Vol. 5 Num 244 Mon. January 31, 2005  

Letter From America
The New York Times slanders Bangladesh again!

Through a factual error-ridden, untruthful to the core and shamelessly biased article in its Sunday Magazine entitled, "The Next Islamist Revolution," by Eliza Griswold, on January 23, The New York Times has slandered Bangladesh once again! The readers may recall that in December 2003, in an editorial The New York Times had blasted Bangladesh for detaining a pro-Israeli so-called journalist, after he boarded a plane to illegally travel from Dhaka to Tel Aviv. Since Bangladesh and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, it is illegal for a Bangladeshi citizen to travel to Israel. Bangladesh's 'audacity' in arresting an Israel-bound Bangladeshi was, apparently, too much for The New York Times, which uncharacteristically devoted a full editorial promoting the virtues and pleading the innocence (How did The New York Times know he was innocent?) of an obscure "journalist" most Bangladeshis had not heard of!

Recently, The New York Times' Eliza Griswold traveled to Bangladesh, went God knows where, met only those who said what she wanted to hear and reported back to those who needed to reinforce their anti-Bangladesh prejudice and told the world that Bangladesh is all about Bangla Bhai and his thugs. This is as insightful as claiming that the most important thing about America is the racist Ku Klux Klan! Supremely confident that her lies will not be refuted in the pages of The New York Times, Ms. Griswold spewed her anti-Bangladesh venom with obvious delight. In her six-page article, complete with photographs of fierce-looking Tupi-clad men and boys shouting at the top of their voice, Ms. Griswold does not utter a single word of praise for Bangladesh. Any fair-minded person will conclude, therefore, that Ms. Griswold was in Bangladesh at the behest of the enemies of Bangladesh, not to seek the truth, but to paint Bangladesh, an emerging democracy, as negatively as possible. From the get-go, Ms. Griswold sets a decisively negative tone. One does not have to peruse more than a few lines of her diatribe to realise that Ms. Griswold came not to praise Bangladesh but to bury it!

Factual errors, which Ms. Griswold's article are replete with, destroy the credibility of a journalist because it becomes apparent that the writer is not truth-driven, but agenda-driven. For example, Ms. Griswold commits factual error when she claims, "In Bangla Bhai's patch of northwestern Bangladesh, poverty is so pervasive that, for many children in the region, privately subsidised madrassas are the only educational option." Fact: Primary education (up to the fifth grade) is free in Bangladesh for boys and girls; girls' education is free up to the Intermediates (12th grade). Those who study in the madrassa, choose to do so. The percentage of boys attending the madrassas is negligible. Because of their lack of formal education, no madrassa-educated man holds any position of influence in the bureaucracy.

Ms. Griswold further erroneously states: "Most (madrassas) follow a form of the Deobandi Islam taught in the 1950's by the intellectual and activist Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, who was born in India in 1903 and defined Muslim politics in opposition to Indian nationalism." This is absolute nonsense! Ms. Griswold does not know what she is talking about! There is nothing called, "Deobandi Islam," and Maududi had nothing to do with the Deobandi movement which predates his birth! "The Deobandis arose in British India, not as a reactionary but as a forward-looking movement that would reform and unite Muslim society as it struggled to within the confines of a colonial state ruled by non-Muslims. Its main ideologues were Mohammad Qasim Nanautawi (1833-77) and Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (1829-1905), who founded the first madrassa in Deoband near New Delhi. All these reformers saw education as the key creating a new, modern Muslim. The Deobandis aimed to train a new generation of learned Muslims who would revive Islamic values based on intellectual learning, spiritual experience, Sharia law and Tariqah or the path." As to why Maududi is famous, Ms. Griswold should refer to Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God,": "The basis of Mawdudi's ideology was the doctrine of God's sovereignty: It is neither for us to decide the aim and purpose of our existence nor to prescribe the limits of our worldly authority, nor is anyone else entitled to make these decisions for us… Nothing can claim sovereignty, be it a human being, a family, a class, or a group of people, or even the human race in the world as a whole. God alone is the Sovereign, and His commandments the Law of Islam." It is unfortunate that Ms. Griswold's ignorance will be interpreted by the readers of The New York Times as intellectual profudity!

When she is not lying outright, Ms. Griswold goes for half-truths, omitting the better half. Instead of complimenting Bangladesh for having two women, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, as the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition alternately for the last fifteen years, Ms. Griswold only mentions their "legendary antipathy towards each other." And commenting on the atrocious events of August 21, she says, "Zia's government has been unable to identify the assassins." This is too cute by half. Ms. Griswold, at the Bangladesh government's request, Interpol from Europe and the FBI from America came to investigate the crime; they too could not "identify the assasins."

Logic is clearly not Ms. Griswold's strong suit. Her whole article is predicated on the terror emanating from Bangla Bhai, yet she makes a statement that negates her whole theory: "Thuggery has been a constant feature of political life (in Bangladesh) since then (1971) and is increasingly so today. This has made it difficult to get an accurate picture of phenomena like Bangla Bhai." So Ms. Griswold, you are not sure about the premise of your theory, yet you are very confident of it! Ms. Griswold claims, "foreign journalists in Bangladesh are followed by intelligence agents; people that reporters interview are questioned afterwards." Bangladeshis would have been proud if their intelligence had the wherewithal to track someone as smart as you, Ms. Griswold! Unfortunately, this is not true! If what you say is true, however, you should be happy, because you did interview some Bangla Bhai-types; and if Bangladesh intelligence agents interview and abuse them because you talked to them, it is great news all around! Unfortunately you contradict yourself in the next line by saying, "Nevertheless, it is possible to travel to Bangladesh and observe the increased political and religious repression in every day life, and to verify the simple remark by one journalist there: "We are losing our freedom." At least you give the Bangladeshis a back-handed compliment: they have "freedom" now!

Ms. Griswold does make laughable statements when she refers to "Islamist separatist groups in India's northeast." Ms. Griswold, the only Muslim insurgency in India is in Kashmir. In the "seven sisters" of India's northeast region, only in Assam there are some Muslims; in the other six, the number of Muslims is negligible and certainly there are no "Islamist separatist groups" there! Those seven states are populated predominantly by the Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, tribals and animists.

Ms. Griswold also demonstrates a carnal desire for sweeping statements (I am sorry, when a lady kicks you in the groin, chivalry goes out of the window!). You state, "International groups like Human Rights Watch cannot gather information freely enough to be certain of the scope of the problem. Yet anecdotal evidence is abundant." And based on "anecdotal evidence" you make the sweeping statement, "The global war on terror is aimed at making the rise of regimes like that of the Taliban impossible, but in Bangladesh, the trend could be going the other way." You know how to use the proper sound bites by adding, "linked to Al Qaeda" at every opportunity! This is your personal prejudice, Ms. Griswold; you offer no shred of evidence to back it up! You press on with inflammatory comments from like-minded collaborators: "The Hindus, the Ahmadiyas and the tribals in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are all leaving." This is news to Bangladeshis!

Of course things are not perfect in Bangladesh. We must make sure that regardless of religion and ethnicity every citizen is treated equally, and we must honour the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997 in letter and in spirit. While there is ample scope for religious debate as to whether the Ahmadiyyas can be considered Muslims, there is no debate that the Ahmadiyyas and their places of worship must be protected. One only has to read The Daily Star to appreciate that the Bangladeshis fully support minority rights of Ahmadiyyas, the Hindus and the tribals. The Daily Star and the writer have severely criticised the government for the security lapse that has resulted in the carnage of August 21 and January 26, and have demanded that Bangla Bhai and his goons be arrested and brought to justice. Over the last few decades, Bangladeshis in general have become more secular. Bangladesh is an open society. Bangladeshi private satellite television channel is beamed to America. Interested viewers in America can find out what is going on in Bangladesh instantly, without depending on investigative reporters. Ms. Griswold, Bangladeshis do not need charlatans like you to tell them what to do!

Your outrage is selective, Ms. Griswold! Are you aware of the Indian government report of January 17, 2005 that found the killing of 59 Hindu pilgrims at Godhra in February, 2002 to be an accident; not the work of a Muslim mob. Have you been to Gujarat to do investigative reporting on the carnage that followed? Of course you would not dare! You find it so much easier to beat up on tiny Bangladesh than to take on mighty India? You demand perfection from Bangladesh when no one else is perfect!

Are you aware Ms. Griswold that a Cornell University survey found 44 percent of the Americans in favour of restricting the rights of Muslim Americans? Are you aware that arrangements have been made to intern Muslim Americans to camps in case of (God forbid) another 9/11, just as Japanese Americans were interned during WW II? The last time I checked, no Muslim American was involved in 9/11. Do you know that Muslim Americans face discrimination in jobs, as they travel and even in public places? Are you aware that some American talk radios refer to Muslim Americans as Islamo-fascists? Yet, you have the nerve to go to, and lecture Bangladesh? American press has become so docile that they report only the official version of what is happening in Iraq. Bangladesh press is freer to and does criticise the government more.

We have a saying in Bangla: "Shashon Kora Tare Shaje, Shohag Kore Je" (It is more appropriate for one to admonish someone, who loves the latter." Bangladeshis loved the previous US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Ms. Mary Ann Peters, who loved Bangladesh. When the TIME magazine wrongly claimed in March 2003 that Osama Bin Laden's deputy was hiding in Bangladesh, Madam Ambassador Peters disputed the assertion. Your sole purpose in visiting Bangladesh, Ms. Griswold, was to find fault with and discredit Bangladesh. I have one final question for you, Ms. Griswold: Why are you so angry at Bangladesh? Has Bangladesh done something to earn your ire?