"Bangladesh is my country. Let the radicals leave"
It is easy to lose heart, become cynical, give up on the human race. One has to look at Saudi King Abdullah's visit to Britain, the feminists efforts to justify the subjugation of Muslim women (recently joined by Laura Bush!) or, for that matter, the current preparation for the upcoming "no concessions" Israeli Palestinian conference in Annapolis. But it would be wrong. For it would fail Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and no one has the right to do that.
Last night I had the unique honor of shaking his hand. I knew of his plight. Only six months ago I asked you to sign a petition on his behalf so I was delighted to discover that he is safe, in the US. He is charged with "Sedition - treason -blasphemy" because he tried to board a flight from Dhaka to Tel Aviv to attend a peace conference in 2003. Yes, "is" is the correct tense. International agitation led to his release on bail in 2005 but not to the dropping of the charges. That means he can be rearrested any minute, tortured and placed in solitary confinement or even worse.
What can be worse? He can be held in the same prison that holds Bin Laden supporters of the type who do not tolerate sharing space with Muslims who have a moderate interpretation of Islam. They have tried to assassinate repeatedly and he has narrowly escaped them at least twice before.
So, imagine my surprise when he told be that he is going back on November 5th . Even Sharansky did NOT go back. Yet, this smiling 42 year old insisted that he is. "I have a family there. I have followers there. If I leave they will be disappointed, lose heart. I must go back." I could only shake my head in wonder. We have asked where are the Muslim moderates? He stepped forward and in so doing demonstrated the price such moderates have to pay. I hope those who advocate cutting and running from the Muslim world realize who they are leaving behind and who they are embracing in their stead.
With these thought swirling in my head, I sat down to listen to his talk. Trust Choudhury to surprise me yet again. "Do not think that if you let Israel fall, the US will be safe," he said. "Israeli flags are always burned together with the American ones. I heard a former Bangladeshi supreme court judge say that peace will come only after Israel and the United States will be erased from the map." I stared. He was speaking in the Jewish Federation building to a Jewish audience. What made this Bangladeshi realize the dark secrets that lurk in some American Jewish hearts? I doubt he read Ruth Wisse's penetrating Jews and Power. Yet, he not only realizes that as Wisse argues there is an inseparable tie between the survival of democracy and the survival of Israel but that "most American Jews and all too many Israelis . . . reverted to the Diaspora strategy of accommodation in a situation guaranteed to quicken and prolong the war against them." In other words, in fighting to reduce hostility against Jews and Israel in Bangladesh, he is fighting for a democratic, reformist Bangladesh.
How can we help? asked somebody in the audience following his talk. Actually, his Jewish "brother" Dr. Richard Benkin who mobilized the Jewish Community as well as Congress on Choudhury's behalf was also in attendence. "Help me find Jewish pen pals for Bangladeshis and continue to fight Radical Islamists and those who try to accommodate them," was Shoaib's answer. You may also wish to visit Benkin's website Interfaith Strength and the site of Choudhury's paper Weekly Blitz .
Who is winning, I asked. He refused to get pinned down. "They are winning. We are winning," he said. "In the end, we will win.!" So, there you have it. He dared us NOT to be as hopeful as he is. He acknowledged he may not get there but he wants to make sure every day he lives will bring his people closer to victory. What can I say but ECCO HOMO? What can I do but pledge to do my best not to let him down.