October 13, 2006
A Death Penalty InterviewBy Steve Feldman
Journalists have a number of issues to consider when determining whether to write or broadcast a report about a particular subject or individual. Among these are the potential repercussions facing those whom they interview. Usually, these 'sources' are afraid to go on—record for fear of losing their job or being branded a 'whistle—blower' or even worse, a 'snitch.'
This is why reporters often use confidential or unnamed 'sources,' or why those in sensitive positions will talk to the media only 'on background.'
Rarely does a reporter have to consider whether someone he or she interviews will be severely beaten and with at—best the ambivalence — if not the instigation —— of their own government for talking to the press.
But that was reportedly the result of Shoaib Chourdhury being a guest on the October 4 edition of our radio show, 'The ZOA Middle East Report,' broadcast in the Philadelphia area over 1540 AM WNWR Radio and available worldwide on our Website.
My co—host, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, and I did a live interview with Chourdhury —— a courageous Bangladeshi journalist who has been assaulted, tortured, persecuted and arrested for wanting to know more about Israel and Jews and advocating co—existence — together with the American Jewish academic and writer Dr. Richard Benkin, who has been working to bring Chourdhury's cause to light.
It was their first joint interview.
Chourdhury is editor of The Weekly Blitz, an English—language newspaper in the capital city Dhaka. The newspaper's offices have been bombed in response to his articles advocating relations with Israel. Chourdhury's kin have also suffered assorted beatings and harassment in efforts to silence the editor.
Most recently the Bangladeshi government's charges of sedition were reinstated against Chourdhury. It is a crime punishable by death. The judge presiding over the October 12 trial is said to be an Islamist and will have no compassion for a Muslim with an affinity for Israel.
Bangladesh, officially a Muslim country, does not have relations with Israel. Chourdhury was arrested at the Dhaka airport in 2003 while on his way to Israel to attend a writers conference. Chourdhury spent 17 months in prison before Benkin and U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois succeeded in gaining his release.
When I learned that the journalist was now facing the death penalty, I contacted Benkin to book him for the program. I then said: 'It would be great to have Chourdhury himself on the show. Is that possible?'
Benkin called Chourdhury, whom he affectionately calls his 'brother,' and got back to me shortly after: 'Shoaib would love to be on your show.'
The hard—core journalist that still lurks inside of me after having spent 23 years as a newspaper reporter saw a great story. The radio show producer (another hat I wear in conjunction with our show) saw the potential for a great segment. And for just a split second, the humanist part of me thought: 'I hope this guy isn't getting himself in deeper trouble.'
But I quickly determined that Chourdhury must have weighed the potential consequences of taking part in a show sponsored by the Zionist Organization of America.
As I noted above, the man is courageous.
About five minutes into the live interview, we lost our phone connection to Chourdhury. Benkin believes that the Bangladesh government was to blame. It is no doubt monitoring his activities. We continued to interview Benkin.
I learned the next morning just how hard — nearly impossible — it is for a moderate, tolerant, bridge—building Muslim to speak out.
Chourdhury phoned Benkin the next day to alert him that some 12 hours after we featured him he had been 'viciously attacked at his newspaper [office] by what he termed 'hooligans,' including open Islamic radicals and members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP). He identified one of his attackers as Helal Khan, International Affairs Secretary, Cultural Wing of the BNP. As they were beating him, his attackers called Mr. Choudhury an "agent of Jews," according to a report Benkin and activist Jerry Gordon published on the Israpundit.com Web site.
People who care about peace and who want to co—exist with Muslims are searching far and wide for 'moderate' Muslims who themselves advocate respect for people of other faiths and who try to raise their voices above the extremists' din of 'death to the infidels.'
Chourdhury seems to be a fine example of the former. But unless there is immediate intervention on his behalf, he, like the few others who dare to be peace—minded will be silenced. That is the objective of the extremists persecuting and torturing him: to discourage others from having and voicing similar thoughts.
Perhaps we take our liberties —— including freedom of expression and freedom of the press —— for granted in the West. And journalists often summarily neglect to consider the consequences of their work, focusing solely on the scoop.
I have no regrets about inviting Chourdhury to participate in our program. His story is a stark reminder that freedom is not yet a universal right. It also is yet another example of the chilling effect that is created when the Islamo—Fascists flex their muscles.
Steve Feldman is host and producer of 'The ZOA Middle East Report' radio show and executive director of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America.