• Thursday, October 23, 2014

GROUND REALITIES

Truth, ethics . . . and hypocrisy

Syed Badrul Ahsan

THERE are certain truths we do not tamper with when it comes to dealing with history. Unlike men like David Irving, we have no reason to question the Holocaust and the reality of six million Jews perishing at the hands of the Nazis.
Like so many men and women around the world, we are saddened every time a Japanese prime minister treks down to the Yasukuni shrine to pay homage to Japanese soldiers who died in the Second World War. We are unhappy because these dead men were among many who, in imperial Japan, laid millions of lives waste in China and Korea and elsewhere in the Far East.
We do not question the gruesome manner in which Japan's soldiers killed tens of thousands of Chinese in what has come to be known as the Nanjing Massacre in the 1930s. Our concern is not with how many were killed in Nanjing --- 300,000 or 155,000 or 200,000 --- but with the truth that genocide was committed, that it is a reality we cannot and must not question.
We do not take kindly to anyone who seeks to inform us that it was the communists in Indonesia who were behind the abortive coup in September 1965, a tragedy that left a number of senior military officers murdered. What we do know, and accept as the truth, is that the Indonesian army, led by General Suharto, went on a long rampage and would not stop until it had killed a million Indonesians.
The world does not question, and morally should not, the reality that the Khmer Rouge, in their frenzy to push Cambodia into what they thought would be a pastoral past, ended up killing anywhere between one and a half to two and a half million Cambodians. The scars remain, despite the passage of time.
Because we do not play truant with history, we do not disrespect the three million Bengalis who died at the hands of the Pakistan army and its local collaborators in 1971. Tikka Khan's assertion that only two passers-by were killed on 25 March 1971 or the Hamoodur Rahman Commission's finding that 26,000 Bengalis were murdered in 1971 is a badly peddled lie. The truth is in what men like R.J. Rummel have gone to pains to unearth about Bangladesh's sad legacy. Observe:
'. . . the Pakistani army killed 100,000 Bengalis in Dacca, 150,000 in Khulna, 75,000 in Jessore, 95,000 in Comilla, and 100,000 in Chittagong.'


A mere glimpse into what would be an ever-widening tragedy.
And Susan Brownmiller speaks of the Bengali women raped by Pakistan's soldiers:
'. . . 200,000, 300,000 or possibly 400,000 women (three sets of statistics have been variously quoted) were raped. Eighty per cent of the raped women were Moslems . . .'
Sit back and do your mathematics. And what you then have is an unassailable truth you cannot ignore. Those who question the Bengali death figures of 1971 are doing what Holocaust deniers have attempted doing over the decades.
There are assaults on our history elsewhere as well. And, predatory in nature as they are, calculated to create mischief, they must be fended off ruthlessly. There are elements, both in Bangladesh and outside it, who keep up the refrain of the 1971 conflict being a civil war between East and West Pakistan. They are wrong. Or they deliberately provoke us to outrage. Or they do not understand history.
In 1971, the war was between an occupied Bangladesh and a militarily aggressive Pakistan. An already gathering political crisis took an eerie new dimension, of a brutal kind, when the Pakistan army pounced, in the dark, on the people of Bangladesh. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did not decree that Bangladesh was a free state until the Pakistanis launched Operation Searchlight. Bangladesh became a free state, albeit under occupation, when it came under violent attack by Pakistan.
It was no civil war. Neither was it secession by any stretch of the imagination.
Secession was when the southern states of the United States of America, calling themselves the Confederate States of America, decided to move out of the union in 1861 over the issue of slavery. Secession occurred when eastern Nigeria, led by Odumegwu Ojukwu, declared itself the independent republic of Biafra and moved out of the federation of Nigeria. Secession happened when Moise Tshombe chose to take Katanga out of a newly independent Congo.
The United States eventually returned to being a full-blooded, unified family in 1865. Biafra, unable to beat off the pressure exerted on it by Nigeria, capitulated in 1970. Katanga was simply unable to go its own way and a few years later Tshombe took charge as prime minister of the Congo.
Bangladesh did not lose the war against Pakistan because it had not seceded from Pakistan. The Pakistan army launched a blitzkrieg against Bangladesh. The Bengalis hit back hard. Morality was on the side of the Bengalis and so was political discretion.
History apart, there are the self-righteous who speak to us of the need to uphold international standards as we seek justice over the war crimes committed forty three years ago. Observe the fact sheet, theirs:
International standards were not followed when Iraq was invaded, occupied and destroyed in 2003.
Nothing of international standards was there when Afghanistan was occupied by the western powers in 2001.
The law and decency became casualties when America did not take Osama bin Laden alive and put him on trial but gunned him down before disposing of his corpse in the sea.
The sham of a trial the fallen Saddam Hussein was subjected to came nowhere close to a preservation of international standards.
Panama's Manuel Noriega was abducted on George H.W. Bush's orders and lodged in prison in America. International standards were nowhere to be seen.
Rendition flights seized suspected terrorists and had them maltreated in countries known for brutality. Where were international standards of justice here?
Hypocrisy is no substitute for ethics. And inhabitants of glass houses ought not to proffer advice to those who live in poverty-driven yet enduring tenements.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, May 14, 2014

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