Thursday, May 07, 2015

BETRAYAL: USCIRF PROMOTES RELIGIOUS PERSECUTION

In its just released report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ignored overwhelming evidence of Bangladeshi government complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Hindus, while rejecting the path of cooperation with India, choosing instead a sterile form of confrontation.



·        USCIRF was established by Title II of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.  Its mandate is to “facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom [and make] policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and Congress.”



·        Along with a misguided minority in Washington, it has for years sullied the reputation of current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and observant Hindus with discredited claims of his complicity in anti-minority violence.



·        Its recently-released 2015 annual report continues that effort, using questionable material to claim religious freedom abuses in India, and attributes it to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent election and "Hindu nationalist groups," while calling forced conversion of Hindus "media propaganda." When USCIRF staff brought the allegations to me for my advice, I provided evidence refuting it.



·        Fewer and fewer people and organizations continue this sterile line given Modi’s election as India’s Prime Minister, his actions since that election, the growing importance of India’s relations with other democracies, and India’s Supreme Court having cleared Modi multiple times.



·        USCIRF’s action is consistent with a pattern of anti-Hindu bias.



·        Its report on Pakistan, where Hindus face intense violence and have been reduced to one percent of the population, USCIRF calls violence against Hindus “allegations,” while not similarly qualifying the claims of any other minority group.





·        Its report on Bangladesh calls violence against Hindus “occasional,” despite sending staff on a fact-finding trip in which my associates provided ample and vetted evidence of ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus and the Bangladeshi government’s complicity that have reduced Hindus from one in five Bangladeshis to as few as one in 15.



·        In August 2014, I arranged a meeting between an Indian government representative and USCIRF’s Chairperson at which both parties agreed on a path of cooperation to undo decades of mutual animosity and work together toward common understandings.  In the end, USCIRF rejected cooperation and chose the course of confrontation instead with an increasingly important US ally.



·        Hindus are being persecuted out of existence in Bangladesh and Pakistan.  Yet, USCIRF minimizes or ignores that—despite being given ample evidence to the contrary choosing instead to pursue discredited accusations against one of our most sincere allies.  I have direct evidence of all of this and stand by my accusations against USCIRF and the government of Bangladesh.



·        USCIRF’S decision was a disservice to both India and the United States, to religious minorities in South Asia, and to the cause of religious freedom worldwide.  It also called its impartiality into question and with it that of the United States government.

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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Bangladesh Official dismisses crimes with anti-Semitic remark

On March 10, 2015, human rights activist and attorney Rabindra Ghosh met with H. T. Imam, Awami League Advisory Council member and one of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's closest advisers.  He met him to address Bangladesh's ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh.  It is an issue I addressed with Imam four years earlier in Dhaka.  As he did when I met with him, Imam rejected any suggestion that Hindus face persecution under the Awami League government.  When Ghosh raised my name and my eight year activism on the issue, Imam dismissed the notion that any of it could be correct, instead responding that “Dr. Benkin is working for the interests of the Jews.”

Is he serious?  Does he expect a man of Rabindra Ghosh’s stature—or other world leaders and captains of industry—to have any regard for a government whose Prime Minister gives credence to a man who thinks like that?   The short answer is that he does because Imam and other Bangladeshi officials have used that and other sorts of nonsense to try and cover up their horrendous treatment of Hindus.  You see, it's more important to Bangladeshi leaders that people continue buying their falsehoods about being a "moderate" country.  No amount of blustering and misdirection, however, can hide their crimes.  With each day, their atrocities against Hindus become known to more and more people.  I've also documented them in my book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh's Hindus.

But there is more significance to Awami League anti-Semitism.  For while the Bangladeshi government is complicity in anti-Hindu atrocities and guilty of selling its soul to protect its export markets (which are dependent on their false image as moderate); the people of Bangladesh are not.  It takes a lot of care and time for non-Bengalis to understand how to interpret the actions and words of Bengalis, and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of quality time in Bengal (both Indian and Bangladeshi) and with Bengalis.  When I travel throughout Bengal to stop the atrocities against Bengali Hindus, I am accompanied almost invariably by Muslims and Hindus.  The reaction I have received from Bangladeshi Muslims to HT Imam's slanderous remark has been one of support and understanding.  They have without exception rejected Imam's comment as an attempt to avoid dealing with the persecution of Bangladesh's Hindus.

As I have written before, this is not a war between Hindus and Muslims but one between decent people and those who have no decency.  Personally, I want Sheikh Hasina to sack HT Imam and stop discrediting herself by associating her name with his.  That, however, will not end the problem.  My greater wish is for Hindus and Muslims to recognize what Bangladesh is and what it can be; and with the help of other nations, together move that country to a new future.

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Ten Bangladeshi Hindus Charged with Murder, Denied Due Process

It is a cherished myth of the international elites that Bangladesh is a "moderate" country.  But would a moderate country allow the ethnic cleansing of its non-Muslim populations; admit to having anti-minority laws and then do nothing about it even when it had a chance; arrest journalists and authors for blasphemy and threaten their lives; allow human rights activists and their attorneys to be attacked or as in my case bar them from entering the country?  No, it would not; and though we need no more proof, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government keep giving us more.  Right now, ten Hindus sit in a squalid prison, charged with murder as collective punishment and denied due process of law.  Perhaps Bangladesh is a moderate country if you tow the line set by Islamists but not if you dare to have a different thought.

In October of 2013, a man entered a religious temple, began destroying holy objects and abusing the women there.  Several men rushed to their defense, and in the struggle that followed, the man was killed.  Now in a moderate country, that might be the end of it except for some press and an investigation; a clear case of self-defense.  But this is Bangladesh, and the dead man was a Muslim, the temple a Hindu temple.  Almost immediately, the local police rounded up eleven members of the Hindu community seemingly at random with no logical connection to the event, and charged them with murder.  The bitter irony is that this same government fails to act even after years when Hindus are attacked.  Local Advocates in Gopalganj, the district represented by Sheikh Hasina where the arrests occurred, were intimidated not to take the case. So the families traveled to the capital of Dhaka and engaged the services of Advocate and human rights activist Rabindra Ghosh.  When he arrived in Gopalganj and asked to see his clients, he was refused.  When he petitioned the local court for justice, he was beaten in the courtroom in front of the judge who allowed it to continue.  When he petitioned the High Court for a change of venue, he was refused.  And now he, his clients, and their families are being threatened if he does not stop his attempt at further appeals.

Oh, did I say eleven men were arrested and charged but only ten sit in prison today?  That's not  typo.  One of the original defendants died while in custody--and of course the Bangladeshis have not looked into that.

The International Commission of Jurists has called on the Bangladeshi government to take "long overdue" action on Rabindra Ghosh's courtroom beating. It also notes that the rule of law has largely broken down in Bangladesh.  And last month in India, I began working on this with Human Rights Defense International, a group of Indian jurists.  I also am working with several staff in the United States Congress on action and am in regular contact with Rabindra Ghosh, who reports that the situation for his clients grows more alarming by the day.  He remains barred from contacting them.

This travesty of justice demands that all who love the law and, in fact, all good people demand due process and a fair trial for the "Gopalganj Ten."  To do so, email me.  Please help; lives depend on it.

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Saturday, January 03, 2015

American Jews need Save-Soviet-Jewry Effort



The November 18 attack on the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood should have put to rest the belief that Arab opposition to Israel is anything but anti-Jewish.  Unfortunately, the Jewish community’s response to it has been tepid, at best, confused, and confusing.  Many American Jews and American Jewish organizations are more concerned with appearing liberal than with defending their people against a serious threat; more afraid of being called Islamophobic than of Jews being murdered in Israel.  Their general silence and inaction indicate that they find it okay for Arab media and their partisans to refer to Israel incessantly as Nazis; but God forbid we identify the “Final Solution” embedded in anti-Israel politics.  Recognizing those realities that the synagogue attack brought so sharply into focus would shatter their cherished myth that the Israel-Arab conflict is merely political and can be solved by talk and giveaways.  More than that, the lack of unequivocal condemnation of the attack by Arab leaders also shatters their other myth:  that of the moderate Muslim country.  There might be moderate Muslims but no moderate Muslim country.

The Parliament in “moderate” Jordan, did observe a moment of silence after the attack—but for the two Palestinian terrorists.  The Speaker prayed for them and called them martyrs.  Usually, however, only “radical” Muslim leaders expressed their approval by praising the anti-Jewish act; “moderate” Muslim leaders expressed theirs by refusing to condemn it.  Not to be outdone, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack for the cameras, but blamed Israel for it.

We need a “Save-Soviet-Jewry” type effort.

Those of us who were around in the 1970s and 1980s will remember that back then, you could not pass a synagogue without seeing a large banner proclaiming, “Save Soviet Jewry.”  Our people were being persecuted in the Soviet Union, whose leaders wanted to eradicate their Jewish religion and identity.  A few, like Natan (then Anatole) Sharansky, who later became an Israeli Cabinet Minister, got some attention, but most suffered anonymously.  Members of the American Jewish community saw their persecuted brothers and sisters and recognized their obligation to save them.  More importantly, they acted on that obligation.

We lobbied Washington and our local officials.  We prevailed upon other religious bodies to recognize the atrocity, and their moral obligation to join us and let Washington know their position.

Average Jews who you might see at the office or in the supermarket went to Russia at their own expense.  They smuggled in religious books and other Jewish artifacts at considerable peril to themselves; and they let Jews there know that they were not alone.  It became common for Jewish children reaching their Bar and Bat Mitzvah to be “twinned” with Soviet children who did not have the freedom to celebrate this most important rite of passage; we did it for them.  Most Jewish children in religious schools had at least one Soviet Jewish pen pal.

There was no attempt to “understand” the Soviets or find the “good” in their communist ideology; and remember that back then, there were still those who defended communism as a “good idea in theory.”  No one felt compelled to say, ‘Well not all Russians are bad,’ because like similarly compulsions today, it did not change the heinousness of the action.  It did not matter if we were liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat; whether our synagogues were Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist.  Our organizations, long dedicated to a universalist image, put that aside to defeat the existential threat to our people.  And defeat it we did.  Before it was over, we helped get 1.2 million Jews out of that communist hell.   The rest found freedom not that many years later when “the evil empire” fell and that existential threat died with it.  The American Jewish community’s recognition of what all of us faced and our success in defeating it strengthened our identity, and helped us realize that we could in fact stand strong for our people, that the only thing that could stop us is ourselves.

And standing up for Israel is in our interests as Americans, too.  Our only constant ally in the region, Israel mourned after 9/11, while Palestinians gave out sweets to celebrate the terror attacks.  Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) tells how, beyond that, Israel sent us a body of experts so we could get our planes back in the skies.  And imagine for a moment what the 1991 Iraq War would have looked like if Israel had not taken out Sadam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.

Interfaith prayer meetings and understanding might in the end be needed for true peace, but right now, our priority is survival.  Those who minimized that in favor of political correctness can no longer do so in light of the November 18 attack.  As a start, Jewish organizations and those who stand with us against a final solution, should inform those Arab and Muslim organizations that they no longer can believe their statements of goodwill unless they unequivocally condemn the Jerusalem synagogue attack and all anti-Jewish actions.

American Jews need to recognize what comes first in Rabbi Hillel’s famous formulation:  If I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am only for myself, what am I; and if not now when?”

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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Make sure USCIRF acts on Bangladeshi Hindu evidence

Some months back, principles from the Hindu American Foundation contacted me about the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).  USCIRF was created as part of the International Religious Freedom Act during the Clinton Administration to help the US government consider issues of religious freedom in its foreign policy; although geopolitical considerations sometimes trump that, as in the cases of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  USCIRF was finally going to address the Bangladeshi Hindu issue, and they asked me for contacts inside Bangladesh who could provide concrete evidence of the atrocities and of the Bangladeshi government's complicity.  That was an easy assignment, and based on my information, USCIRF met with Bangladeshi human rights activist and attorney, Rabindra Ghosh who provided tons of verified evidence.

Now that USCIRF has the evidence, we have to make sure it acts on it?

Like so many others, USCIRF was enamored with Bangladesh's Awami League and actually upgraded Bangladesh's status when that party took power.  After more than a full term in office, the Awami League has proven its involvement in allowing its Hindu citizens to be forcibly converted to Islam, driven out, or killed; and even participates in some of the actions. If you care about the Hindus in Bangladesh, phone, fax, or email the following message to USCIRF:

The government of Bangladesh has been complicit in the ethnic cleansing of Hindus and supporting attacks on their religious freedom. Extensive evidence from independent witnesses confirms this, and in its recent trip to Bangladesh, USCIRF saw it. As such, we urge you to take strong action, including formal US recognition of the ethnic cleansing and the Bangladeshi government's role in it, and to place Bangladesh among Tier 1 Countries, where "particularly severe violations of religious freedom are tolerated or perpetrated."  Thank you.

Here is the contact information in order of impact:  Phone 202-523-3240; Fax 202-523-5020; Email media@USCIRF.gov.

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Friday, November 07, 2014

Is West Bengal Government Preparing an anti-Hindu Action?

Earlier this year, I was at a Mandir in the rural Burdwan District of West Bengal.  Most of the people with me were there because of my work to stop anti-Hindu persecution in Bangladesh.  One man, however, was there to keep an eye on us.  He was part of West Bengal's ruling party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), led with an iron fist by strongwoman Mamata Banerjee.  I confronted him about why the West Bengal government turns a blind eye toward anti-Hindu persecution in the state and the illegal infiltration from Bangladesh that has pushed Hindus out of several key border areas.  He admitted that both were problems but said that if they raised the issue "certain parties" would object strenuously.  "So what," I replied.  "Isn't it more important to stop the persecution?"  Yes, he said, but they needed those "certain parties" (i.e., code for Muslims) as the party's vote bank.

Fast forward to the landslide victory by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).  A key element to that win was a rejuvenation of Hindu pride after years of a government that demonized it as bigoted. During the campaign, Mamata was one of only a few Indian politicians who said that she would never join hands with Modi, and she has maintained that attitude ever since.  Moreover, while the TMC maintained its control in West Bengal, the pro-Modi vote made some serious--and heretofore absent--inroads.  Are recent events in the state part of a TMC/Mamata effort to shore up its base through action against Hindu activists?

On October 27, an associate of mine, Apurba Roy, was seized by West Bengal police along with his brother Nitish, at first on a manufactured charge of weapons possession.  After the authorities failed to comply with the law to produce the accused within 24 hours along with a charge, international pressure forced their hand.  Only the charge had changed to "illegal infiltration."  You see, Roy was a refugee from anti-Hindu persecution in Bangladesh, and had fled to West Bengal at some point in or prior to 2008.  Prime Minister Modi stated categorically that such refugees would be welcome in India.  Mamata's minions, however, would have no part of that and have begun rounding up people like Roy--while continuing to allow Muslims to cross from Bangladesh, increasing their current political strength.

Colleagues on the ground told me that while in custody, Roy faced severe questioning about his activities and those of my colleagues and me.  Other Hindu activists have been arrested recently, including Hindu Samhati founder and prominent Hindu leader, Tapan Ghosh (although he has been released at least for now).  It would not be out of keeping for the West Bengal rulers to harass pro-Hindu activists, including those like Roy and me who are only trying to stop the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh.  We will know more later this month when, according to the most recent filings, the government will hold its first hearing on Apurba Roy's case in a Bangaon courtroom.

Will this herald a TMC action to purge the state of its opponents?  A lot of people will be watching for the answer.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

India can expect the media's "Israel treatment"

What is the media's "Israel treatment"?  It is the imposition of a general narrative over the situation, which then mandates that all events be interpreted within its framework; all editorial decisions about what gets covered (and what does not) and how it is covered must come out of that narrative.  Matti Friedman, who was an Associated Press reporter and editor in its Jerusalem bureau from 2006-2011, has done an excellent job of describing how that narrative works to mislead populations whose misinformed actions then seem to validate this "narrative construct that is largely fiction."  How would such a narrative work to distort any actions India might take to save Hindus in Bangladesh?

The media and its slavish followers have decided that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a "bad guy" and that Bangladesh is a "moderate Muslim country,"  both of which are as far from the truth as one can get.  If PM Modi is a bad guy, so must be the overwhelming number of Indians who gave him a landslide mandate in the world's largest democratic election ever.  Moreover, I have the pleasure of knowing him and know that he is sincere in his aspirations for his nation and all of its people.  On the other hand, Bangladesh has fallen under the grip of Islamists, who now control most of its major institutions.  (Al Qaeda and ISIS have recently opened offices there.)  Another of the media's cherished myths is that the current party in power, the Awami League, is the "good party," as opposed to its major opponent, the BNP,  Like the rest of the narrative, that too does not stand up to the reality of ongoing ethnic cleansing of Hindus and others in Bangladesh with the government's tacit support.

Here is one example of how the narrative distorts reality to make good guys into bad and bad guys into good.  Earlier this year, I was in Assam's tribal areas and observed the cultural and ecological damage massive infiltration from Bangladesh has brought to the region.  Forests are being destroyed, poaching is bringing both the elephant and one-horned rhino to the brink of extinction; the natives' children are being sent out of the area for their safety with the parents having little hope that they will return to their tribal culture; an ancient way of life and the ecology that supports it are dying, and the people in the area are restive.  On several occasions, that restiveness has erupted into violence (I've interviewed several elderly tribal victims of the violence); and the only thing preventing another, major eruption is the people's expectation that new Indian PM will protect them.  Yet, I told tribal leaders earlier this year that if they try to expel illegal infiltrators, the media will feature "bedraggled refugees," alleged victims of "nationalists."  Moreover, no major media outlet has covered the devastation to their land and way of life--even after Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina promised a continued flow of illegal aliens to Assam.

The media has left India with three difficult options.  It can cave into the narrative in an attempt to avoid criticism at the price of its people's safety.  It can ignore the narrative and hope that one day people will recognize the reality of the situation.  It can attempt some hybrid that probably leans toward the second option but attempts to mollify its critics. If the Israel experience is any guide, the first option is a disaster and will only invite more anti-Hindu rhetoric; and the third will prevent India from achieving the goals it wants to in order to protect its people. The second road is a tough one that brings potentially high political costs to the leader who follows it.  My own sense is that after centuries of other nations--first the mughals then the British then the West in general--treating India in a patronizing way and lecturing it on right and wrong; India is about to flex its muscles under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and take its rightful place as a world economic, cultural, and military leader.  How it handles the flood of infiltrators from Bangladesh, the Prime Minister's pre-election promise to protect neighboring Hindus from ongoing and state-supported persecution, and similar matters will test its mettle in the face of the narrative makers.

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