Jamaat?s farce unravels

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By Rahnuma Ahmed

A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students? wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation. The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat?s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat?s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth,

Be what you would seem to be ? or, if you?d like it put more simply ? Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.

The Duchess, in Lewis Carroll, Alice?s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

IT WAS to be a convention of freedom fighters, his neighbour had told him. They had both fought against the genocidal onslaught unleashed by the Pakistan army in 1971.
On Friday, a weekly holiday morning, veteran freedom fighter Sheikh Mohammad Ali Aman had gone to the Diploma Engineers Institute in Dhaka. He had peeked into the auditorium. He had expected to see familiar faces, to hear cherished stories of loss and courage. Of a victory achieved, of justice denied. Of betrayals. Of trying the collaborators ? the local accomplices of Pakistan army?s genocidal campaign ? to right the wrongs, at least some. There were collaborators thought to be guilty of committing war crimes, but they had gone scot-free. Their political rehabilitation and brazenness in the last three and a half decades was like a wound that festers. Yet another brazen act, yet another shameless lie brings the pus to the surface. It keeps oozing out. Again, and again.
He was puzzled at the faces that he saw. None of the Sector Commanders were present. No familiar faces, faces that symbolise for him the spirit of the struggle, the spirit of the nine-month long people?s war. Mohammad Ali is a man of modest means, he earns a living by painting houses and buildings in Badda, Dhaka. Unable to recognise any of the imposing figures present inside the auditorium ? ex-chief justice Syed JR Mudassir Hossain who was chief guest, energy adviser to the previous government Mahmudur Rahman, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Rifles Major General (retd) Fazlur Rahman, Wing Commander (retd) Hamidullah Khan, ex-director general of the Bangladesh Press Institute Rezwan Siddiqui, who was the special guest, New Nation editor Mostofa Kamal Mojumdar, general secretary of the Federal Union of Journalists Ruhul Amin Gazi, journalist Amanullah Kabir ? he felt alarmed. And left. One can hardly blame him.

`So I went and sat on the lawn,? Mohammad Ali said in an interview given later. ?I saw some people come out, I heard them say, we don?t want to be part of a meeting that demands the trial of Sector Commanders. An ETV reporter came up to me and asked, are you a freedom fighter? Yes, I replied. I belonged to Sector 11, First Bengal Regiment, D Company, led by Colonel Taher. What about the trial of war criminals, what do you think? I said, I think that those who had opposed the birth of the nation, those who had committed rape, razed localities to the ground, murdered intellectuals, they are war criminals. They should be tried. Those who were chairman and members of the Peace Committees, they belong to Jamaat, and to the present Progressive Democratic Party. They should be tried, they should be hung. I think this is something that can be done only by the present government, a non-party government? (Samakal, July 13).

?Who cares for you?? said Alice (she had grown to her full size by this time). ?You?re nothing but a pack of cards!?

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…

They swooped down on Mohammad Ali. He was kicked and locked in a room for three hours. Before his release, his voter ID card was photocopied. ?I do not wish to say what they did to me. It will bring dishonour to the freedom fighters,? was all he said of his ordeal. ETV reporter Sajed Romel, also made captive, was released an hour later, after his colleagues rushed to his rescue. The camera crew, fortunately, had escaped earlier, with its recorded film intact.

Engineer Abdur Rob, a vice-president of Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad ? the organisers of this farce ? was asked why a veteran freedom fighter and an electronic media journalist had been locked up. He replied, ?Impossible. Such a thing could not have happened.? Prothom Alo?s reporter was persistent, it was filmed. We have it. ?Well then,? came the immediate reply, ?it was an act of sabotage. Our people could never have done such a thing.?

New lies. Emergency lies

Soon enough, press releases were handed out by Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad detailing the sabotage story: Prothom Alo, Samakal, Jugantor, Inquilab, and Daily Star were guilty of spreading lies. Some persons had come to the national convention without any delegate cards, they had tried to barge in, JMP volunteers had wanted to see their invitation cards, their responses had been unsatisfactory. Instead of covering the main event, the ETV news crew had shot something else, it was staged by hired people and instigated by yellow journalists. These acts, deliberate and pre-planned, were aimed at wrecking the convention. They had failed. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad is an authentic organisation of freedom fighters. It is not affiliated to any political party. The liberation struggle is above party affiliation. Journalists are demeaning the honour of freedom fighters by propagating lies. They are creating disunity.
A later press release added more details: no one by the name of Mohammad Ali had been invited to the national convention of Freedom Fighters. The ETV?s interest in interviewing him proves that it was staged, it was a conspiracy aimed at foiling the convention. Politicians are attempting to capitalise on the incident. The JMP calls on all freedom fighters to stay united (Naya Diganta, 13, 15 July).
Newspaper reports, however, provide concrete details. Jatiya Muktijoddha Parishad was formed on January 26 this year. After the Sector Commanders Forum had demanded the trial of war criminals. The JMP?s office is located in a room rented out by an organisation headed by ATM Sirajul Huq, ex-amir, Paltan thana, Jamaat. It is not registered with the liberation war ministry. This, according to legal experts, makes it illegal. Three high-ranking members of the Parishad claim that they had fought in 1971. These claims are false. Muktijoddha commanders of the respective areas do not know them. Executive committee members of the Parishad include men who contested parliamentary elections on behalf of Jamaat-e-Islami. Vice-president Engineer Abdur Rob had admitted to journalists, yes, the Parishad did receive ?donations? from Jamaat-e-Islami.
The story about Jamaat?s role in the liberation struggle, the liberation struggle itself, whether it was genocidal or not, whether war crimes should be tried or not, who was on which side, is an evolving one. What interests me particularly is how Emergency rule, and its raison d?etre of removing corruption and corrupt political practices for good, has impacted on Jamaat?s story. On its warped sense of history. Last October, as Jamaat?s secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujahid was leaving the Election Commission after talks on electoral reforms, he was asked about the growing demand for declaring anti-liberation forces, and war criminals, disqualified from contesting in the national elections. He had replied, the charges against Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh are ?false?, and ?ill-motivated?. There are no war criminals in the country. He had added, ?In fact, anti-liberation forces never even existed.? A day later, in an ETV talk show (26.10.2007) Jamaat-sympathiser and former Islami Bank chairman Shah Abdul Hannan had said, there was no genocide in 1971. Only a civil war.
And now this. A national convention of freedom fighters organised by supporters and activists of Jamaat-e-Islami and its students? wing Islami Chhatra Shibir. An outright appropriation.
The only problem is, Mohammad Ali saw through it. A single glance told him the truth. And, as Jamaat?s pack of cards came crashing down, the reaction was instant. It was violent. This, for me, was the second moment of truth. It testifies to Jamaat?s unchanged character, violence, an inability to engage with history, and to confront truth.

Old truths

Historical research which includes newspaper reports, speeches and statements made by those accused of war crimes, attests to the fact that Mujahid, as president of East Pakistan Islami Chhatra Sangha, and as chief of the Al-Badr Bahini, collaborated with the Pakistan army in conducting massacres, looting and rape. Also, that he had led the killings of renowned academics, writers and poets, doctors, engineers, and journalists, which occurred two days before victory was declared on December 16. Senior Jamaat leaders Abdus Sobhan, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, Abdul Kader Molla and Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, who accompanied Jamaat?s secretary general to the Election Commission for talks on electoral reforms last October, are also alleged to have committed war crimes. According to the People?s Enquiry Commission formed in 1993, Jamaat?s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami, as commander-in-chief of Al-Badr, is also guilty of having committed war crimes.

Who needs Jamaat?

Both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had accepted Jamaat as an ally during the anti-Ershad movement. After the national elections of 1990, Jamaat support had ensured the BNP its majority in the fifth parliament. The Awami League, which claims to have led the liberation struggle, joined forces with Jamaat to help oppose and oust the sixth parliament. In the seventh parliament, the Awami League inducted at least one identified war collaborator in the cabinet. And, in the eighth parliament, the BNP paid the ultimate tribute by forming government with Jamaat as a coalition partner.
But what about now? That this government, the Fakhruddin-led, military-controlled government, is giving Jamaat-e-Islami a kid gloves treatment has not escaped unnoticed. Jamaat?s amir Matiur Rahman Nizami was one of the last top-ranking leaders to be arrested. He was also one of the earliest to be released, that too, on bail. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of party supporters were allowed to gather on the road to cheer his release last week, while the banner of Amra Muktijuddher Shontan activists, who had formed a human chain the next day, to protest against the assault on Muhammad Ali, was seized by the police. The Bangla blogging platform Sachalayatan could no longer be accessed after a strongly worded article on the assault of Muhammad Ali was posted. Was it a coincidence? Or, are the two incidents related? When asked, ABM Habibur Rahman, head of BTCAL internet division, refused to comment. One of the founders, who lives in Malaysia, has confirmed that the blog can be accessed from all other parts of the world.
As the US expands its war on terror, its venomous civilisational crusade of establishing democracies in the Middle East, one notices how Bangladesh has gradually been re-fashioned as a ?moderately? Muslim country, in an area considered to be ?vital to US interests?. Jamaat-e-Islami, in the words of Richard Boucher, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a ?democratic party?. James F Moriarty, US ambassador to Bangladesh, in his congressional testimony (February 6, 2008), said US interest in Bangladesh revolved around the latter denying space to ?terrorism? (mind you, Islamic, not US, not state-sponsored).
Moriarty?s ideas echo Maulana Matiur Rahman Nizami?s. In an interview given last year, Nizami said, Jamaat was important to keep Bangladesh free of militancy and terrorism (Probe, June 27-July 3, 2007). Interesting words coming from a person who had, three years earlier, as amir of the then ruling coalition partner and industries minister, denied the existence of militancy in Bangladesh. Bangla Bhai was the ?creation of newspapers?, it was ?Awami League propaganda?.

The US and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh fashioning a new partnership on war on terror? chorer shakkhi matal, many Bengalis would say. The drunkard provides testimony for the thief.


First published in The New Age on Monday 21st July 2008

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.”

7 thoughts on “Jamaat?s farce unravels”

  1. The question Hana posed [“why the current …”] should have been resolved already. And would be better even if before Rahnuma Ahmed wrote this piece. I have nothing personal with kind of genuine queries like Hana’s one. But the ‘current goverment’ often is becoming an escape from any critical understanding of the contemporary Bangladesh. The TIB or Grammen high commands have the luxary of hiding behind the ‘current government’. Actually they have a mission of doing so. We cannot afford this.
    Thanks to Rahnuma Ahmed for addressing the tie between the current government, US interest and Jamaat-E-Bangladesh, not to mention the Army. This is a complicated oligarchy, yet not so incomprehensible. US interests are overt things. The military want a predesigned corporatization with a royal share of them — both locally and globally. The Jamaat wants to act as the “Islamist” party upholding “US interest”. And the government is designated to play the matchmaker. We should not think of the ‘civil society’, hence they are a mosaic of different corners including the pro-TIBs and pro-Grameens and pro- pro- and pro-s.
    This is frustrating to see the political analysts, unlike Rahnuma, are crying for a fair election and democracy and so on. Anybody can walk on the street and find surprising stories like who the first one Mr. Fakhruddin contacted after his appointment as the Chief, who’s wife runs which university or college, how they keep up their social ties [namely social capital] and many more probing questions.
    The caretaker government is the most unlikely body to bring the war criminals into justice. After all they can best be the pro-multinationals [read pro-world bank and pro-US]. And these agencies have no interest in this issue. This is their consistent position across the globe. “chorer shakkhi matal”

  2. The drunk always manages to forge, ferret out, fund and foster the terrorist legion of thieves. This is a special skill and an ever active criminal enterprise of the free market. The devil never sleeps, not even a wink.
    Bangladesh designated as “vital to US interests”, Jamat had to be anointed as a “democratic party” by the beneficiary, i.e., the US. Old scores will thus be settled.
    In its geo-strategic calculus, Washington has no use for an independent Bangladesh. US was privy and party to the Paki war crimes in the 1971 war of liberation in Bangladesh.
    For having yet managed to flee the cuckoo’s nest Bangladesh will stay targeted by the hunting hegemon.
    Nizami and his ilk will prove useful collaborators, trained and tested in the past by an alien power. Treason has its own rewards.
    Barely a month before Marcos, the US stooge, fled the Philippines in search of refuge, a US president had lauded him for promoting “democracy”!
    Rahnuma’s timely piece sounds the tocsin. Any smugness hence
    will be aiding and abetting the enemy and comforting the sedition-pledged subversives.

  3. 1/11 gave Bangladeshis great hope for a hopeful future and better nation but that hope has died down over time and has given rise to much worry and anxiety to most. Who’s going to ‘bell the cat’? No one could in the last 37 years and it seems no one can in the future. We just have to leave it to God and his mysterious ways to make things better for us as the system doesn’t change, rather it’s worsening and our rulers remain the same with their own agenda and interest making a mockery of democracy. Paradigm shift would not help either! Even if the war criminal generation dies out it seems that evil of Jamaat has produced more evil securing their legacy to continue and there are less and less good in the making to counter that. ‘Look before you leap, and after too’, the elections will make things more murky and the ordinary have no way out, especially in this time of price spiral when we’re rather busy making ends meat to survive than think about the rights and wrongs of politics and war criminals! I remain pessimistic, yet hopeful. Hope and dreams keep us alive!

  4. How dare this lameduck so-called military-backed fanatic government allow the religious bigots destroy the great work of Lalon by Mrinal Haque!It is a slap on humanity and one of it`s superheroes.
    This impotent illegitimate fascist dictatorship bowed to the fundamentalists as many elements within the self-imposed despotic regime harbor strong Islamic fundamentalist ideologies. The shameless parade of long list of support extended to this unconstitutional fascist regime by the US, UK, UN, EU and failed financial institutes like World Bank, WTO,FAO and IMF is slowly turning us into a miserable failed state.
    Even today a US army officer and a visiting UK minister supported the fascist overtures of this communal government. SHAME, SHAME on you who are responsible for the worst genocide in history. History won`t forgive you. You will be tried for sure for war crimes and crimes against humanity at some point in history.
    This undemocratic illegal government has tarnished the secular image of Bangladesh abroad by fully collaborating and executing the blueprint of Jamaat-e-Islami dominated army and civil administration to bludgeon democracy in Bangladesh. In justless than two years, accountability and transparency of any government in Bangladesh`s history is at it’s lowest ebb. Corruption among civil bureaucrats and the army have skyrocketed to levels far higher than what BNP and AL were accused of. Fakruddin and Moeen are the worst war criminals destroying the secular fabric of Bangladesh`s tolerant heritage. It is comparable to the killer TALIBAANS destroying the statue of Lord Buddha in Afghanistan.
    Fakruddin and Moeen are the biggest MUNAAFIKS and rabid wolves who conspired to get into power by impersonating themselves as sheep.

  5. jamaat should be banned from all avenues of politics. these reactionaries war criminals should be thrown in a couldron with fire. we ought to cut (nizami-mujahid)their beard and unmask the potraits of the satan.
    shame on you azam-nizami-mujahid..
    you should kiss your own ass goodbye and leave for pakistan.

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