Thursday, August 13, 2009

Medal of Freedom or... Sixty Years in Prison?

In a rare moment of galactic symmetry, cynical politicking, or pure dumb coincidence, the 13th of August, 2009 encapsulated the United States' relationship with Bangladesh. On one hand is the field of development encompassing social, economic, and sustainable development. And on the other is violent extremism.

Today, US President Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the US, to Nobel Laureate (2006) Mohammed Yunus. Yunus, who hardly needs an introduction, is the pioneer of micro-credit and the Grameen Bank. If my memory serves me correctly, Yunus begun the scheme with US $26. Since 1983, the bank has disbursed over US $8 billion (New Nation).

Yunus has share of critics, some contend that micro-credit programs have done nearly as much as people think. In fact, on Tuesday Finance Minister Muhith leveled this exact criticism: 'Why is the number of poor families still seven crore in Bangladesh if three crore families had benefited from it?' (Daily Star) A similar argument is that micro-credit does help the "poorest of the poor," the poor who are too sick or too old to start a micro-business in the first place. Moreover, micro-credit doesn't always address the underlying causes of poverty - poor healthcare, poor educational opportunities, or overt/subtle discrimination.

However, this is not to diminish the impact that Yunus has had on the world. His ideas have helped millions in many countries. His efforts deserve the Nobel Prize and the Medal of Freedom.

About 540 miles away (as the crow flies) there was a very different ceremony going on. A court in Atlanta convicted an American citizen (second-generation Bangladeshi) on terrorism charges. Evidently, he was arrested in Bangladesh after making questionable statements to US authorities a year earlier and combined with a number of other circumstances, videos of target selection, possession of "violent jihad materials," discussing attack plans with co-conspirators in Canada (whom he and his friend met on-line), and other significant allegations (Daily Star, US Department of Justice).

As the Star presents it, the young man almost seems like a misguided youth who let his machinations get the better of him. Taking your thoughts, your prejudices, your misconceptions too far.

This case should be appealed. If for no other reason than the US judicial system needs to clarify these items. Does simply communicating, possessing books, and taking video make one guilty of supporting terrorism? More succinctly, does every person who communicates with possible or confirmed terrorists, possessing books advocating "violent jihad" and "casing videos" ALWAYS become a terrorist or a supporter of one? One imagines that the jury was convinced BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT that this young man was going to provide material support to terrorists, hence the guilty verdict.

This is why the verdict should be appealed.

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