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Cablegate: Countering Rising Anti-Usg Sentiments

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 002535

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL KISL PGOV BG
SUBJECT: COUNTERING RISING ANTI-USG SENTIMENTS


1. (SBU) Summary. Widely publicized allegations of USG abuse
of Muslim prisoners and the Koran have aggravated strong
anti-USG attitudes in Bangladesh. Although less intense
than in many Muslim countries, negative attitudes about the
USG in this historically friendly country permeate virtually
all social sectors. See paras 5-7 for current and proposed
outreach efforts. End Summary.

New Fuel on the Fire
--------------------

2. (SBU) Anti-USG sentiments in Bangladesh peaked during the
war in Iraq, when even liberal elites opposed the use of
force to evict Saddam Hussein. The media were uniformly
negative. The editor of one generally pro-U.S. newspaper
told us marketplace and social pressures forced him to join
the anti-USG bandwagon. The publication of photos of Saddam
in captivity was condemned as disrespectful to a former head
of state and a violation of the Geneva Convention. Now,
alleged USG abuse of the Koran triggered the biggest anti-
USG demonstrations in Dhaka - up to 40,000 persons - since
the Iraq war, with a coalition of Islamist groups promising
the "mother of all rallies" on June 17.

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3. (SBU) In March, the arrest and eventual deportation of an
illegal 16-year-old Bangladeshi girl in New York for
allegedly talking in a chat room about being a suicide
bomber evoked widespread criticism. MFA objected to the
arrest on "humanitarian" grounds," while Bangladeshis in
general cited the action as an example of USG "paranoia"
about Muslims and terrorism.

4. (SBU) Widespread ignorance and skepticism of USG policies
and the way Americans treat Muslims provide a fertile
breeding ground for anti-USG attitudes. The prevailing
folklore heard in letters to the editor and many other fora
includes:

A) "You can't get a student visa if your name is Mohammed."
- A Bangladeshi student at the American Center.

B) "If a woman wears a burqa, she won't get a visa." - A
Bangladeshi who claimed this was why his aunt was denied a
visa renewal after originally having been issued when she
applied without a burqa.

C) "Americans lack morals and respect for their elders.
They like to put old people into nursing homes." -
Bangladeshi university instructor.

D) "American teenagers can do whatever they want and, once
they turn 18, their parents push them out of the house;" and
"American people live only for themselves and not for their
families. They don't like other religions."
-- Bangladeshi university students at the American Studies
Festival.

E) "Americans like to interfere with the internal affairs of
other countries;" "the Bush Administration disregards its
treaties;" and "America disregards institutions it created
like the United Nations." -- Bangladeshi military officers
at the National Defense College and the Bangladesh War
College.

Reaching Out
------------

5. (SBU) Our outreach program focuses on explaining USG
policies and correcting false perceptions of American
actions and attitudes. Recent highlights include:

A) The visit to Bangladesh of a U.S. Navy Muslim chaplain.
His positive characterizations of Muslims in American
society carried special credibility. After meeting with
senior imams in Dhaka, one told us that the chaplain's Islam
"was more pure because he chose to embrace Islam, whereas
all the Bangladeshis around the table were born into it and
took it for granted."

B) "America: The Real Story" is a PA presentation for
prospective Bangladeshi students in the U.S., and others,
that addresses common misperceptions about American society
and in particular the condition of Muslims in post-9/11
America.

C) America Week in Khulna, the latest stop on the annual
Embassy road show to district capitals to explain to, in
this case, an estimated 15,000 visitors the breadth of USG
activities, particularly on development, in Bangladesh.

D) An English language fellow is starting at the Madrassa
Teacher Training Institute, and scholarships have been
awarded to madrassa students to learn English and who use
the American Center library as part of their program.

E) In connection with bilateral military training exercises,
U.S. military units have undertaken school construction
projects, provided medical treatment in villages, and
conducted joint civil affairs training programs.

F) PA programmed Shehab Ahmed, a city councilor from
Hamtramck, Michigan and the first elected Bangladeshi-
American official, to speak in Dhaka and his native Sylhet
about the American political system and his success as a
Muslim in a majority non-Muslim constituency. His
descriptions of local government authority and prerogatives
resonated deeply in centralized Bangladesh, and his ability
to communicate in Bangla made him our most successful
speaker in the past two years.

G) AID is planning another tour for local journalists of AID-
supported projects.

6. (SBU) Looking ahead, we need to accelerate the targeting
of "younger, broader, deeper" audiences, and specifically to
program more speakers, especially those who can speak
credibly to Bangladeshi audiences about Muslim life in
America and the actual situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We look forward to the anticipated return this fall of the
U.S. Navy Muslim chaplain and the visit in August of the
Deputy Attorney General of New Jersey, a Bangladeshi-
American woman. We are also pursuing an International
Visitors Program for moderate Bangladeshi religious leaders.

7. (SBU) We are particularly concerned by the sharp decrease
in the number of Bangladeshis studying in the U.S. since
9/11 due primarily to apprehensions about American attitudes
towards Muslims. The UK, Canada, and especially Australia
report sharply increased visa demand. We need initiatives
and resources to reverse this trend.

8. (SBU) The steady growth in the number and impact of
broadcast media is an important opportunity for mass
outreach. In addition to enhancing placement and interviews
with these channels, we need to enhance their journalistic
professionalism.

Comment
-------

9. (SBU) Anti-USG attitudes and activities are also a by-
product of Bangladesh's increasingly assertive political
Islam. Extremist Islamist groups that are becoming
increasingly critical of the BDG and its main Islamist ally,
Jamaat Islami, have jumped on Koran abuse allegations as a
chance to flex their political muscle on an issue no BDG
could challenge. An important adjunct of extremist Islam is
innate suspicion of anything Western or non-Islamic. One MP
told us that in his district imams have started telling
Friday prayer sessions that Bangladesh is "in turmoil
because of this Christian constitution we have. If we had
God in our lives, there would be no problems. God can come
only through a Sharia government."

10. (SBU) Therefore, there is a clear overlap between anti-
USG attitudes and extremist Islamist perceptions. Both,
however, pose important direct and indirect threats to core
USG interests.

CHAMMAS

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