Wednesday, January 18, 2006

War & the evil in Bangladesh

photo: Clad in sari a village women guerilla guarding community from maurading Islamic militia recruited by Pakistan army during 1971 independence war

Bernard-Henri Levy's recent book War, Evil and the End of History
By Chris Blackburn

I recently read a review of by A.C Grayling on Bernhard-Herni Levy’s War, Evil and the End of History* in the Financial Times (UK). The piece comments on how a young Levy, the renowned French intellectual and social activist, had once nurtured a desire to fight for the liberation and independence of the Bengali people during the war of ’71. He had heard the calls for an ‘international brigade’ for East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, while he was a student in Paris. The idealistic and multi-national brigade would be modelled on the foreign fighters that flooded into Spain to help Republicans fight the fascist dictatorship of General Franco. Like the heroic force of the 1930’s which has been immortalised in books such as Earnest Hemingway’s For Thom the Bell Tolls, this volunteer guerrilla force would be made up of western students and idealist fighters who would come to the aid of the Mukti Bahini (liberation fighters) and help them fight the Pakistani Army and the Islamist forces of the Jamaat-i-Islami. Levy, at 22, went to work as a war reporter in the region covering the conflict and the subsequent intervention of the Indian military which helped bring a quick victory. Bangladesh had a bloody birth. This revelation automatically struck a chord deep within me. I realised that I to have been bitten by the bug, I realised that I have also answered this ‘call to arms’ to help the Bangladeshi struggle. The current situation in Bangladesh and the rise of radical Islamism is almost a mirror image of the fight which took place 34 years ago. The wounds of the nation have not been allowed to heal. Those that were defeated are intent on reclaiming this prize and destroying the progress that has been made.

There is something about the Bengali culture, spirit and history which has unleashed a passion from within me. I don’t believe it is because of any socialist undertones, the impression of a pending Trotsky style revolution or through the idolisation of Che Guevara and is his guerrilla war against imperialism which once drove young socialists in the 70’s. This love affair and passion is unlikely to diminish and I believe this attraction to Bangladesh will only grow and consolidate with time.

As I daily read articles, magazine and books on all things to do with Bangladesh, my appetite for knowledge of everything Bengali is perhaps becoming unsurpassed, but it brings me great sadness. I feel that I share the same type of experience as many of my Bangladeshi contemporaries who are now once again fighting for their countries identity and stability. Maybe this bond is because I have also shared the same feelings of being isolated and being left out in the wilderness; with nobody wanting to listen to my warnings. For years I had cried about the evils of radical Islamism in the UK; but nobody would dare to tackle it head on. Nobody would listen. I often stressed that with the right amount of exposure and debate it would help to stop the build up of tension and possibly avert disaster. I now put this inaction simply down to lack of will to learn; history has shown that it is often only until the worst case scenario happens that society is forced to react. I also believe that it is because no one wants to be seen to be throwing the first blow. It is often difficult to mobilise a nation to a threat that hasn’t fully materialised.

Unfortunately it took the suicide-bomb attacks in London on 7th July 2005 to change this malaise. The media have become more educated to the threat and have been more selective and assertive as a result. I have often said the UK has been the weakest link in the ‘War on Terror’, this has been backed up by anti-terrorism specialists from around the globe who have said the nation’s capital should be called ‘Londonistan’ for all the radical Islamists the government willingly hosted. I knew before the bombings that it would only take the senseless slaughter of innocent blood on British soil for there to be any change in our approach to fighting the much needed ideological war. Bombs and bullets only help to combat radical jihadi fighters on a battlefield, but they can’t destroy the ideology. We needed to start grappling with Islamism and its policies through debate and argument if we are to defeat it. Before the bombings I would watch and listen as journalists, politicians and commentators would often skirt around the issues of radical Islamism and miss their points in the process. It was only after the bombings that people began to realise the horror of our inaction; of the previous inability to talk openly about the threats we faced from radical Islamism and the gentle softly-softly treatment of its apologists in the newspapers and on television.

I know it sounds arrogant and self-righteous, but in the past whenever I had made a prediction which ran contrary to the majority of everyone else’s beliefs and got it right- I would get an immense feeling of self-satisfaction and pride. I would almost explode with adulation when proved correct; there would be no greater pleasure than saying “I told you so.” Arrogant as I once was and probably still am; now when I have success in predicting horror and despair I feel deeply let down- that I personally haven’t done enough to stop it. I don’t get any satisfaction from being right, I only feel regret.

I do believe that the current crisis which is threatening Bangladesh could have been averted; but alas time can’t be turned back, this unfortunate reality will become a part of Bangladesh’s history. However in the long run no matter how bad and dark the situation becomes, the Bengali people will once again prevail and not just over the war on radical Islamism but in general- economic and socially. The ‘spirit of liberation’ still burns in the hearts of journalists, artists, musicians, politicians. This spirit gives people the will to face amazing adversary. It now also burns within me. I have an unflinching belief that things will be alright in the end, no matter what hurdles are placed in the countries way. I also know that if things become so bad the Bengali people need not worry for long, because I know that as long as the Bangladeshi people are united in their culture and spirit that with the proper education of friends a new legion of Bernhard-Henri Levy’s will once again come to your aid. #

Chris Blackburn based in London, specialises on Islamic terrorism & Jihad and is director of the Foundation for Democracy and Global Pluralism

* To buy the book War, Evil, and the End of History by Bernhard-Herni Levy, click