Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama’s ‘major Islamic forum’ meeting should be held in Bangladesh?

This came from Seth Mandel, Managing Editor, The Jewish State. Notwithstanding his stronger support for beleaguered Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, this article is worth reading. Below are some relevant texts:

On Aug. 1, 2007, President Barack Obama (then a candidate and senator) told a Washington, D.C. audience that in his first 100 days as president, he would take a bold step toward reforming our communication with the Muslim world. He would, he said, “travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to redefine our struggle.” Since then, various news outlets, columnists, talking heads, and bloggers speculated on which Muslim country that would be, and offered their own suggestions. [Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iraq, and Afghanistan have been common suggestions.]

So, now that Obama is our president, let me offer my counsel: the address should be given in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s recent political turmoil is headspinning. In late 2006/early 2007, the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Khaleda Zia, was busy rigging the elections scheduled for January 2007. The Bangladeshi army responded by staging an unannounced coup, running a caretaker government, and expelling both Zia and the opposition Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed. But as Americans began to celebrate the New Year of 2009, Bangladeshis were counting the votes in an election so much cleaner than usual that the Economist opened its post-election article thus: “It went better than anyone dared hope.”

The election was a landslide in favor of Awami League. And if the symbolism of any election could compete with Obama’s, it was this one. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s independence leader, founding father, and first president.

In addition, BNP has Islamist political allies, and the army’s order-and-command tunnel vision prevented it from crossing the country’s Islamists during its own caretaker administration. Though Awami has run corrupt governments itself in the past, its massive victory was an almost shocking step away from Islamist control. Being that 70 percent of Bangladesh’s registered voters participated in the election, that step may have been a public referendum on radical Islam as well—though it’s too soon to know for sure.

In all, the Bangladeshi election was a vivid demonstration of exactly what the West hopes Muslim countries will do: hold free and fair elections, and move toward a moderate expression of Islam’s tenets.

That is one reason Obama should speak in Bangladesh. There is much work to be done still in Bangladesh, and Obama can simultaneously commend its progress while recognizing its challenges.

The full story is here.

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