Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  
Letters to Editor

NYT smear campaign

Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's article of 23 December on the NYT editorial smearing Bangladesh and Mr. Edward al Hussainy's views on it are worth commenting upon. The journalist in question, Mr. Shoaib Chowdhury is a non-descript Bangladeshi journalist. Yet, the NYT has found time and space for an editorial on him. Would the NYT have written this article had he been stopped from going somewhere else and not Israel?

Years ago, Ms. Taslima Nasreen, a rate Bangladeshi novelist, found space for a front page interview in the Washington Post. Her credentials were that she chose to deride Islam and earned the wrath of the people. Would the WP have interviewed her if her subject of attack was not Islam and those condemning her were not Muslims? I doubt that. The fact that both the NYT and the WP are Jewish owned does raise in our minds legitimate questions about a Jewish conspiracy.

The NYT editorial is also detestable because it uses a legitimate action by the government of Bangladesh to smear its 130 million people. We feel legitimately proud, despite many problems, that we are winning our struggle for democracy. After years of military dictatorship, that was encouraged and sustained by so-called democratic forces that these papers represent, we have since 1991 achieved 3 successive changes of government where the people's will has been properly reflected. We have had just 12 years of this process of democratisation which, when seen on a comparative scale with the US process of democratisation, would look better for even as late as the 1960s, after a century of such growth the US had not given the blacks their civil rights. The conclusion of the NYT editorial about Bangladesh and terrorism is also very unfortunate, for since 9/11 Bangladesh with over 100 million of Muslims has not seen any terrorist act, nor has any terrorist turned up in the country.

The conclusion drawn by Mr. Hussainy about the arrest of Mr. Chowdhury and lack of press freedom in Bangladesh is also unacceptable. Mr. Chowdhury violated a Bangladeshi law that prohibits travel to Israel. Journalists are not immune from the law and Mr.

Chowdhury's incarceration was a legal action. As for RSF's statistics about arrests of journalists in Bangladesh, Mr. Hussainy should first find out how many of these people were arrested or intimidated for expressing views under freedom of information.

In fact, majority of these cases that he cites could as well be for activities that have nothing to do with journalism. In Bangladesh, there are many who work in newspapers but are hardly journalists as understood abroad. Why should their arrests be seen as lack of press freedom when they are arrested for activities that violate the law? Does Mr. Hussainy know that in Dhaka city alone there are a few dozen daily newspapers, and many, who serve these papers as journalists, have other occupations as well? We, who live in Bangladesh, know how much freedom journalists have, for there are really no libel laws against them. And on the issue of Israel itself, Dr. Fakhruddin has pointed out that two newspapers, namely the DS and the New Age, carried in recent times pro-Israeli articles on which many people expressed views both in favour of and against Israel.

Like Mr. Hussainy, we would not like to see any Jewish conspiracy when it comes to Muslim interests. But facts compel us to think otherwise.