People, who kill God’s creation in the name of religion, neither serve God nor religion. Forty two years after independence Bangladesh is in search of its soul once again. When in 1971 Bangladesh achieved its freedom, for many it was a definitive proof that a country formed on the basis of religious affinity could not sustain in the civilized world. At that moment, it was natural that the US, the greatest democracy on earth, established with the promise to give its citizens freedom from religious persecution, would side with the new nation. Unfortunately, America was found on the wrong side of history in that seminal moment.
The freedom movement, ignited by the fiery speech of Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was spontaneous. Only a handful minority of Muslim fundamentalists, blinded with their religious zeal betrayed the spirit of freedom and collaborated with the oppressive Pakistani forces, abetting them in their heinous crimes against Bangladeshi people. The most vicious of those native collaborators, known as rajakars and albadrs, competed with the occupying army in pillaging, raping, setting arsons, and murdering innocent people to intimidate the freedom fighters. The most notorious of those rajakars killed hundreds of people, and they were well known and marked.
It was expected that those collaborators would be brought to justice for their atrocious actions in the new nation. But for the rulers of the war-ravaged country, which was facing a major famine and scores of other problems, ‘ the other priorities’ took precedence, and the lion-hearted Sheikh declared general amnesty for all those rajakars, which later proved to be a blunder that he had to atone with his own life .
Only in four years the country was ravaged in bloodbath, the Father of the Nation was killed along with most of his family members, and the political power was captured by a former Pakistani spy, Ziaur Rahman. By that time Sheikh Mujib was a much despised man, an unprecedented fall from grace for a venerated leader, only for his nepotism and wide spread corruption. Zia, a man of many virtues, principled and financially honest in a country of abundant corruption was seen as a savior, as life had turned very hard for great many people, and the rampant corruption of Sheikh Mujib’s government didn’t help it at all. However, the minority religious extremist groups got a new lease of life with the reign of Zia, and the course of the new nation reversed from progressive, secular to conservative, religious.
Zia also resumed the unfinished work of the rajakars and albadrs, decimating the freedom fighters with merciless killings, and promoting the elements of anti-freedom forces, which came to an end with his assassination. The legacy of bloodbath did not stop with the demise of Ziaur Rahman, the assault of the religious fundamentalist groups on the forces of freedom lovers continued unabated through various successive administrations with support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey and other Muslim countries. It took nearly four decades for a Bangladeshi Administration to form a special tribunal to prosecute people accused of committing atrocities during the country’s 1971 independence war.
The first verdict of the special tribunal awarded life imprisonment to Kader Mollah, a man who personally had been responsible for executing hundreds of killings, in a country where death penalty is awarded for committing a single murder. On Feb. 5, a movement began, led by a coalition of bloggers demanding death penalty for Kader Mollah. The movement has now turned into a nationwide grassroots movement.
Tens of thousands of people are demonstrating everyday in Shahbagh, which has been named Projonmo Chottor, in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. The movement has been further intensified after Rajib Haider, a leading activist and avid blogger had been murdered in a fashion that carries telltale sign of the Jamate-e- Islami (major Islamic fundamentalist party) cadres. When the coffin bearing the body of Rajib Haider was brought out for a public funeral at Shahbagh, a crowd of more than 100,000 people assembled there. Bangladeshi television showed mass of people kneeling in prayer, chanting slogans and waving banners bearing Haider’s image.
Bangladesh is at a crossroad, at the forefront of a major turn of history. The question is will the USA and its people be at the right side of history this time? We all have a role to play. The stakes are too high. We must choose between the religious fundamentalist and secular progressive forces. The memory of the 9/11 is still too vivid in our nation’s psyche. We must not let the lives of over three thousand people go in vain.