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Saturday, January 14, 2012
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Underlying meaning of war crimes trial

Giving Sheikh Hasina her due

The arrest of Ghulam Azam marks a significant step forward in the trial of those accused of crimes against humanity. It is our hope and expectation that the trial will meet the highest standards of law and fairness. For this, as a Bangladeshi, as a Bangalee, and as someone who had the honour of being one among millions to have joined the Liberation War in 1971, I am, and I am sure millions like me, are most deeply grateful to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and proud of what she has done.

Those of us, who had the singular privilege of being involved in the independence war, are witness to the fact that with the assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975 a deliberate deconstruction of the history of our independence war was set afoot.

To justify Sheikh Mujib's assassination, what he stood for and what he achieved -- the biggest of which was founding the state of Bangladesh -- had to be destroyed, or at the minimum, distorted. As dismantling the new born state was neither possible nor would it be acceptable to the people, so a state sponsored campaign was launched to distort the history of the greatest moment of the nation's existence, and the most treasured moment of the lives of those who participated in it -- namely our Liberation War.

Perhaps the most painful distortion was to deprive ourselves and our children from knowing about the great mass struggle that led to our birth, and about which country and whose army carried out the most heinous genocide of our people. So the name of Pakistan simply disappeared from the narratives of Liberation War. The soldiers who killed our people were termed "hanadar bahini" (attacking army) without any identification of who they were and where they came from. As if they dropped from the sky without any cultural, national, or political identity. Not only the identity but also the full description of what the so-called "hanadar bahini" did was removed from the accounts of the 1971 war. This we sight as a concrete example of how deep the attempt was to prevent our knowing of the truth.

Similarly those who opposed Bangladesh's liberation war were depicted as actually opposing Indian aggression, and not the legitimate aspiration of the Bangla speaking people of the then Pakistan. According to this version of "history" Jamaat-e-Islami was not a party holding the hands of killers who butchered the people of future Bangladesh, but protectors of the sovereignty of Pakistan. In this narrative the brutal suppression of the Bangla speaking people of the then East Pakistan, the genocide, the rapes, the destruction of homes and properties, stories of hundreds of bodies with hands tied at the back floating in rivers were totally removed, and replaced by stories of how the Indian army waged a war against Pakistan and took over its eastern wing.

It was even propagated that the killing of intellectuals on December 14, 1971 -- just two days before Bangladesh was to be born -- was carried out by Indian spies to intellectually dominate the new country.

However, the distortion of Bangalee culture started much earlier, from the very birth of Pakistan, when attempt was made to impose Urdu as the only national language. It was propagated that Bangalee culture and music, Bangalee dress, Bangalee traditions, in fact everything that had to do with our Bangalee identity, were all Hindu in origin. All of those needed to be shunned if we wanted to lead a pious Islamic life.

I remember hearing from my father how every attempt to demand our cultural, linguistic, economic and social rights were depicted as attempt by Indian agents to weaken Pakistan. As young students we remember hearing them also. As freedom fighters we used to hear the same thing over Pakistan Radio and in the speeches of the leaders of Jamaat and the so-called Peace Committees during the nine months that the war lasted.

In our wildest of nightmares we never thought we would hear it in post liberation Bangladesh. However, with greatest of pain we had to listen to such narratives in independent Bangladesh following the killing of Bangabandhu. From 1975 till 1996 this narrative, this falsehood, this distortion, this outrage continued.

We are justly proud of the defeat of autocracy and restoration of democracy in 1991. But even the democratically elected government of Khaleda Zia did not restore the proper narrative of our Liberation War. To the best of my knowledge even during 1991-1996, when BNP was in power, mentioning Pakistan and its army as the perpetrators of genocide was not permitted and the "hanadar bahini" narrative continued.

One does not have to hate Pakistan (in fact this writer only hates the Pakistan of 1971 and not the Pakistan of today) to mention that it was its army of 1971 that carried out the most heinous crime against our people. Do the French, the Poles, the Czechs, the English, other Europeans, or the Americans not mention the Nazis being Germans, and write history and make films of what atrocities they committed? This they did and do, in spite of their closest of relationships with Germany in the post Second World War era. So why did the regime of Gen Ziaur Rahman, HM Ershad, and Khaleda Zia shy away from acknowledging what was a fact of history, and matter of tragedy on one hand and pride on the other? Why did they continue to subscribe to the distortion of the greatest moment of our history? What sort of inferiority complex, and slave mentality made them disown the proudest moment of our history? We will wait for experts to give us the answer.

But meanwhile we know that it was only after the election of Awami League government, and Sheikh Hasina becoming the prime minister that Liberation War and the narratives of 1971 found their proper place. There are distortions in the AL narratives also -- like Tajuddin, Syed Nazrul Islam, Mansur Ali, and many other war heroes not being given their due honour. But that is a different debate and we will argue it separately.

Today, as a national of an independent Bangladesh and as a freedom fighter I am proud that we are able to put on trial those people who opposed our freedom, and our right to be ourselves. And in trying to deprive us of that right they did not hesitate to kill our people including women and children, and burn our homes and properties. What they were fundamentally trying to do was to destroy our very essence of being. Even after our birth as a nation, these people carried out international campaigns to prevent our recognition, so that we could not receive the support and assistance for our growth and prosperity. In fact they never gave up trying to destroy us.

As we know from our recent past, under no other leadership would we have the trial of war criminals and of those who committed crimes against humanity. For this we thank you, Sheikh Hasina.

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Thank you Mahfuz Anam for this great commentary on our history.

: Nick Amir

This government is a successful one, in case of its commitment to bring war criminals under trial. Everybody would agree with me Azam not only a mentor of peace committee who opposed our independence but also heniously killed innocent people of our country. We are deeply greatful to Prime ministera for recent move and hope governmet able to show its courage and impertiality in every steps of the trial.

: Mizanur Rahman(SAU)


  • Mehdi Sheikh
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 01:44 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    This is all well and good. The criminal must be brought to justice. Those who demand justice must be granted it. But the article by Anthony Maskarhenas also mentioned war crimes commited by Bangladeshis against the Bihaaris living in BD in 1971, and because they are a minority in the country they still have no voice and are probably afraid to come out to demand the justice that they deserve.

    A nation is surely judged by how well it treats its minorities. Lets see some investigative journalism into the truth of this matter and lets see some justice if they are true.

  • Karim
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 01:58 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Al and 14 parties are new rajakars who are working very hard to sell Bangladesh to India. Ghulam Azam did not do any wrong by supporting Pakistan.

  • Enrg. Rafiqul Islam
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 03:17 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    A voice of millions and you inked by your pen in time.

    Appreciate and let your pen never stop to ink the truth.

  • Ashad
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 01:58 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    It is good to see at least one editor could become impartial by giving the prime minister her due. It is shameful to see a section of print media is continuously spreading hatred against the PM when she is tirelessly trying to establish the rights of ordinary people. Our freedom is safe only in the hands of the present government. Let's get united and give our hands to the Prime Minister to make our dreams come true. Don't let her down.

  • Md Musa
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 02:31 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    I cannot imagine what kind of hell will break loose if the alliance that is currently allied with the hardcore war criminals come back to power in near future.

  • faqrul quadir
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 02:03 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Today we live in country of divided politics and divided ideology which you have very rightly narrated in your historical perspective of the trail of Golam Azam and your acknowledgement of the success of Sheikh Hasina for going through the trail of the war criminals under a very adverse national and international political reaction and indifference to hold the trail in the name of excuses whose stock is perhaps empty now. Our heartfelt thanks to you Mahfuz Anam for putting things in right perspective for those who saw the war of liberation and people's power winning over the political evil design and earn independence after a supreme sacrifice. Subsequent history is well narrated and showing our failure to uphold the correct history of the war of liberation. The political conflict and narrowness of the leadership have painfully ignored or down played the liberation heroes you have mentioned.

  • Liton
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 02:08 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    AL govt is a bad one, BNP is not the exception. Look for the 3rd and democratic force in Bangladesh, Perhaps, Prof. Yunus. Bangladesh need to move forward, why you are encouraging a division in the country? Don't you think Hasina govt has any better things to do? Country will not be gained one by jailing jamaati's - instead, it will drag it further down. Don't encourage the PM.

  • Nazim
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 03:43 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    I don't think the Prime Minister Sheik Hasina is interested for the trial of the war criminals, she is only interested to crash opposition political parties in the name of war crime. If she was sincere she would have bring her party members to the justice who were involved in war crime, she also have relatives who are war criminals. So where is the justice?

  • rch
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 04:32 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    The traitors always got patronage from AL/BNP/JP--Should not we bring them to justice too?

  • ary
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 04:46 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Who gave you the right to distort history? you still have the mentality of slavery of pre-1947. Had it not been for 47? You would not been able to carry your name. it would have been mutated. Don't dabble in European history with your fickle mind. remember victors never write the truth.

  • drkarim
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 05:06 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    We have a mixed nation with mixed culture and this is the time that this nation stands together on basis of nationalism which is more important and superior than aspiration of AL and going to power again only. So, what this govt is doing is a national issue rather than a AL issue. All stake holders are on notice about this difference about trial of war criminals. Otherwise history may not forgive anyone on background of hunger for justice of 30 lakhs innocents who were brutally killed .

  • shimul
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 05:38 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Who shall we thank for innumerable political murders, disappearances, unrest at universities, border killings and the silence of the Bangladesh regime, the stealth of our share market, the eating out of our reserve fund of the central bank, the capture of our private job market by the Indian nations, the loss of our territorial integrity, the Farakka and Tipaimukh barrages, etc?

  • Abdul Kahhar
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 07:24 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Let 195 Pakistani war criminal be pardoned and free. Now try few collaborators as war criminal and say expectations have been met by Awami League! Very interesting indeed!

  • Anjan Kumar Das, Canada
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 08:33 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Those Zia, Khaleda, Ershad did not dismantle Bangladesh physically just to enjoy the chair/position of President/Prime minister. That's why they made every effort to convert Bangladesh into a pseudo Pakistan. Gratitude to Prime Minister.

  • Maswood Ul Alam
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 10:01 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Thank you Mr Mafuz Anam for your excellent write up.

  • Mozammel Khan
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 10:27 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    A timely commentary reflecting the thoughts of millions.

  • Ahsan Shahriar
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 10:31 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    A great luminous commentary by Mahfuz Anam. Our new generation to day would be benefited to know the true history of the oppression continued to the Bangalee, Bangladeshi people and its cultural heritage during East Pakistan and even after the glorious birth of Bangladesh.

    Our new generation should identify those coterie of people in Bangladesh who dare to continue the propaganda against Bangalee, its culture and the true essence of liberation war soon after assassination of Bangabandhu in 1975.

  • A Bangalee
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:10 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    If Jamaat is contaminated, then how Sheikh Hasina formed government with its help? Her father surrendered to Pakistan army when freedom fighters were waging war? Her mother got 1700 taka a month from the Pakistan government. How her father killed 40,000 people including a large number freedom fighters?

  • Anonymous
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:14 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    India did not join the freedom fighters not out of love for Bangladeshis, but break Pakistan to lower its defense cost.

  • Rana H. Mahmud
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:31 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Thank you Mr Anam for your article. We must not stop here. We must socially boycott not only anti-liberation forces but those who support them politically and intellectually.

  • Sam
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:44 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Great commentary and analysis. A truly brilliant piece by Mahfuz Anam!

  • Habib Khondker
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:57 AM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Congratulations on a brilliant and soul-searching editorial commentary.

  • Abdur Rashid
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 12:10 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Zahir Raihan was killed by not those, but our people who are still in politics today because the great film maker captured secretly what those leaders did in Calcutta during the time. Mr Mahfuz Anam did not depict this side of the story unfortunately. What about those who are involved directly in war crime and crime against humanity within both major political parties? Truth must prevail.

  • Malay Mridha
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 12:36 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Thank you Mr Anam for a well-written article.

  • Moazzem Hossain
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 01:42 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    An honest assessment about the trial of war crimes committed in 1971. The PM and her govt. deserve credit for the courage and determination shown over the last three years. Long live the liberation spirit.

  • HIMU
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 02:02 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    It is unfortunate that Zia being a freedom fighter later dumped our liberation war values and made Bangladesh Pakistan again. If BNP could be a pro-liberation war party then a healthy democracy and politics could grow and people could vote for BNP as an alternative. If you believe in liberation war, you are forced to vote AL - the lesser evil. Voting BNP-Jamaat is like throwing the baby away with the water.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012 04:44 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Biharis were the looters and Pak collaborators too during the liberation war. In every communal riot in the then East Pakistan Beharis led all the killings and loot of Hindus as I saw during 1964 riot at Dhaka. Mascarhanas did not know this fact. So, Biharis got what they deserved after the liberation of Bangladesh. We all must resist the comeback to power of the alliance that is currently allied with the hardcore war criminals to avoid mass carnage of Bangalees again.

  • rahim
    Saturday, January 14, 2012 03:11 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    True, but we need to understand, why and under what circumstances the peace committee was formed, what they did and it was not formed what would have been the consequence, the death toll would have been raised from 3 million to 30 million probably, we hope to have a very fair and free trial to punish the real criminal whose who had been directly participated in killing and looting.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012 04:34 PM GMT+06:00 (213 weeks ago)

    Mahfuz Anam you are my hero. I am a living history of our liberation struggle and post-era in East-Pakistan. Deliberate distortion and dubiously painted history have actually confused many minds of post-1975 generation of the country. Being an academician and closely associated with many of our Bangladeshi students in USA, I am often asked to tell them the true story of the birth of Bangladesh as I tell them the pre and post-era of Pakistan design of killing our own culture and selves. Specifically, the rehabilitation of Jamaat and honoring those heinous Pak agents by BNP and their followers is a very question of our real history. Mr Anam's courageous comments are long waited points for us to expand and give more media attention. The Hasina govt. deserves our gratitude to try these war criminal traitors.





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