Embassy Row

TOLERANT BANGLADESH

As Americans debate the wisdom of building a mosque near ground zero in New York, a former journalist at the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington shows that a Muslim nation can display religious tolerance.

Swapan Kumar Saha is the first Hindu to serve as the South Asian nation’s official spokesman in the United States since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972.

“I’m the reflection of secularism,” Mr. Saha told Embassy Row on Thursday.

Mr. Saha also holds the high diplomatic position of minister, making him one of five with that status at the embassy. The minister rank is just below that of the ambassador.

Mr. Saha, 62, retired from Bangladesh’s National News Agency in June to take up the spokesman’s job in Washington, where his adult daughter and son live.

He is passionate about his country’s tradition of religious freedom. Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of the population of 160 million people, with Hindus about 10 percent and Buddhists and Christians totaling less than 1 percent together.

The State Department recognizes Bangladesh as a country that protects religious minorities and notes an improvement in human rights since the return of democracy from a military-backed caretaker government in 2008.

Even before he became a diplomat, Mr. Saha admiredPrime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed, the eldest daughter of the founder of Bangladesh, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

“She is always speaking about secularism and democracy,” he said. “Sheikh Hasina is always trying to give all people human rights.”

He called her a “people-oriented leader from the grass roots up.”

“She is perusing a relentless effort to implement the dreams of the father of our nation,” he added.

Mr. Saha was inspired by Sheikh Mujibur to take up arms against Pakistan in 1971, when Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujibur declared independence on March 26 of that year and was shortly arrested. A guerrilla war erupted during his nine-month detention, and India intervened to help Bangladesh rebels win their freedom.

“We fought together to create Bangladesh - Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians,” Mr. Saha said.

KOREAN UPDATE

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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