Saturday, May 02, 2009

More Empty Words from Bangladesh

I recently received an email from an individual involved in the struggle for minority rights in Bangladesh. It trumpeted “a new development” in the Bangladeshi government’s attitude toward minorities. But what was its evidence? A statement by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid that her “government believes in peace and prosperity of the mass of people, freedom of all religions and equal rights of people of all walks of life”; and a promise to repeal Bangladesh’s discriminatory laws.

When will people learn to look at one’s ACTIONS and not be lulled into complacency by their words? Complacency means disaster for the minorities.

I have heard the same pious-sounding statements from Bangladeshi officials of both major parties and none were ever reflected in action. I wondered why these leaders continued to say such things when all they did was confirm that the speakers were either unwilling or unable to carry out their promises, if not both. No one in Washington believes them anymore, as evidenced by the fact that knows that every single piece of legislation designed to give Bangladesh favorable trade status here failed. That government even sent Nobel laureate Mohammed Yunis to lobby for one of them, but the bill never even got out of committee. As long as Bangladeshi governments allow rampant oppression against minorities, they will remain so.

Yet, Hasina’s empty words are enough for those who ignore history and prefer to hope that she might be serious this time. Well, good for them; it’s nice to have hope. But “a new development”? Hardly. Hers was a statement to a visiting foreign; and if there was any substance to the countless hopeful statements that national leaders make when speaking to foreign dignitaries, our world would have long forgotten the scourges of war, poverty, and minority oppression. Even Adolf Hitler told foreign leaders in 1937 that Czechoslovakia was the last of his “territorial demands.”

Mouthing empty words is easy, taking action is not. And Hasina’s party has been as complicit in minority oppression as any. Both it and its more openly Islamist rival have shared equally in the spoils of it: minority land and property confiscated under Bangladesh’s racist Vested Property Act. Worse, attacks on Bangladeshi minorities have increased since the AL took power; and are carried out with the knowledge that the government will not stop them. I have interviewed dozens of victims (some who have been attacked as recently as February), and most report that local officials refused to help them or even participated in the attacks.

Unfortunately for the victims, those who should be forcing the government to keep its word seem content with the words alone. Bangladeshi Hindus have been reduced from almost one in five Bangladeshis at independence to less than one in ten today. Words will not protect those who remain, but if advocacy groups pretend they are, they will be condemning Bangladesh’s minorities to the same fate of non-Muslims in Pakistan; where those who have not been murdered, forced to convert, or forced out now pay the jizya for the “privilege” of being tolerated. Regardless of her words, Sheikh Hasina must be held accountable for what her government does. And if it lacks the will to act, people of goodwill need to help her get it. Otherwise, they all will be guilty of making minority oppression permanent.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear sir, please do something for the oppressed who have been destitues for the last 40 yrs. The next parliamentery assemebly in Bnagldesg will be held in june 2009 where, thousands of law will be passed except for ours. Please make Bnagladeshi goverment compelled to retrun our properties this time by any means possible. God bless you.

5/27/2009 2:30 PM  

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