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Encashing on dead war criminals

Encashing on dead war criminals
Convicted war criminal Ghulam Azam is dead. He died last week. He was 91. In the subcontinent, many political figures enjoy interesting lives after death. There is a peculiar way in which death accords respectability even to the worst scum on earth. Important people declare somber condolences. Concrete memorials come up overnight in the middle of the street.

The number of such memorials corresponds to the perceived political stature of the deceased and the extent to which the person is encashable after death. In certain cases, the enthusiasm in memorial building is a signal to the still living honchos in dynastic political organisations as a signal of one’s devotion and loyalty- a crucial thing for a healthy mainstream cushy political future.

It is important that more people in the subcontinent know about this man called Ghulam Azam, especially at a time when butchers of humanity are being elevated to respectability and greatness by a one-two combo of slick PR and cold hard cash.

The former amir (chief) of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, Ghulam Azam was the prime leader of the Pro-Pakistan Islamist forces during the Bangladesh liberation struggle. In Bengal, Mir Jafar is synonymous with treachery- someone who would collaborate with oppressors of his own people. That was 1757. Only in 1971 could Bengal produce another one who would be looked upon with as much abhorrence by so many. Ghulam Azam and his Jamaati gangs collaborated and assisted the Pakistani occupation forces in killing lakhs of people (including mass targeted killing of secular Bengali intellectuals- Hindus and Muslims), burning hundreds of villages, raping countless mothers and sisters of Bengal, forcibly converting many Hindus- all in the name of protecting the eastern flank of his land of pure faith from the polluting influence of Bengal’s culture in general and non-Islamic influence in particular.

Though Hindu Bengalis suffered disproportionately during the 1971 reign of terror in East Bengal, millions of Muslim Bengalis suffered as well. He let loose rape-arson-torture-conversion-death squads (the notorious Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams among others) on millions of Bengalis. He fled to Pakistan before the liberation of Bangladesh and for years continued to tour and lobby Islamic nations for funds and support for destabilizing the secular republic of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is that unfortunate nation that saw this executor of genocide return in 1978 on a Pakistani passport.

Bangladesh was then being ruled by Zia’s military junta, which was busy replacing the secular edifice of the Liberation war by Islamist ideology, brick by brick. His attempt at testing waters by making a public appearance at the Baitul Mokarrom (central mosque of Dhaka) resulted in shoes being thrown at him by the assembled namazis.

The insidious Islamisation of politics resulted in his slow but sure political rehabilitation. In 1991, Ghulam formally reassumed the leadership of the Jamaat in Bangladesh. It was the struggle led by shahid-janani (martyr’s mother) Jahanara Imam that led to the history gono-adalot (people’s court) passing a death sentence on Ghulam. In 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal set up by the government of Bangladesh convicted Ghulam of ‘conspiring, planning, incitement to and complicity in committing genocide, crimes against humanity’ among others. As my friend Rayhan Rashid puts it ‘He died a convicted war criminal’. In the years between Gono-adalot and Shahbag, the mass memory of Jamaat assisted butchery watched incredulously as mass-murderer Ghulam Azam was rebranded into a wise old Islamic scholar. For some, he was unbracketed from Mir Jafar- some again started naming their son Ghulam Azam.

It is a matter of deep personal shame that I share my mother tongue with the likes of Ghulam Azam, though one cannot and shouldn’t judge a mother by the conduct of her children. The extent of deep-seated popular hate against this man was apparent from a now-legendary cartoon image I had seen in a poster at the University of Dhaka campus.
 
It showed Ghulam Azam in front of a mike about to give a speech. The mike itself, had gained life and puckered it mouth to spit back at Ghulam’s face. During his funeral procession, like a repeat of the Baitul Mokarom incident, shoes were thrown at the hearse carrying his body.

In the name of all that is just and sacred in this world and other worlds, I sincerely hope that he will not be missed in either of the two Bengals. The Jamaat has called for the realization of Ghulam Azam’s ideals. The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, wrote the Czech writer Milan Kundera. The unholy powers that Ghulam Azam represented are still strong in Bengal. Just as I hope he will not be missed, I also hope that his misdeeds and those of his ilk are never forgotten. That is the weapon in resisting the formation of Ghulam Azam’s ideal society. It is up to the Hindus and Muslims of Bangladesh and all those who stand against politics of hate to make the world a living hell for those who share Ghulam Azam’s idea of paradise. IPA

Garga Chatterjee

Garga Chatterjee

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