Muslim Countries: Democracy and Civil Rights

Figure 1.--

A hallmark of Western democracy is the protection of basic civil liberties. It is useful to assess the state of basic civil liberties in the Muslim world. Here we will look at indicators such as freedom of the press, religious liberty, minority rights (including women and ethnic minorities), far trials, and other basic civil rights. We will look at both Arab regimes with authoritarian goverments as well Islamic and secular regimes. Some readers may see this discussion as an esoteric one in which civil liberties are seen as a largely ethical one suitable for rich countries which can afford such luxuries and not addressing the needs of developing countries mired in poverty. In fact, readers should note the correkation between countries with guarantee civu=il liberties to their citizens and successful righ economies. By the sane measure there is a string correlation between dictatorial regimes and poverty. The major exception here is countries whose economies are based on raw materials and can finance econnomic life by simply pumping oil.


Bangladesh was intially part of the British Raj in India and achieved independence as East Pakistan in union with West Pakistan. The state was largely dominated by West Pakistan nd after a bloody civil war, East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh. The ountry is one of the poorest in the world and has made little progress in addressing the economic problems since independence. In recent years there has been a growth of Islamic fundamentalism. A major issue in Bangladesh today is the case of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. The U.S. Congress has taken a special interest in Choudhury. A U.S. Congressional Joint Resolution (March 13, 2007) found: "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. Whereas Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a Bangladeshi journalist who, because of his beliefs in an interfaith dialogue between Jews and Muslims and criticism of Islamic extremism, is on trial for sedition, an offense punishable by death; Whereas on November 29, 2003, Mr. Choudhury was arrested at Zia International Airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on his way to board a flight bound for Tel Aviv; Mr. Choudhury's passport was seized, along with considerable sums of money and several personal items; on that same day police raided Mr. Choudhury's home and newspaper offices, seizing files, computers, and other valuables; Whereas Mr. Choudhury was detained in Dhaka Central Jail for a passport violation, then subsequently charged with sedition; Mr. Choudhury suffered harsh interrogation techniques and received no treatment for a debilitating case of glaucoma; Mr. Choudhury's incarceration lasted 17 months without legal recourse; Whereas on April 30, 2005, after intervention by the United States Department of State and congressional offices, Mr. Choudhury was released on bail; Whereas in the subsequent months, senior members of the Bangladeshi Government made continuous public promises that there was no substance to Mr. Choudhury's pending charges and that all charges would be dropped; Whereas on September 29, 2005, Mr. Choudhury was awarded the ''Freedom to Write Award'' by PEN USA; Whereas on May 5, 2006, Mr. Choudhury was awarded the American Jewish Committee's Moral Courage Award in absentia in Washington, D.C.; two days prior to Mr. Choudhury receiving the award, after returning Mr. Choudhury's passport and appearing to allow him to attend, senior Bangladeshi Government officials issued threats to prevent him from leaving the country; Whereas on July 6, 2006, Mr. Choudhury's newspaper offices were bombed by an Islamic extremist organization after Mr. Choudhury and his staff published articles in support of the Ahmadiyya Muslim minority; Mr. Choudhury received a tip about the bombing days before and reported it to police, who refused to take action; Whereas on September 18, 2006, a judge with alleged ties to an Islamic extremist party ruled that Mr. Choudhury will stand trial for sedition; the judge made this ruling despite the Public Prosecutor's testimony in court days before that the government did not have evidence and would not object to the charges being dropped; Whereas on October 5, 2006, Mr. Choudhury was attacked at his newspaper offices by a large group of individuals, including prominent members of the ruling Bangladesh National Party; police protection for Mr. Choudhury was withdrawn just days before the attack; Mr. Choudhury was called an ''agent of the Jews'' and beaten badly; when Mr. Choudhury reported the attack to the police, no action was taken; Whereas members of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom visited with Mr. Choudhury on their trip to Bangladesh in February and March 2006; Whereas on October 6, 2006, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote a letter to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher calling on the United States Government to strengthen the ''voices of moderation'' in countries like Bangladesh where the rule of law, democratic institutions, and respect for human rights are under assault by violent extremists; the Commission identified Mr. Choudhury as one of those voices that should not be silenced; Whereas, according to the Department of State's 2005 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Bangladesh, ''Attacks on journalists and newspapers, and government efforts to intimidate them, political party activists, and others, occurred frequently.''; and Whereas moderate voices in the Muslim world must be supported and protected to advance the security of the United States and its allies: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that, (1) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately drop all pending charges against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury; (2) the Government of Bangladesh should immediately return all of Mr. Choudhury's confiscated possessions; and (3) the Government of Bangladesh should cease harassment and intimidation of Mr. Choudhury, take steps to protect Mr. Choudhury, and hold accountable those responsible for attacks against Mr. Choudhury. The Resolution was passed with an astounding 409 votes and on discenting vote.




Pakistan was intially the parts of the British Raj in India that was most hevily populated by Muslims. When it achieved independence, it consisted of both East and West Pakistan. The state was largely dominated by West Pakistan and after a bloody civil war with massive attrocities against civilians by the Pakistani Army, East Pakistan became independent as Bangladesh. The Pakistani Constitution claims to guarante free spech. The preamble of Constitution reads, "Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam ..." This of course is Orwelian double speak meaning there is not right of free speech. Amazingly few Pakistanis see any contradiction in this provusion. One of the dascinating aspects of HBC is the opportunity to exchange ideas from reades all over the country. A Pakistani university student contacted us to describe several different issues. One of the issues he complained about was the high incidence of rape in America. Interestingly while he claimed that his information came from the Justice Department when I looked into it, the source of the information was a Feminisdt website, an interesting source of information for an Islamicist. Of course he chose that site because it was the most critical source he could find about America and rape. And the Feminists here manipulated statistics to make the situation in America look as bad as possible. This is done by chosing data from 1994. The date wa 12 years old, but chosen because this was a peak year for rapes in America. And the statistic our Pakistani reader chose was the number of rapes perminute. Of course America is a large country of over 300 million, so just about more incidents of everything occurs n America than most other countries. The legitimate statistic for comparing America with other countries is of course the number of rapes per unit of population. Unmentioned by the Feminists or our Pakistani reader is thar rapes in America since 1994 have fallen by over half. And also unmentioned is how the Justice Department defines rapes. They are not just actual ohysical attacks, but also attempted attacks and even threats. And they include attacks on men. Thus any comparison between America and other countries has to consider how rape is defined. So I asked our Pakistani reader about rape in Pakistan. He told me thank rape was virtually unknown. What he dis not tell me, but I knew was how the Koran defines rape. It is not possible to procedute a rapist in Pakistan and other Muslim countries unless the rape was witnessed by three Muslims. Now of course rapists do not usually perpetrate their attacks in front of three preople. Using this definition there would be virtually no reported rapes in America eiither. When I pressed him for Palistani statistics, he failed to provide any. When I pressed the issue he did provide a website of the Pakistani Human Rights Commission. I couldn't get the site to work, but did notice a banner that rape was on the rise in Pakistan. And of course all of this does not even address the problem of arranged marriage where girls and teenagers are essentially sold to older men, essentially legalized rape.



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Created: 7:44 PM 3/14/2007
Last updated: 11:27 PM 7/18/2013