Monday, December 10, 2007

Jamaat's denial of 1971: What lesson (if at all) does it teach us?


"History is to the nation as memory is to the individual. As persons deprived of memory become disoriented and lost, not knowing where they have been and where they are going, so a nation denied a conception of the past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future."
-Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pulitzer Prize winner American historian & biographer

IN the context of the current controversy surrounding some noted anti-liberation and 1971 war collaborators’ statements denying the occurrence of genocide and terming ’71 war merely a ‘civil war’, instead of ‘liberation war’ as it is known to the people of Bangladesh and the rest of the world, historian Arthur Schlesinger's above saying points out at least one important character of our nation: we forget our heroes but forgive our proven enemies. We have miserably failed to deal with and decide on an issue that largely defines our country’s birth, history and glory. Needless to say, the statements made by the Jamaat Secretary General Ali Ahsan Mujahidi, Jamaat sympathizer Shah Abdul Hannan and Jamaat leader Quader Mullah are false and outrageous; yet I think we cannot get away from our own responsibilities simply by showing our outburst at them. They said it because we, collectively, may have helped them arrive at a stage where they think they do not, or need not remember their anti-liberation role in 1971; they see themselves more as the legitimate leaders of an Islamic political party which exerts significant influence in the political arena of Bangladesh. And that did not happen overnight. Years of opportunistic, unpatriotic and power hungry political trends—common among the main stream political parties including the one that led our liberation war—have raised their level of confidence. Or else, how many nations do we know of where the documented war criminals dared to deny the very country’s sovereignty and birth as early as 36 years after its independence? To the contrary, we know, even 62 years after the World War II, collaborators and sympathizers of Nazis are still being prosecuted and brought to justice in many European countries. A few months ago, a man as eminent German Nobel Laureate author Günter Grass drew acrid criticism—some even demanded the Nobel Laureate title be withdrawn from him—after he confessed his involvement with the Waffen S.S.—an organization known to have committed many war crimes during WW II.

I see a lot of protests and reactions coming out from the people of Bangladesh: intellectuals; freedom fighters; politicians; secular, cultural & progressive organizations and beyond. This is a good sign that shows, our nation still has not forgotten its greatest heroes and their sacrifice for liberation and however factionalized and divided otherwise we might be, we would not let anyone go unchallenged if the legitimacy of this nation’s birth and sacrifice is doubted. Yet I have some concerns whether ultimately we would be able to initiate trials of war criminals and collaborators. I think so not because we have any lack of proof, documents or witnesses as to who those people were that cooperated with the Pak army in killing several hundreds of thousands of freedom fighters, or who formed Al-Badr, Al-Shams etc killer forces; my concern, rather, lies elsewhere. I am afraid, as a nation with long history of dementia, these outbursts and protests may soon turn out to be just a whim or someday the issue might lose priority in our minds. It is also not impossible, political opportunism would instead go in favor of those whom we are trying to put on trial, as it has happened in the past. But I truly hope my fears do not come true.

The current interim government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has taken quite a few essential and bold steps (although I have reservations about certain actions of his government) that were long due and given their past history, most probably would not have been taken if any main stream political party ascended to power. For example, separation of judiciary from the executive branch; prosecuting corrupt political leaders regardless of their personal status and ranks. May I request His Excellency the Chief Adviser of the caretaker government that his government takes initiative to start trials of 1971 war criminals and collaborators? If Mujahidi-Hannan–Quader Mullah gang could show impudence of denying our liberation war when several thousands of freedom fighters, political leaders, organizers, sector commanders, and other direct and indirect victims in the hand of Pak army and their appointed local agents in 1971 are still alive, what might happen when some day we would lose these people from us? Do we wish to leave behind a history of our nation’s birth with a question mark for our present and future generations? We must find answers to these questions. Let us also not forget, Bangladesh was not liberated for becoming a platform for any opportunistic person, political party or organization which deceives people in the name of religion. If history is to be taken into account, the use of religion in politics has always had deleterious effect on people and society. Hence the use of religion is banned in any civilized society. It is not a question of East or West. It is for our own sake, and to facilitate ways to a pluralistic, democratic and progressive Bangladesh that we need to ban all political use of religion, be it Islam or any other kind. We do not want our motherland getting transformed into another Afghanistan, Pakistan or Nigeria. Of course, those who did not recognize this country’s liberation and have no faith in its sovereignty would always try otherwise.

I was born in 1972 in independent Bangladesh. All my knowledge about 1971 is based on secondary information and sources: books, tale from eyewitnesses and the media. But in the independent Bangladesh I saw, to what extent Jamaat-Shibir could become dishonest, hypocrite and immoral in order to grab power. For years, they have been deceiving and exploiting the religiosity of this country’s people in the name of Islam. I vividly remember the wall writing of Jamaat during elections in Bangladesh: “Vote dile pallay, Khushi hobe Allay” (Cast your vote on Scale Symbol and Allah shall be happy). As if Jamaat-e-Islami was the authorized sole agent of Islam and Allah in Bangladesh! Therefore, I need not be any more convinced than I am already as to what "ideals" (!) Jamaat-Shibir really stand for and what role they played in 1971. To the contrary, I do not have even a shred of doubt about the courage, devotion and patriotism of several millions of men and women who sacrificed their lives for our independence (that the exact figure, whether 3 million or less, is hardly an issue to me). However, I am yet to be convinced that our leaders, politicians really care about this country and its people. If they do, I am sure they will unite, work collectively and take steps to ensure- no one in the future would dare to raise question about the legitimacy of our liberation war. In this direction, identifying our enemies is just as important as our heroes.

Echoing the words of valiant freedom fighter Syed Muhammad Ibrahim (Daily Star, Oct.29, 2007), I would also like to say, let us “resolve this issue once and for all.” #

First published in Mukto-Mona, New York on 01 November, 2007

Jahed Ahmed is co-moderator and editorial board member of Mukto-Mona (, a South Asian Network of Secular Humanists and Freethinkers E-mail: