Published:  12:08 AM, 02 March 2020

'Democracy cannot prevail without freedom of press'

'Democracy cannot prevail without freedom of press' Dr. Richard L. Benkin at The Asian Age office.

American geopolitical expert and independent human rights activist Dr. Richard L. Benkin visited The Asian Age office recently.
He spoke on different issues including communal harmony, foreign affairs, freedom of press and some other relevant matters.
The interview was taken by Mahfuz Ul Hasib Chowdhury.

Asian Age (AA): We welcome you to The Asian Age. First I would like to request you to tell us something about the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. How does that affect the situation in the Middle East?

Richard L. Benkin (RB): Iran is more of a big mouth than a big stick. Qasem Soleimani killed hundreds of American soldiers. He was one of the individuals through whom Iran exported terrorism to other countries. Iran still aids terrorism in foreign countries. There is a terribly authoritarian government in Iran. The Iranian economy is on the rocks.

Iran develops nuclear weapons instead of feeding its own people. Iran finances terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. The Iranian people used to be more educated and more progressive before the so-called Islamic Revolution took place in 1979. All countries should work in a united way to fight terrorism. Eliminating terror outfits is very important to establish peace all over the world. Iran should stop sponsoring terrorism with immediate effect.

AA: Why the Palestine-Israel dispute could not be yet resolved? Foreign affairs analysts hold the opinion that a sustainable settlement of the Palestine conflict is obligatory to restore peace in the Middle East. What is your approach to this phenomenon?

RB: Palestine is not serious about resolving the dispute. Israel and the United Nations made a great deal of offers to Palestine but Palestine rejected all these offers. After the war of 1967 the Arab countries had a conference in Sudanese capital Khartoum and declared that they would have no compromise, no peace and no negotiation with Israel.

Moreover, the Arab countries stated that they would not recognize Israel. Such inclement approach is responsible for the fact that the Palestine issue could not be yet resolved. It may be added that Bangladesh is one of the seven Muslim countries which have not yet recognized Israel while most of the Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia are coming closer to constitute bilateral relations with Israel.

AA: How would you evaluate the impeachment of American President Donald Trump? Does it cause any problem to Donald Trump's electoral prospects keeping in view the upcoming American presidential polls? We have come to know through news agencies that the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump though he was afterwards acquitted by the Senate.

RB: Impeachment is a political act. The Democrats know quite well that Donald Trump cannot be removed from power. The Democrats just tried to affect the presidential elections which are scheduled to be held at the end of 2020. President Donald Trump is now in a better position to win the presidential polls. Earlier former American President Bill Clinton also faced impeachment. Former American President Richard Nixon faced similar circumstances too but he stepped down before he could be impeached.

AA: Communal harmony is one of the most essential things for all countries. Communal hazards disrupt people's normal life. You know there are some radical Islamic groups in Bangladesh who threaten the peaceful coexistence of all communities. What do you think about the status of communal harmony in Bangladesh?

RB: There is a basic anti-Hindu sentiment in Bangladesh. It is the government's duty to protect the religious minorities. We have seen in Pakistan that Pakistan Army and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) carry out atrocities on religious minorities. It does not happen like this in Bangladesh. Religious bigots and extremists sometimes launch attacks on religious minorities in Bangladesh. Bangladesh government should prosecute the people who assail religious minorities.

Communal harmony is an obligatory thing for the prevalence of peace and stability in any country. The United States is one of the largest buyers of readymade garments (RMG) products from Bangladesh. If interreligious peace does not prevail in Bangladesh, the US companies may not feel comfortable doing business with Bangladesh. So, the ruling authorities of Bangladesh will have to make the best of their efforts to establish rule of law and a safe ambience for religious minorities. The law should be applied to all citizens equally. You cannot sustain human rights if communal harmony is not there.

AA: What's your view about democracy in South Asia with special reference to Bangladesh?

RB: I am a visitor. I am a foreigner. I think democracy is indispensable for development. Sustaining democracy is vital for the continuation of progress. Democracy is an all-inclusive approach. All citizens of a country should be treated equally. Socio-economic advancement and justice cannot be delivered to people without the prevalence of democracy. The South Asian countries including Bangladesh should engage all parties and everyone to build up a sound democratic environment.

AA: Please share with us your ideas about freedom of press.

RB: It should be noted that democracy stands for freedom of press. Democracy cannot prevail without freedom of speech and freedom of press. Freedom of press is very important to sustain human rights, good governance, rule of law and justice. If freedom of press is taken away from any newspaper, it should be exposed. The authorities concerned should stay aware of the importance of freedom of press. A civilized country cannot be imagined without a free press. We should not keep quiet if freedom of press is hindered.

AA: Most of the economists are worried about China's debt trap diplomacy. How would you interpret this point?

RB: Bangladesh must avoid China's debt trap diplomacy. Countries like Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and some other states faced much trouble after getting affiliated with Chinese financial deals. So, Bangladesh will have to examine the Chinese debts very carefully before it is too late.

AA: What is your message for The Asian Age?

RB: The Asian Age has been doing a good job by publishing reports on different domestic and international aspects. I hope The Asian Age will continue to work with professionalism and objectivity upholding sound and fair journalism.

AA: Thanks for visiting The Asian Age and for your valuable time.

RB: My pleasure. You are welcome.


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