A Courageous Voice for Peace

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Author’s Note: When I wrote Ed Beck (and he wrote the Board) about my Bangladeshi friend and colleague, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, it was suggested I write an original piece for SPME members. Mr. Choudhury’s goal is to pierce the curtain of ignorance separating the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims from open information about Israel and the Jewish people.
Besides a brief recitation of my friend’s activities, the piece is a call for SPME members to join his online list. I also have provided my own email address if people want further details.
I hope this is appropriate for SPME, as the goal is a worthy one.
Richard Benkin

In a significant event of which the world will take little note, my good friend and colleague, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, will address the Root and Branch conference on December 3, 2003, in Tel Aviv. What gives the event significance is that Mr. Choudhury is, as he will tell his audience, “a living contradiction: a Zionist, a defender of Israel, and a devout, practicing Muslim, living in a Moslem country.” My friend, Shoaib, is a senior journalist from the non-Arab nation of Bangladesh. Its population has been estimated variously to be between 83 and 86 percent Moslem, and Islam is its state religion. As Bangladesh has no relations with Israel, it took nothing short of extreme determination for Mr. Choudhury to make this momentous journey. With the help of Israeli professor Ada Aharoni, he used the good offices of the Singapore embassy to obtain the necessary visa for travel. Then-and at his own expense, I might add-he arranged to fly from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, to Bangkok, and then to Tel Aviv.

Mr. Choudhury has several goals for his journey, not the least of which is to let Israel and its friends know that not all Moslems tow the anti-Israeli and often antisemitic party line. Neither are they silent in their disagreement. But while many of us justifiably ask again and again where those Moslem voices of dissent are-where are the unqualified condemnations of those who wantonly murder innocent Jewish and Israeli children-we must recognize the difficulty of such dissent. Only recently, especially in reaction to Mahathir Mohammad’s antisemitic rant, have we even begun to see unqualified condemnations from North American Muslim leaders. And in Bangladesh, which is in fact a democracy, my friend has be “visited” by both Saudi and Iranian representatives because of his activities. But we can do something to support Mr. Choudhury and other courageous Muslims.

Recently, he started an online list, Action Now, an “organization advocating…peace in the world,” according to its Yahoo site. “Our slogan is ‘Say no to terrorism’. This is a platform for the journalists, writers, poets, thinkers, philosophers, artists, businessmen, entrepreneurs and cross section of people who do not support the killing of innocent people or destruction of properties in the name of religion. We hate all forms of religious extremism.” So far, there are only ten members, and very few post messages, but the membership includes Asians, Europeans, and Americans, Muslims, Christians, and Jews. The more people who join, the more messages that are posted, the more attractive the group will be to others.

There is another reason to support Action Now, and it relates to something Mr. Choudhury will be discussing with Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Government Press Office. For

people throughout the Moslem world, news and information about Israel and the Jewish
people comes almost exclusively through the Muslim-controlled, often Arab-controlled
media. And we have seen the picture the media paint. Not long ago, Mr. Choudhury started
an English-language weekly in Bangladesh that attempts to rectify that imbalance. Weekly
Blitz was the first newspaper in Bangladesh to interview an Israeli academic, and it continues
to provide positive news and features about Israel and the Jewish people. And a review of
some recent letters even in other Dhaka newspapers reveals some break in the once solid anti-
Israeli sentiment. He now looks to start a daily paper that will reach millions of ordinary
Bangladeshi citizens.

But it is only a beginning. Mr. Choudhury does have several domestic supporters, quite a few
of whom find it necessary to maintain a low profile for now. The key to success is free and
open dialogue; good information that will enable the people of Bangladesh to make up their
own minds in favor of true peace and justice. Action Now supports the notion “that all
Muslim countries…establish diplomatic relations with Israel [through increased
interaction] between the Jewish and Muslim community.”

You can help bring balanced information to the people of Bangladesh and others by
subscribing to Action Now, and even posting articles and information there. Email:
actionnowbd-subscribe@yahoogroups.com .
For further information, contact drrbenkin@comcast.net .

Where are those Moslem voices? They exist but are rarely heard amid the din of those others
who refuse the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims free access to open information. Let us all support
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in his effort to bring that about. While strength, resolution,
and self-defense are necessary for Israel’s survival, it is less publicized efforts such as this one
that eventually promise true peace between Israel and its neighbors.

A Courageous Voice for Peace

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Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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