I recently came across an unread e-mail from Richard L. Benkin, the American champion of Bangladeshi journalist Saleh Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Choudhury is the fearless Muslim newspaper editor who was arrested by Bangladeshi authorities in November 2003 as he prepared to board a flight en route to Israel, where he was planning to deliver an address promoting peaceable relations between Muslims and Jews.
Now, at this point in the column, I realize your average Thanksgiving feast-digesting Reader (R) is probably more inclined to scan holiday ads than tough it out here. So without giving anything away, I'll just mention, FYI, that today's offering does end up as holiday fare.
R: Fine. Get on with it.
OK. Back to Choudhury's arrest.
For his "crime" (Bangladesh doesn't recognize Israel) and his writings (Choudhury has denounced the rise of jihadism in Bangladesh and has called for better relations with Jews and Israel), he was accused of treason, sedition and blasphemy, all capital crimes in Bangladesh.
R: Bangladesh. Bangladesh ... isn't that where that terrible tsunami or cyclone or whatever just happened?
Yes, and more on that below. (Clearly, your average R. is now experiencing guilt pangs over your average Thanksgiving -- more food and fun than disaster victims will know -- and contemplates whipping out the checkbook to send relief money to one of the charities local papers are now listing.)
R: Just make your point.
Don't get snippy. Choudhury has since suffered beatings, torture and solitary confinement for 17 months. He was barred from his mother's funeral. The offices of his newspaper, the Weekly Blitz, have been bombed. Last year, he was savaged by a mob, leaving him with a fractured ankle. According to the Jerusalem Post, the police refused to allow him to press charges against his attackers. His Weekly Blitz Web site reported that his assailants included leaders from Jasas, the "cultural wing" of the ruling Bangladeshi National Party.
Choudhury's plight hasn't been all bleak. He has won the political support of Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. Benkin, his citizen-defender, who is Jewish, has pleaded his case high and low, helping his "Muslim brother" -- that's what Benkin calls him -- garner international recognition. Such developments led to Choudhury's release from prison in 2005, although charges remain pending.