Several misconceptions are afloat around the war crimes trials in Bangladesh, as well as the Shahbag Square protests, that are putting pressure on the government to take concrete steps against the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh.
Critics of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) have voiced reservations about the process of the trial, some have dubbed it ‘unfair’. Another allegation is that the trials are being used against political rivals and ‘opposition’ political figures. Such concerns have percolated through the western media, lobbied by a well-oiled PR machinery working on behalf of a few leading Jamaat figures.
What these detractors fail to understand is that the country, after sending a powerful army back to the barracks through a popular uprising in 1989, is trying its best to get back to its founding principles—the syncretic secular values of the Bengali culture. It is also extremely important for them to have a closure to events surrounding the ’71 war of liberation—a massively emotive issue among a majority of Bangladeshis, both in the country and abroad. The ict is a major step towards these goals.
The country and the state hasn’t created lynch mobs or death squads, or set up summary trials and simply kill opposition leaders, many of whom had admitted to have been involved in the atrocities committed in 1971. The ict is pursuing the rule of law—however flawed—based on established norms. Also, let us not forget that the establishment of such special tribunals have always been a matter of huge debate all over the world—hailed or abused depending on which side tends to be on trial.
One sees mostly simplistic commentaries in the Indian and the international media. The huge gatherings at Shahbag Square are not about demanding death for a few Jamaat leaders. It is a lot more than that. It is going to decide which way Bangladesh will turn—towards its secular base founded on syncretism, or towards religious extremism, an alien concept imported by the Jamaat.
Leading figures of the current movement that calls itself ‘Generation 70’ did not even witness the war of liberation in ’71 and the atrocities committed by the brutal Pakistani army and its collaborators—Jamaat-led groups like Razakars and al-Badar. Memories of those atrocities have been etched forever in the collective consciousness of the nation. But this younger generation is not just drawing inspiration from memories; one must keep in mind that many of them did lose near and dear ones, killed by the collaborators. Not surprisingly, their demand for justice for the 1971 atrocities resonated with Bangladeshis, and they spontaneously began converging on Shahbag Square.
In a way, this younger generation has been able to rekindle the spirit of the 1952 language movement, which was mounted against attempts by the ruling West Pakistani elite to impose Urdu as the national language on the Bengali-speaking East Pakistan. That year also laid the foundation for a dream of a secular nation, a dream fulfilled in 1971 after a mass uprising followed by a bloody, nine-month war. Similarly, a multitude poured on to the streets in December 1989, fought pitched battles with soldiers, and forced the military dictatorship to abdicate power.
What these crucial events in the history of Bangladesh establish is that its people have a tremendous capacity to correct the path of its polity whenever it veered away from its core value of liberal syncretism.
Jamaat, an extension of the Salafist doctrine, is a living refutation of these Bangladeshi ideals. Hence, throughout the ’80s and the ’90s, targets of Jamaat and its associated terror groups such as JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh), JMJB (Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh) or HUJI (Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami) were the progressive, secular elements of society and rural women empowered by NGOs.
The Jamaat is also in a desperate struggle. They can sense the rising public sentiment against them; thus they have embarked on a path of violent confrontation with the state. By blaming India, Hindus in Bangladesh and orchestrating attacks on minorities, they are merely trying to divert attention from the real issues.
The Shahbag Square uprising, fuelled by the elite, middle class and subalterns alike—in sharp contrast to the Anna Hazare-led movement in India—finds Bangladesh in another watershed moment in its history. The world is witnessing a course correction of momentous nature, but unfortunately fails to grasp its importance. Like 1952 and 1971, this uprising appears to be the beacon that will decide Bangladesh’s future.
(The writer is former executive editor for South and West Asia of the BBC World Service)
Nazes Afroz’s impassioned column in support of his country and the new fight for its very soul was brilliant (Kerbside History, Mar 18). Every patriotic Indian will support Afroz, for if secularism is valuable for us, it’s also important for Bangladesh.
Arindam Chakravarty, Jalpaiguri
Bangladesh founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman succeeded in banning the Jamaat and four other groups that collaborated with Pakistan, and passed ordinances like the Collaborators Order and the International Crimes Tribunals Act to bring them to trial. But he was unable to paper over the factionalism within the newly- constituted Bangladesh army. Then they followed—the coup, Mujib’s killing, and a long, dark era of military dictatorship and Islamisation. The grandchildren of the ’71 generation now want to finish the task of bringing the likes of Abdul Qader Mollah to justice. The Shahbag protests are about a long overdue justice, about ending a historical wrong.
Shyamal Barua, Calcutta
The first Bangladeshi I knew was a classmate who was fiercely nationalistic. Indeed, he went on to join the country’s air force. The second friend was a junior, son of a Bangladeshi diplomat, who used to procure treasured Heineken beer from the high commission stores. Over the years, as I got to know more Bangladeshis, a certain friendliness and frankness seemed to diminish. Maybe one can attribute it to Jamaat influence.
Ashutosh Kaul, Toronto
These 20 some bloggers of Shahbag, backed by India and Awami League, are just implementing govt’s agenda of divide the nation through anarchy to impede popular national demand of a fair national election under a caretaker govt.
Every Bangladeshi now wants to know :
1. Where these handful of Shahbag bloggers were when the thugs of Awami League looted and siphoned Tk.12,000 crore from 6 million small investors in share market in 2010. Why they were not punished as per findings and recommendations of Ibrahim Khaled Inquiry Commission?
2. Where were they when Awami League’s Board Members of state-owned Sonali Bank and Awami League’s political Advisors helped Hallmark Group to loot Taka.6,000 crore from Sonali Bank ?
3. Where were they when MLM Company Destiny looted and siphoned Tkaka.4,000 crore innocent people’s money?
4. Where wear they when World Bank cancelled Padma Bridge loan for proven corruption involvement of Communication Minister Abul Hossain?
Mujib succeeded in banning the Jamaat and four other groups that had collaborated with the Pakistani forces, and passed ordinances such as the Collaborators Order and the International Crimes (Tribunals) Act to bring them to trial. However, he was unable to paper over the factionalism within the newly-formed Bangladeshi armed forces. In 1975, a military coup overthrew Mujib's government, assassinated him, scrapped the Collaborators Order, allowed the hitherto banned groups to resurface, and permitted leading perpetrators of war crimes to return to the country.
While after the liberation war in 1971, barring the Bangladeshis who were directly invoved in wanton killing and rape, Mujib had given a general pardon to most, but o
On behalf of parents and grandparents, the Bangladeshi youth have been unable to forgive Quader Mollah and his ilk, and the reactions we see on the streets are a response to that (un)forgiveness. All of these emotional processes intersect with the notions that the narrative of the war is primarily about being victimised, and the history of Bangladesh has not been accurately documented amidst politically co-opted, and conflicted narratives, including constant revisions in textbooks by the party in power. These notions lead to angst associated with not having an accurate sense of one's history. Ergo, the trauma of war remains (with the angst), and has been intergenerationally transmitted, along with its unresolved component.
Ultimately, Shahbag is important because it gives Bangladesh a chance to resolve its harrowing past by ensuring the successful conclusion of the ongoing trials under the International War Crime Tribunal with attention to due process.
First Bagladeshi I really knew was a classmate. Fiercely nationalist he always talked about dying for his new nation . He did go back and reportedly joined Bangladesh air force. Second one was my junior who for some reason took a shine to me. Being the son of a senior diplomat posted at Delhi ,he had access to Heiniken beer from the high commission stores. That made him very dear to me, especially because he would bring them in every time we wanted some free beer and he himself did not drink. As time progressed I came to know several other individuals, sadly both the above quotients ; nationalism and openness has kept on nose diving. Maybe it is the saudi money ,or Jammat's influence... I still know quite a few including my very caring and efficient doctor. I can say this from personal experience that mostly they are still unlike a Pakistani. Believe me this is my way of complimenting them and hope that they keep that difference.
"In West Bengal, Bengali's don't think about the border with Bangladesh....We as a people evaluating our own erudition and understanding, might wonder, if the 'Jamaat' mentioned in Mr. A. G. Noorani's book, has any relation or connection to the context in this piece." Aditya Mookerjee
I as a reader of Outlook evaluating your own erudition and understanding have often wondered if you have any relation or connection to Planet Earth (the third planet from the sun in our solar system).
>> "In West Bengal, Bengali's don't think about the border with Bangladesh. Also... mumble-jumble mumble-jumble..." - Aditya Mookerjee
Let me make your incomprehensible rant easy for everyone by highlighting the crux of your statement: "Bengalis don't think."
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