November 24, 2003


This is the title of an article in JEWSWEEK written by Richard L. Benkin who portrays the real Bangladesh and its potentials when it is usually wrongly portrayed as a Muslim country where fundamentalists mullahs dominate and religious minorities are oppressed. A few such highlighted incidents are based to judge a country and its nation.

Richard starts with:

Bangladesh is a tiny country, and not one you hear about very often, but it could teach a host of lessons on pluralism, religious tolerance, and maybe even peacemaking in the Middle East.

Ask most Americans what they know about Bangladesh and, chances are, you will hear something about George Harrison, maybe about poverty and disasters, and a few might even say, "Oh, yeah, isn't that somewhere around India?" And that's after you eliminate those who just give you a blank stare. That's a shame, too. For I read your major English-language dailies, and I consider myself fortunate for having done so. For it is clear to me that you are a nation of thoughtful individuals with whom I can find agreement, and with whom I can disagree; individuals I can respect in either case. I have seen debate and dialogue even the beginnings of one surrounding the Middle East. Do you know what a rarity that is in the Moslem press?

He asserts this wonderful idea:

Bangladesh is also.... a democracy. I also believe that Bangladesh is uniquely positioned to help bring peace to a region that has resisted peace for so long: the Middle East. The first peace treaty between Israel and an Arab country was signed not by doves from each side, but by two men who fought vehemently against each other's peoples: Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. So, what country is better qualified to broker a truce than a non-Arab Moslem nation and a democracy at that: Bangladesh.

and more:

Bangladesh is really a more logical vehicle to bring together Israelis and Arabs. On the one hand, you share a Muslim heritage with Arabs. On the other, you share Israel's religious diversity. (Do you know, Israel has approximately the same percentage of Jews as Bangladesh has Muslims?) You share the Arab world's past subservience to western powers; but your democratic government is much closer to Israeli democracy than Arab autocracy. There is only one thing missing to complete the equation.

He describes how this can be achieved:

Imagine for a moment what would happen if Bangladesh established diplomatic relations with Israel, then announced its intentions to hold a peace conference for the parties in the Middle East? Although it would not be the first Muslim nation to recognize Israel, your action still would no doubt shock many around the world. For you would be denying the pernicious belief, which holds that a sovereign Jewish state can exist in the Middle East only at the expense of Muslims. Consign that lie to the ashbin of history where it belongs. Declare to the world that Jews and Muslims can live side by side as equals, and the world can know peace. Your bold action would demonstrate to the world a level of courage and maturity that too few nations possess. And it would place Bangladesh on the center stage of world events.

His views of Bangladesh as a country:

Of all the nations that were carved out of the former British colony in South Asia, Bangladesh has become the most successful in accommodating a diverse population. Its different groups have been able to live side by side without inter-ethnic violence. Can either India or Pakistan make the same claim? You provide the world with a unique example of a nation that allows its people freedom of religion, even while having its own state religion. Yes, Bangladeshis do have a great deal to teach the peoples in the Middle East.

He ends with:

Peace is possible in the Middle East, but it will take a special kind of wisdom and courage. Most nations are too mired in self-interest, stilted thinking, and ideologies to take that leap of faith. Let the nation and people of Bangladesh be the one to lead us out of those traps and into a new era of peace.

Well I, as a Bangladeshi, am much honored Richard and I would be the happiest person if Bangladesh can ever make that possible. Thank you very much for your optimistic thoughts.


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