Every Bangladeshi of the late 20th century was a child of the genocide unleashed on the unarmed people of this land in 1971. So was all humanity. Survival could only be a source of guilt, whether spoken or unspoken. We today we bear the imprints of departed souls.
Beneath the gleaming post-independence surface there has lurked the indelible stain of barbarism. A human stain – the blood of 3 million martyred souls, the agonies of 4,00,000 violated women and outcry of millions of citizens who were displaced – a bruise of complicity in all its shades has been there.
The defeat hit the enemy and his quislings hard, so much so that they have waged another war against us. This time it is to wipe out the sins of 1971. Over the last four and a half decades, Pakistan has been commemorating the day of their surrender as the “Fall of Dhaka”, which is completely preposterous. Attempts to trivialize the magnitude of Pakistani war crimes through “lowering the death toll” crop up, every now and then, which is outrageous. The latest attempt has been to demonise the International Crimes Tribunal that was set up to take the war criminals to task, ending a more than 40-year long wait for a culture of impunity enjoyed by those “savages” to be brought to an end.
However, now the shock appears big as it has come from no other media outlet than The Guardian, a newspaper that brags so much about its editorial judgement and requests its online readers to financially assist the endeavour so that it can “keep journalism fearless and free from interference”. Throughout the last 200 years it has undoubtedly made its name as a most admired instance of journalism around the globe. Its research capability is amazingly rich. It has strong values and it is strongly judgmental on issues.
In the real world, people may not always agree with the views of the newspaper, but they deem it as an essential read.
So when a newspaper of such standards carries an editorial as regards our war crimes trials titled, “The Guardian view on the Bangladesh history debate: distorted by politics”, and notes in its first sentence that “Mature countries should be ready to interrogate their own history, and accept there are diverse interpretations of how they came to be”, it points the finger right at Bangladesh and keeps Pakistan out of the context. This sweeping comment raises doubts about the maturity of the newspaper itself.
Please get a grip on reality. In the last four decades, all the heaps of distortion and smear to misrepresent the crimes the Pakistan army and its collaborators have inflicted upon an unarmed nation were planned by Pakistan, a country that is over seventy years old. Even though almost 24 years older than Bangladesh, this very country still remains hell-bent on denying its guilt and is yet to own up to its errors of the past.
Just take the case of how Pakistani history books look at the 1971 war. Hyperbole and hypocrisy abound. All the contents teach a school and/or college goer that the liberation war of Bangladesh was a battle between India and Pakistan, and the war was a victory of India. They are being kept in the dark about the atrocities committed by the Pakistani occupation force and the mind-boggling genocide committed by the soldiers. Over the last four decades, Pakistani students are being fed false ideas, and it is working infallibly. As it appears, there will not soon come any generation in that land that can confront the fault lines and thus trivialisation of the 1971 conflict can only be a foregone conclusion.
Yet no sense of journalistic professionalism has been felt by the Guardian to let the world know of the systematic manipulation being maintained by Pakistan to deny the killing spree of 1971. At the same time, the newspaper has never raised any question about holding Pakistan responsible for the atrocities committed by its soldiers in Bangladesh.
The article then proceeds to call upon Bangladesh to “reassess the history of how it came to be”. This time also there is no indication of things on the other side. In a similar tone, the Guardian has found it “dispiriting” that Bangladesh is considering a draft law called the liberation war denial crimes bill. It also has rambled on that “the intention would be, in particular, to prevent any questioning of the official toll of 3 million killed by the Pakistani army and its local allies during the conflict. Many think that figure is much too high” – and so on and so forth.
We are thoroughly dejected and disappointed. Year after year one side has continued to stage drama after drama before us, mocking the sacrifices through which we earned our freedom and flag. And now the Guardian expects that we should not go ahead with the law but rather bury our heads in the sand and remain silent.
Contradictions were also evident as regards the stance the newspaper maintained before the trials of some infamous war criminals across the globe. Prior to the trial of Radovan Karadžić at the international criminal tribunal, it was the same Guardian that wrote in its editorial: “International justice is still a new idea. So far, it is a long way from perfect. But it is still better than nothing at all”. In its reference to the trial of Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, it opined that “That trial is an event of historic importance, not just for one nation or one region, but for a whole continent and beyond. It is a major step for international justice in Africa and, as such, it should be applauded.”A newspaper that has been highlighting the need to ensure that no war criminals evade justice at any part of the world suddenly is found bereft of all its own advocated virtues.
Also there was a blackout of the fact that there are as many as 17 countries around the world upholding such laws. An instance is the Holocaust Denial Law that criminalizes any attempt to distort and trivialize the war crimes committed by the Nazis during the Second World War.
We have to set examples that the wheels of justice will not spare anyone who is diabolically contemptuous of the sacrifices of our people within our own community first, rather than looking beyond our territories – because the aim of trivializing the war crimes of 1971 is to divide us, not to unite us. Given that we live in an age of pluralism, we need to make sure our future generations should grow up in a way that they can never suffer from inferiority, that we remained a nation that could not ensure global tributes to the fallen bravest souls of this land, in the way people in Rwanda or Armenia and the Jewish community have done.
When the Guardian accuses the Awami League of taking the ownership of the liberation war, questions are raised about its understanding of the history of politics in Bangladesh.
Between 1952 and 1971, the entire struggle for independence, including the landmark victory in the 1970 election, the AL happened to be the sole political party to lead the struggle for independence. In contrast, it was the BNP which through its alliance with the Jamaat gave war criminals berths in the cabinet and still has the echoes of the Jamaat in the speeches of its leaders.
Since the credibility of the press is linked to a commitment to truth, and to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity, it is clear that the Guardian has failed to uphold these fundamentals of journalism. In this age of the internet, Twitter, email and Facebook, the practice of journalism on the basis of unsubstantiated reportage and comment should stop. The Guardian knows it better than many of us.