Friday, February 16, 2007

Visiting Muslim academic defends Israel’s existence

Visiting Muslim academic defends Israel’s existence

Yoni Bashan

A VISITING Muslim academic from Bangladesh has called on all Muslims to accept Israel’s right to exist.
Associate Professor Ehsanul Haque, 42, made the remark at the Australian Association of Jewish Studies annual conference at the University of Sydney’s Mandelbaum House earlier this week.
Associate Professor Haque – whose homeland has no diplomatic ties with the Jewish State – criticised the Bangladeshi Government for being “too conservative” and rife with “extremists”.
The academic, who openly lauded Israel’s right to statehood in his presentation, titled “The Jewish leaders: in search of a just peace with the Muslims”, told the AJN: “The problem is that Bangladesh is an extremely conservative society and people are largely ignorant about other religions.
“So that’s why misunderstandings often come up between people,” he said.
The Australian Association of Jewish Studies sponsored Associate Professor Haque to fly to Australia for the conference after he submitted his paper – with the inherent risks he may face when he returns home.
Bangladesh is the third-largest Muslim nation in the world and one of 31 states which refuse to establish diplomatic ties with Israel. In the past, the government has detained people attempting to visit the Jewish State.
A fellow countryman, journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, is currently facing sedition charges for attempting to visit Israel in 2003 for a conference.
He was reportedly detained, tortured and kept in isolation for over a year under suspicion that he was an Israeli spy.
Eventually released, he was later assaulted at his newspaper’s office by members of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who have alleged ties with Jemaah Islamiah. If found guilty, he faces the death penalty.
But Associate Professor Haque said that despite his outspoken views, he has no qualms about returning to the country this week.
“I strongly believe that what I feel is not wrong.
“A gulf of misunderstanding exists between the Jews and the Muslims. And there are moderate Muslim groups as well who always speak for greater harmony and cooperation.”
A lecturer of international relations at the University of Dhaka, he said anti-Israel rhetoric dominated academic debate, and said it was his duty to balance his students’ biased perspectives.
“A lot of my students show their intolerance toward Jews and Israel. So I thought as a faculty member I should give a balanced view to students as a moral responsibility.”
Acclaimed international scholars at the two-day conference included Islam expert Professor Raphael Israeli and Holocaust scholar Professor Yehuda Bauer. The conference also attracted academics from Germany, Wales and New York.
The event, convened by Associate Professor Suzanne Rutland, has taken place annually for the past 19 years and will be held at Melbourne’s Monash University next year.

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