- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

A new image

A senior member of a hard-line Islamic party that is a member of the ruling coalition in Bangladesh is in Washington this week meeting with members of Congress and lobbyists to project a more moderate image of his party.

Mohammad Kamruzzaman, the senior assistant secretary general for the Jamaat-e-Islami, is trying to dispel charges that his party was associated with bombings earlier this year against two local aid agencies. The bombings are widely thought to be the work of militant Islamic groups operating in Bangladesh.

“Philosophically, the Jamaat does not support extremism,” he told our correspondent Raza Naqvi. “Its rise is dangerous for mainstream Islamic parties and the country as a whole. We have no connection to any extremist groups, nor do we sympathize or support any extremist groups.”

He blamed “neighboring countries” for “trying to provide misinformation” to the press and Western diplomats. He said that “Indian sources, Indian intelligence, Indian diplomats, even the Indian political leadership” are engaged in a media campaign to destabilize Bangladesh.

However, there has been a rise in the number madrassas — or religious schools — opening in the Middle East and South Asia that have become notorious for breeding Islamist militants who harbor deep hatred for the West. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Samina Ahmed of the International Crisis Group said, “Bangladesh’s madrassa sector has mushroomed, reaching an estimated 64,000 madrassas from roughly 4,100 in 1986, with little if any government oversight.”

Mr. Kamruzzaman denied that this is symptomatic of an extremist trend in Bangladesh.

“This is a natural growth of schooling because of our population,” he said. “There is a difference between the madrassas of Pakistan and of Bangladesh. In Pakistan, there is no official control over them. We have control. All this is simply propaganda.”

Lithuania’s advice

The Lithuanian ambassador thinks Europe is at a “critical stage” with the French and Dutch rejection of a constitution for the European Union.

“After the votes in France and the Netherlands, the European Union did not collapse,” Ambassador Vygaudas Usackas said at a Washington seminar this week. “It will continue to function on the basis of existing treaties, while the future direction of the EU is being assessed.”

However, he added, “It is even more that at this critical stage of debate we remind the EU citizens and their elected leaders that we need a united and strong Europe which is capable of addressing the challenges of the 21st century.”

Mr. Usackas said those challenges include further expansion of the European Union to include countries like Ukraine, which rejected an authoritarian government through massive pro-democracy demonstrations last year.

The ambassador, addressing a U.S.-Ukraine forum in Washington, said Lithuania, which has approved the European constitution, can serve as a model for Ukraine’s desire to join the European Union and NATO. Lithuania was admitted to both institutions last year.

“Looking from the Lithuanian perspective and answering the question of what was the secret of our success achieved during our 14 years of independence, I would argue that to a large extent our strategic vulnerability — which was rightly or wrongly perceived by the West as proximity to Russia, as well as weak economic performance in the beginning of the 1990s — served as a major motivation for rigid, comprehensive and consistent reforms,” he said.

Mr. Usackas said Lithuania never took “things for granted” nor “accepted complacency as the way to move forward” and make the necessary political, military and economic changes required by the EU and NATO.

He said the key factors that “influenced our successful historical journey to be an institutional part of a Europe whole and free” included a “strong consensus” among Lithuanians that they had a “window of opportunity” and the “enthusiasm of a young bureaucracy to embrace the wind of change.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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