On this website, a few days ago, Syed Badrul Ahsan roundly criticised my op-ed published in the New York Times where I had argued that proposed legislation criminalising people who ‘distort the history of the 1971 war’ was so broadly drafted that it would significantly hinder free speech and stifle legitimate historical research.

‘We will not accept any questioning of the facts related to the War of Liberation,’ Badrul stated in his article where he went onto refer to his ‘absolute unwillingness to allow our history to be questioned.’ He concluded by saying that ‘The Liberation War Denial Crimes Act ought to have been in place a very long time ago.’

In seeking to substantiate his conclusions, Badrul however makes a number of factual inaccuracies, as well as misrepresenting arguments of those like me who are critical of the introduction of the Act.

His first inaccuracy – which also happens to be defamatory – is his attempt to compare me to David Irving.

Badrul states that Irving’s ‘questioning the figures for the holocaust’ – something for which he claims Irving was imprisoned for in Austria –  is similar to my ‘rais[ing] issues around the figures of the genocide in Bangladesh.’

It is not correct, however, that Irving was imprisoned for ‘questioning the figures for the holocaust’.

He was punished for denying the use of gas chambers in concentration camps, (a ‘fairy tale’, Irving said’) and also for his claims that Adolf Hitler had helped Europe’s Jews and that the Holocaust was a “myth”.

This would be like Irving saying about Bangladesh’s 1971 war of Independence that during the war ‘no Bengalis collaborated with the Pakistan military’, that ‘Lieutenant General Niazi had protected the Hindu community from any risk of being killed’ and that ‘no civilians were killed during the 9 month war’.

These would be, if stated by anyone, entirely bogus and false statements which would clearly fall into the category of genocide denial.

But I have never written anything at all similar about the 1971 war.

Lets just look at the New York Times piece. ‘Depending on the source, some 300,000 to three million people were killed, and millions were displaced’ during the war, the article states. It then goes on: “There is no question that there were many atrocities, including rape, deportation and massacres of civilians, carried out by the Pakistani Army, aided at times by pro-Pakistani militias. Some of these included members of the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist party that remains a powerful force in Bangladesh today. There is an academic consensus that this campaign of violence, particularly against the Hindu population, was a genocide.”

And this paragraph – which one should note states categorically that the killings amounted to genocide – is reflected in all my writings about the 1971 war

Badrul should acknowledge that there could not be a bigger difference between what David Irving has written about the holocaust and what I have written about the 1971 war.

Secondly, Badrul is wrong to suggest that holocaust denial laws ‘have never been an impediment to freedom of speech.’

In fact, they are hotly contested in Europe and criticized both by historians, and freedom of speech advocates.

But, more significantly, Badrul’s is widely of the mark in his attempt to justify the new proposed Bangladesh law by pointing to the ‘holocaust denial laws’.

The Bangladesh law is titled ‘Bangladesh Liberation War (Denial, Distortion, Opposition) Crime Law’ and its offences are far wider than just criminalizing people who deny the Pakistan army atrocities of the 1971 war or who voice support for the crimes that took place (which would put them on a par with the European laws.)

Instead, the proposed legislation allows for the prosecution of anybody who ‘denies …any events for the preparation of the liberation war’ between 14 August 1947 to 16 December 1971, anyone who ‘misrepresents’ any government publication on the history of the war, or any person who represents the liberation war history ‘inaccurately or with half truth’.

These offences – which would seem to allow for the prosecution of any person who disagrees with any aspect of the ‘government-at-the-time’s’ official version of the 1971 war and the preparatory events towards it – are far wider than any offences contained in the European holocaust denial laws.

Badrul is also wrong to suggest that the holocaust denial laws put the ‘Holocaust beyond debate’.  Everything about it, apart from the fact that it happened, is contested and researched.

There continues to be much new history written about the holocaust. As mentioned in a recent New York Times review of a book on the holocaust, ‘More than 70 years after the Holocaust, there is no sign of research on it abating. Instead, over the past few decades, historians have been extending their inquiries … So voluminous is this scholarly outpouring that few are able to keep up with it.’ And the research is about every element of the holocaust.

Much of the rest of Badrul’s article concerns his claim that there is an attempt to in Bangladesh to shape a ‘new narrative’ on the 1971 war.

Perhaps there are people seeking to do that, but journalists and researchers like myself are certainly not part of any such initiative. All that we are interested in doing is being able to articulate a more nuanced view of the 1971 war – and indeed of current political life in Bangladesh – which does not simply ignore research just because it happens to be inconvenient for one reason or the other. As the Guardian newspaper aptly put it: “Mature countries should be ready to interrogate their own history, and accept there are diverse interpretations of how they came to be.”

It is a terrible shame that Syed Badrul Ahsan seems to be set very much against that.

13 Responses to “The need for nuanced history”

  1. Anwar A. Khan

    Stop your highfalutin and hocus-pocus. I read David Bergman’s piece published in New York Times and International New York Times. The whole write-up is seriously objectionable and it has made me outrageous. He has been doing his so-called investigative journalism sitting in Bangladesh for a long time. But in fact, he is a stranger into our affairs. He is nothing but a boor of the third rater in Bangladesh’s Liberation War and on the 3 million martyred figures. I have also read the above piece. He is an impudent child who has gone astray. In his write-ups and blog-posts, I find him as a War criminal’s accomplice and braggadocio’s braggart!

    He runs a blog under the style of “Bangladesh Politico’ and sends his regular blog-post to me. Even, during the last few days, I received 3 of his blog-posts. I just throw them to the trash-bin with disdain. I asked him several times to take lessons from his father-in-law, Dr. Kamal Hossain, before he writes something on Bangladesh’s affair. I also reminded him that despite I did never do politics, when our revered Jahanra Imam awarded death punishment to the worst war criminals like Golam Azam and his gangsters under a People’s Court trial in Suhrawardy Uddan, Dr. Kamal Hossain came to the venue along his party colleagues to express his solidarity with Jahanara Imam’s noble cause and chanted slogans in a louder voice demanding capital punishment to those cruel griffins, like many others present there, I also welcomed him with big hands.

    I sent him several write-ups based on my practical experiences I along with many of my friends encountered with the Bihari goons, other non-Bengali criminals, the Jamaati butchers during our pre-liberation times as well as during our glorious Liberation War in 1971 to publish them in his blog if he had true courage and if his stance stood on the just cause. But he chose to remain silent. When I sent reminders to him, he, like an impudent child, asked one Akkas of New Age newspaper to look into those matters but he did never raise his head.

    David would not listen to the Scriptures like the devils because black will not take any other hue.

    Investigative journalism and research! Wow! An ichneumon’s afflictions! But whatever spiral bend or twist or coil you want to make, it will fall flat.

    David Bergman is making foul play with our history, our glorious Liberation War, our martyrs figure and son. What an audacity! Truce to your rigmarole!

  2. M. Emad

    Complete destruction of the European Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe (1933-1945 Holocaust genocide) is the biggest man-made catastrophe in human history. Sadly in post-war period, due to cold war politics and thousand years old anti-Semitic general feelings in the West, except for few dozens top Nazi leaders, over 99% of the genocidal maniacs never punished. Many mid/low-ranking war criminals migrated to Latin/North-America and Middle-East — their crimes were little exposed and were never brought to any justice. Except one, none of Nuremberg Trial criminals regretted for their crimes. ‘Denazification’ program in West-Germany was a total farce and within few years almost all criminals set free, rehabilitated in society and went back to their old jobs (even became ministers). So, since the Holocaust 70 years ago, genocide did not stop but keeps coming.

    For Holocaust survivors, victim’s families (and any sensible person) this strange type of justice ‘drama’ in post-war Europe is more insults than the Holocaust. Understandably it evokes mix feelings of pain, betrayal, rage and powerlessness.

    Bangladesh was in no way associated with the European affairs. Bangladesh War Crimes Tribunal is all about justice and might prevent genocide in the future.

  3. Nasir Chowdhury

    Mr. David Bergman has correctly been caught red-handed by some commentators. He looks for “avenge, revenge and cobra-bite” in the martyrs figure of 3 million, the ongoing trials of the war criminals……like Cadman, Arshad, the Jamaati criminals…. but in fact, the martyrs figure is based on facts, the trials are transparent and genuine trials of the real culprits and war criminals. We hail the government for this courageous and patriotic move and wish its success in full.

    Commentators have condemned him. In the harshest words. I also condemn him. I am sure his foul play will soon fall flat and he will be no where to show his shameless face!

    Thank you Mr. Syed Badrul Ahsan for exposing the guile character of a dirty guy.

  4. Mark Henry

    David Bergman:

    I have read your so-called explanations. I am in full doubts about your knowledge on the high magnitude of atrocities carried out to the people of Bangladesh by the war criminals mostly belong to Jamaat-e-Islami, a terrorist party, a Bangladesh chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan, another terrorist country.

    I am in agreement with Badrul Ahsan when he asserts “The Liberation War Denial Crimes Act ought to have been in place a very long time ago and that holocaust denial laws wiil never be an impediment to freedom of speech.” You are writing at free will whatever you want to and I don’t see any problems. But that should not be.

    When he says “We will not accept any questioning of the facts related to the War of Liberation” this clearly manifests his patriotism toward his country and that is quite natural and I strongly support this stance.

    You have been crying for the war criminals with deep love and advocating unabatedly saving them from the gallows which they truly deserve. By doing all these black propaganda against Bangladesh and its people, you are doing the same type of crime(s). I am awe-struck to have seen your deliberately deceptive propaganda campaigns on Bangladesh’s martyrs figure in 1971 and the genocide denial act to be in force in future.

    If anybody hears you, then definitely he will have to hear a new narrative’ on the 1971 war but there is no iota of truth in it.

    “Perhaps there are people,…. and accept there are diverse interpretations of how they came to be”- this statement of yours is like tyrinical. Who are you to dictate the people of Bangladesh? What is your business? You are like a shameless liar like another David i.e. David Irving.

    I advise you to leave this wrong path immediately and correct yourself to be a human being, don’t stay back as the cruel beast like people of the war criminals and their friends.

  5. Moumita Karim

    Thank you very much, Mr Syed Badrul Ahsan, for your timely write-up to caution us about these dreadful criminals like David Bergman….. We wish to look down on David Bergman with disdain.

    If anybody speaks in the language of war criminals’ party Jamaat-e-Islami and their buddies BNP and the like-minded so-called political parties, they should also be brought to justice.

    I want to conclude in the language of valiant freedom fighter Syed ShahidulHaque Mama, the 2nd strong witness against the war criminal Abdul Quader Molla, the butcher of Mirpur, Dhaka : “Their acts prove that they are griffins, not human beings and they are walking through the medieval ages. We want to discard them from the club of humanity”.

  6. Carol A. Olson

    Mr. David Bergman:

    Your explanation is not tenable in case of the worst war criminals of the world. You have no right to say so. You claim to be a journalist but I can’t respect such a journalist who does not possess even a minimum ‘ethics’ of his profession. I am confident that the brave people of Bangladeshin will roast you for lacking this human quality in your soul. A journalist can’t do anything according to his own wishes to speak for those ferocious war criminals. Because of this, your place shall be in the dustbin of history; because of your wrong path, wrong actions and smear campaign against the ITC Laws of Bangladesh, the proposed genocide denial act, the figure of 3 million martyrs; because you are standing against Bangladesh and its people.

    I salute the people as well as the government of Bangladesh for taking a courageous stand to try these worst war criminals despite after so many years following all due processes and international standards of laws and execution of the convicted war criminals. It is a bold and patriotic step for them to give certain peace to the families of the martyrs after so many years. I fully admit and commend this stance of Bangladesh.

    I am definitely sure the people of Bangladesh will give you more fitting response in the harshest language. I know the brave and patriotic people of Bangladesh for a long time. They will not stop condemning you until and unless you stop your inhuman activities supporting these ‘sub-humans’.

    I wish to congratulate the people of Bangladesh for establishing justice by trying these ‘sub-humans’ and hanging them to death! I shall always stand beside them with my friends with all support and cooperation. Please don’t push me to be harsher toward you. I wish that your conscience works well and I advise to you to please disassociate from them and stop your bad activities favouring Jamaat-e-Islami devils and their buddies in no time.

  7. m zaman

    I used to like Badrul Ahsan when he was writing for The Daily Star. In bdnews24 his writings are frequent and often not well researched. Writing tomes does not make good writing.

    If by chance, BAL sinks and BNP comes to power, the government version of historical narrative (history does change in BD with change of government 🙁 ) shall change. And at that time denial of the lesser Rahman (I mean Ziaur Rahman) as the “Swadhinotar Ghoshok) can also be prosecuted under this law (in enacted).

    Beware !!

  8. Sukhamaya Bain

    As I read David Bergman’s April 5, 2016, article in the New York Times, I agree with most of what he has written. However, in his ‘nuanced’ writing, he lost some perspective when he wrote, “…. questions are necessary on this and other aspects of the 1971 war, including the widespread killings of members of the Bihari ethnic group, who supported the Pakistanis during the conflict, by Bengali nationalists.”

    The so-called balanced and nuanced thinkers and writers like Mr. Bergman need to realize that most of the Bihari communities were active supporters of the Pakistani military brutes who were committing heinous crimes against humanity on mostly unarmed Bengali civilians. The Mukti Bahini was made up of mostly ordinary and victimized Bengali civilians who got their meager training is guerilla warfare only after they had seen their loved ones being murdered and raped by the Pakistani and pro-Pakistani brutes. They were not powerful enough to clearly control any territory. Their actions against the Biharis, in a lawless environment of the war that was imposed on them, were not like that of a powerful governmental force of atrocities; they were like a hurt snake biting back. Their actions against the Biharis should not be compared with the genocide that the Pakistani military and their Bihari and Bengali collaborators committed.

  9. Asis Das

    The title of this is already irritating. Why a history of that dimension of our independence with so much sacrifice needs to be nuanced? I don’t think majority of the population in Bangladesh wants a nuanced history. If Mr. Bergman cannot cope with the opinion and wish of majority of a population, he is not that a democrat as well, what he brags of.
    Yes, research is required and Mr. Ahsan has very rightly pointed out many of the areas to be researched. If Mr. Bergman doesn’t find any interest in things that interest majority of Bangladeshi people, then just leave us alone. It is not your place.

  10. Musarrat Hossain Chandan

    with dues respect SBA and his contribution to war of freedom and its history i cannot help saying that the biased mindset starts the the journey of untrue facts .And as a academic by profession he knew very well that fact need to collected analysed then can be produced .There is a huge difference of oral history of political speech and history.I would like to request him to rethink in coll head as he is an asset to nation and his word matters to us.

  11. golam arshad

    David: Facts are Facts! Grafting law is NOT enough! We need CONSENSUS on issues that may confused or may debunk clarity. History cannot be tied in the box of I and Me!

    • Alhaj MahjebinChowdhury

      Down with David Bergman.

      He has become more of the Jamaati war criminals like the above commentator who wants battered history of our people’s war of independence. These kinds of people are all shameless liars. These kinds of people are generally communal, wicked, ferocious, violent monger, murder-prone and bitter enemy of humanity. Lord crush them before they do more harm to our people. Down with them!

    • S. Roy

      Son-in-law of Maolana Mannan, alleged killer of Alim Chowdhury speaks of facts! What a wonder!

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