladesh, amid the monolithic anti-Israeli rant, a few voices are coming forward questioning the wisdom of that position. Quietly, a few brave souls are questioning what was previously unquestioned doctrine.
But our efforts are feeble and tentative compared to the great noise heard day after day from the other media giants. Muslims need to hear more voices of dissent, of reason, of decency. And a democracy like Bangladesh just might offer us a beachhead to join this epic battle.
The media could play an effective and dynamic role in spreading the cultural heritage of the Jewish community, their religious festivals and rituals in Muslim countries, much as it did with Christianity in Bangladesh.
The mosques, madrassas, and Muslim media have had absolute power over our hearts and minds for too long. Rather than ascribe evil intent which there is among some; or ignorance which also exists, let us pierce the iron curtain of ignorance and hate with the greatest power on earth: knowledge, information and the full and open exchange of ideas.
The writer was editor of the Bangladeshi magazine Weekly Blitz when he was arrested and accused of, but not charged with, supporting the State of Israel. He awaits trial in Cell No.15 of the Dhaka Central jail in Bangladesh.
See www.freechoudhury.com and www.penusa.org for more information.
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