RICHARD L. BENKIN
THREE and a half years ago, anti-jihadist Muslim Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury blew the lid off secret Islamist efforts to take over Bangladesh. He published his revelations in an article that, unfortunately, the Bangladeshi press refused to touch. But he persevered, and when "incubating ultra-radicalism" started appearing on websites, the government struck. Using a minor offense as a pretext to detain him, it held Choudhury under deplorable conditions. He was hauled in and out of court numerous times, always returned for "interrogation." That meant torture, which his openly Islamist captors applied in an attempt to extract a false confession that he was a spy for Israel.
Islamists had preparing to take Bangladesh for decades. They infiltrated Bangladeshi society, buying up print and broadcast media, banking, business, even the judiciary and police. Since 2001, they had been part of a coalition government with a stated policy of appeasement. But as of January, that government appears out of power for good, and the nation's current leaders have announced an "anti-radical" agenda. Were Islamists stopped in their attempt to take over the world's third-largest Muslim country? Maybe; and here's how.
The system that brought the Islamist fox into the government henhouse ended soon after 2007 began. I arrived in Bangladesh to extensive street violence with the center-left opposition calling for more. The ruling coalition had rigged the upcoming elections so transparently that every Western democracies urged that they not be held, an odd circumstance to be sure. With neither party offering a way out of the growing chaos, the interim government with military backing called a State of Emergency and canceled elections. Good thing, too, because almost every analyst predicted further Islamist gains were they held.
Except for some May Day bombs designed to make noise rather than cause damage, the Islamists have been silent. Three of their ilk have been executed and many arrested. Sources confirm further anti-Islamist action on the way. But to seal this victory, the government has to eradicate radical influence among the people. While the West stood by, Islamists capitalized on Bangladeshis' suffering and the country's massive corruption much as Hamas did in Gaza. A social service network where the price of a meal was continuous Islamist hate speech was just the beginning. Radical mosques were funded by notorious "charities." I witnessed that first-hand traveling incognito outside the capital – after the January events. My Bangaldeshi companion sneered at the streams of people we saw entering radical mosques and noted, "We give [them] a choice of that or being a bug."
Bangladesh's legendary corruption has also driven the people to the Islamists. It was so endemic that there was palpable joy in Dhaka when the country was named "only" the third-most corrupt on earth. By vigorously pursuing corruption and putting former corrupt leaders in prison, the government is beginning to restore the people's faith in traditional Bangladeshi values. It must finish the job and continue to arrest those who have plundered the nation for decades. Nor will it succeed without expelling its fifth column of Wahabi funded "charities." If, on the other hand, Dhaka takes the advice of groups like Human Rights Watch, which has complained to U.S. lawmakers about the arrests, the people will again look to the Islamists.
January also spelled the end of open appeasement in Dhaka with the Islamist-laced coalition's death. The government has jihadi organizations that bombed courtrooms, intimidated minorities and journalists, and promised the country Shariah law in its crosshairs. But Islamists and their toadies are still in key areas, especially the judiciary, according to on prominent member of the bar there. Capital charges of "sedition, treason and blasphemy" against Choudhury remain – charges that several officials of the last government admitted to me were maintained only to pacify radicals. Choudhury's attorney, professor Irwin Cotler, whose clients have included Nelson Mandela, Natan Sharansky and others, has identified eight violations of Bangladesh law in the prosecution. And the government recently received a congressional resolution demanding that they drop the charges "immediately." The government promised to do so. But will they? Because Choudhury went public with his pro-American and pro-Israeli stance, Islamists have made his case a centerpiece for intimidating Muslims who oppose them. Whether or not Dhaka follows through with its promises will indicate whether Islamist appeasement is really dead.
As I reported in WorldNetDaily last summer, a coalition of Nepalese Communists and Islamists cooperated in finding al-Qaida forces safe havens around Bangladesh after U.S. forces dislodged them from their Afghan strongholds. Despite their differences, the two groups are cooperating to replace the existing nation-states with their own internationalist ideologies. They remain in the area, although their plan to stuff Bangladeshi ballot boxes for Islamist candidates is now moot. They are also unsure now what sort of reception Dhaka's military might give them or what kind of clandestine support they have. This is quite a turn of events from those prevailing before January when the BNP certified phony voter lists that were tailor made for Islamist interlopers looking to cast illicit votes. Terrorist forces, however, remain in place waiting for a return to business as usual.
The New York Times called the current Dhaka government a "military dictatorship," comparing it to Pervez Musharraf's Pakistan, based on unreliable sources. If anything, paying heed to these unsubstantiated allegations threatens the demise of this nascent anti-Islamist victory. Sources inside Bangladesh suggest that some members of the government are looking to follow the Turkish model, in which a strong military guarantees a secular, pro-Western government. The Bangladeshis should proceed seriously with their anti-corruption and anti-Islamist campaigns and drop the charges against Choudhury, which were brought to mollify Islamists. In exchange, the U.S. and other anti-terrorist nations should acknowledge the significant events taking place in South Asia and provide assistance to those who are standing with us in our fight in the form of trade and business, as well as security cooperation to defeat our common enemy. #
Dr. Richard L. Benkin is the special adviser to the Intelligence Summit on Bangladeshi Affairs and a correspondent for Weekly Blitz and Amader Shomoy, both of Dhaka. Benkin also led the successful fight to free Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury from prison. His website is InterfaithStrength.com