My Daily Star Op-Ed
Jamaat's denial of 1971 and our collective failure
"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." -- Albert Einstein
In the context of the current controversy surrounding a few noted anti-liberation elements' statements denying the occurrence of genocide and terming the 1971 war merely a "civil war," instead of "Liberation War" as it is known to the people of Bangladesh and the rest of the world, Einstein's above saying points out at least one important aspect of our nation: we have miserably failed to deal with 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 sympathiser Shah Abdul Hannan, and Jamaat leader Qader Mullah are false and outrageous. Yet, I think we cannot get away from our own responsibilities simply by showing our anger against 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 to our Liberation War -- have raised their level of confidence. Or else, how many nations do we know of where documented war criminals dared to deny the very country's sovereignty and birth
36 years after its independence?
On the contrary, we know that even 62 years after World War II, collaborators and sympathisers of Nazis are still being prosecuted and brought to justice in many European countries. A few months ago, a man as eminent as German Nobel laureate, author Günter Grass, drew acrid criticism -- some even demanded that the Nobel laureate title be withdrawn from him -- after he confessed his involvement with the Waffen SS -- an organisation known to have committed many war crimes during WW II.
I see a lot of protest and reaction coming from the people of Bangladesh: intellectuals, freedom fighters, politicians, and secular cultural and progressive organisations. This is a good sign that shows that our nation still has not forgotten its greatest heroes and their sacrifice for liberation, and, however factionalised we might be, we will not let anyone go unchallenged if the legitimacy of this nation's birth and sacrifice is doubted.
Yet, I wonder whether we will ultimately be able to initiate trials of war criminals and collaborators. I think this way, not because we have any lack of proof, documents or witnesses as to who cooperated with the Pakistan army in killing several hundreds of thousands of freedom fighters, or who formed Al-Badr, Al-Shams, etc, but because my concern lies elsewhere.
I am afraid that, in a nation with a long history of dementia, these outbursts and protests may soon turn out to be merely whimsical, or someday the issue might lose priority in our minds. It is also not impossible that political opportunism would go in favour of those whom we are trying to put on trial, as it has happened in the past. But I truly hope that my fears do not come true.
The current interim government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has taken quite a few essential and bold steps that were long due, which most probably would not have been taken if any, given their past records, mainstream political party were currently in power.
For example, separation of judiciary from the executive branch, and prosecution of corrupt political leaders regardless of their personal status and rank. May I request his excellency the chief adviser of the caretaker government that his government take initiatives to start trials of 1971 war criminals and collaborators?
If the Mujahid-Hannan-Qader Mullah coterie could be so impudent as to deny our Liberation War when several thousand freedom fighters and political leaders, and other direct and indirect victims at the hands of the Pakostan army and their appointed local agents in 1971, are still alive, what will happen when we lose these people? 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 organisation which aims to deceive people in the name of religion. If history is to be taken into account, the use of religion in politics has always had a deleterious effect on people and society. Hence, the use of religion is banned in many countries around the world.
It is not a question of East or West. It is for our own sake, and for facilitating 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 recognise 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, tales from eyewitnesses, and the media. But, in the independent Bangladesh, I have seen to what extent Jamaat-Shibir could become dishonest, cunning, and immoral in order to grab power.
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 pallaye, Khushi hobe Allaye" (cast your vote for scale and Allah shall be happy). As if Jamaat-e-Islami was the authorised sole agent of Islam and Allah in Bangladesh!
Therefore, I need not be any more convinced than I am already about what ideals Jamaat really stands for and what role it played in 1971. Likewise, 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 (the exact figure, whether 3 million or less, is hardly an issue to me).
However, I am yet to be convinced that our leaders and 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 that no one will dare to raise questions about the legitimacy of our Liberation War. For this, identifying our enemies is just as important as identifying our heroes.
Echoing the words of valiant freedom fighter Maj. Gen. Syed Muhammad Ibrahim (Daily Star, Oct 29), I would also like to say, let us "resolve this issue once and for all."
Jahed Ahmed is co-moderator and editorial board member of www.mukto-mona.com, a South Asian network of secular humanists and freethinkers.