There are two distinct aspects of the war crimes trial. One is of the role of individuals in committing crimes against humanity and how guilty one is, and the commensurate punishment that should be meted out. These are matters of law, of evidence, of witness, testimony, interpretation. These we leave to the ICT and our highest judiciary to determine.
The other is the bigger question of genocide and the historical legacy of betrayal, subversion, denunciation of our most sacred cause and conspiring with and abetting those who wanted to obliterate us as a people, as a culture and as a nation. It deals with our very birth, the reason for our independence movement, the meaning of the events that culminated into our armed struggle and, most importantly, the reason behind millions of our people laying down their lives.
There is nothing greater and more glorious than our Liberation War, and there can be no greater crime than committing genocide and all that it entails in an attempt to prevent our freedom.
This is where many of us, as freedom fighters, as patriots, and as ordinary citizens of the country, cannot comprehend the role of one of our biggest political parties, namely the BNP. Its ambivalence, indifference and, according to many, near hostility towards the events of 1971, and especially the genocide, leave those of us who lived through those events absolutely flabbergasted. How can a political party that enjoys significant public support and has twice been elected to government, and may be elected again, be so absolutely silent about the biggest and the most gruesome crime ever committed against us as a people?
Whenever questioned about the war crimes trial the BNP’s reply has been that they are definitely in favour of trial of the “real” war criminals, implying that those being tried are not.
Who are those “real” war criminals that BNP is alluding to? It has never named them or even hinted as to who they might be. There have been occasions when some BNP leaders said that AL must try Razakars within its own party. So is it BNP’s position that those Razakars who are now within the ruling party are the “real” war criminals? Wasn’t Ghulam Azam the chief of Jamaat during the War of Liberation? Wasn’t Matiur Rahman Nizami the head of Al-Badr at that time, how did Abdur Quader Mollah come to be known a ‘butcher of Mirpur,’ wasn’t Mojaheed the head of Islami Chhatra Sangha, the student wing of Jamaat then, and wasn’t Kamaruzzaman a local leader of the same organisation? Wasn’t Jamaat collaborating with the Pakistan army, whose target was our freedom fighters and the goal was to destroy our freedom struggle? Weren’t millions of Bangladeshis killed during those crucial nine months? And if so, aren’t some people responsible? If so, then is it not our duty to find who those people were?
BNP can say that the list of war criminals prepared by AL is incomplete and that there are many others who should be tried. This can be quite an acceptable position. But to literally say that “real” criminals are not among those who are being tried is really trying to falsify history and, here we agree with Sheikh Hasina, BNP is trying to save those being tried for war crimes.
BNP’s ‘damn care’ attitude towards our Liberation War and what it means to us the freedom fighters, to the nation and to the people in general was most disgustingly revealed when it used the word “genocide” to describe the deaths that occurred during Hefajat’s gathering in Dhaka.
Just for the sake of argument let us accept Hefajat’s version of the event (though they failed to substantiate the claim till today, and which we contested in our reports). The question is why should BNP use the word “genocide” to describe those deaths knowing full well its significance in our Liberation War history? How can the BNP equate the Hefajat incident to the events of 1971 and the killing of millions of our people, the rape of many thousands women, the destruction of thousands of villages, and making twenty million of our people into refugees—something that in our collective memory is connoted by one word, “genocide”?
The question becomes all the more pertinent when we consider that the trial of those accused of committing “genocide” is going on in the country after 42 years of waiting. Will it be unfair if we accuse BNP of deliberately corroding the historical significance—and thereby diminishing the memory of the crime that it signifies—of the word ‘genocide’ by using it in such an inappropriate instance.
I asked a BNP leader whom I know from my St. Gregory school days about it. He flew into a rage and said: “See the dictionary. It is a common English word and why can’t we use it?” If that is the level of sensitivity BNP leaders have for the biggest tragedy that had befallen our nation then we really have a fundamental “clash of values” with this party. Why does the word “Holocaust” have a special meaning for the Jewish people? While I condemn them for the way they are treating the Palestinians, I cannot support former Iranian president’s attempt to trivialise it. BNP is also trivialising our sacred history when they use words like ‘genocide’ in such a cavalier manner.
BNP has so far shied away from making its position clear about the war crimes trial. People can have questions, as we ourselves do, about the procedural aspects of the trial. But the fact is that the crimes against humanity did occur in 1971 is well established. Questioning that, or trivialising the historic events of our independence struggle and especially making light of the genocidal attack on our innocent and freedom loving people cannot be and will never be accepted.
Given our political culture, it is expected that BNP will oppose everything the AL does, regardless of its merit. However, it is not expected that BNP will oppose history just because AL is trying to uphold it.
The writer is Editor & Publisher, The Daily Star.