Bangladesh does not mean much strategically to the U.S., except for the fact that it is home to some 120 million Muslims, many of them desperately poor and increasingly under the sway of violent religious notions imported from Saudi Arabia. The Bush administration, which every year spends some $64 million on Bangladesh, has made a priority of identifying moderate Muslims and giving them the space and cover they need to spread their ideas. Mr. Choudhury has identified himself, at huge personal risk, as one such Muslim. Now that he is on the run, somewhere in the darkness of Dhaka, will someone in the administration pick up the phone and explain to the Bangladeshis just what America expects of its “moderate and tolerant” friends?
And so, we shall see.
Unfortunately, when we last wrote about Mr. Choudhury, first hand reports indicated that he’d just been attacked by a lynch mob. Subsequent, recently released reports have confirmed this story with unsavory indications of quasi official sanction of the attack –
A Muslim journalist facing charges of sedition for advocating ties with Israel was recently attacked and beaten by a crowd in Bangladesh that allegedly included leading officials of the country’s ruling party..
In a photo taken shortly after the incident that was obtained exclusively by the Post, Choudhury can be seen hunched over a table wearing a torn shirt while a Bangladeshi policeman dressed in blue chats with two BNP officials. Both officials took part in the attack.
No arrests were made, and police refused to allow Choudhury to file charges against his attackers.
p>Now I’m a pretty big believer that in many situations over the long arc of history, we’re presented with Tipping Points. The Glory is that at these moments single individuals can make a Difference. The tragedy, of course, is that we rarely know for sure when we’re at one. Small course corrections – in this case over the fate of a single individual – can yield profound downstream effects in either direction. Perhaps a free Choudhury – especially with direct, US involvement – might be a strong datapoint for naysayers that the whole GWOT wasn’t about Oil afterall? (of course, that won’t be enough to assuage all – they’ll simply assert that it was the Vast Zionist Conspiracy trying to save one of their agents – I guess you can’t please everyone, can you?).
On flip side, losing Choudhury could represent an irreverisible chill on public discourse in a remote (to most Americans) country that is nevertheless nearly 5x the size of Iraq and home to nearly a tenth of the worlds Muslims. Once smothered, it could be a generation before voices of liberalism re-emerge there.