Vol. 4 Num 226 Tue. January 13, 2004  
Front Page

Intolerance has taken hold in Bangladesh
US congressman tells meeting at Dhakeswari Temple

US Congressman Joseph Crowley yesterday warned that Bangladesh's image abroad might be tarnished due to recent incidents of religious intolerance in the country.

"The image of Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim country is very important, but it is increasingly coming under threat because intolerance has taken hold in the country," he told The Daily Star.

During a meeting with the congressman at Dhakeswari National Temple last night, minority leaders informed him that the country's minorities are persecuted, oppressed and marginalised in society.

Asked if he had conveyed his thoughts on the state of minorities in discussions with the government, the congressman answered, "I have brought up specific occurrences while speaking with all levels of government up to the prime minister."

He also told the minority leaders at the meeting that he had met with members of the Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad and those of Ahmadiyya community in New York, and added that the US will keep a watchful eye on the developments concerning the country's minorities.

He said his visit to the 800-year old Hindu temple was symbolic of religious tolerance. "I am here to demonstrate that tolerance is the most important thing."

He also noted that an overwhelming number of Muslims in Bangladesh are "loving and peaceful" who want to live in peace with their neighbours of other religions.

He said the US wants to promote the pluralistic and moderate side of Bangladeshi society, but added that the existing friendly relations between the two countries must also include the element of honesty.

He said just as recent US actions in the international arena has received criticisms from Bangla-desh, likewise the US also wants to take an honest and critical approach to the events here.

Appreciating the history of Dhakeswari Temple, Crowley stressed restoration of some of its run-down structures.

Kajol Debnath conducted the meeting which was also addressed by Nim Bhoumik, general secretary of Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad, CR Dutta (Bir Uttam) and Swapan Saha, president of Mohanagari Sarbojonin Puja Udjapan Committee.

The Parishad leaders informed Crowley that their organisation is not communal, but democratic. They also expressed solidarity with the US-led war on terror and hoped the US will assist the minorities in Bangladesh to achieve equal rights.

Particularly, they asked the US assistance in repealing the eighth amendment to the constitution that makes Islam the state religion, and overcoming conditions that, they said, forced the minorities to live like "second class citizens."

US Congressman Joseph Crowley visits the Dhakeswari National Temple in Lalbagh yesterday evening to meet with representatives of minority organisations and leaders. PHOTO: STAR