Joy Bangladesh
Niyonta Nahia Chowdhury

Quader Molla’s execution stands for the justice we owe to our freedom fighters, and to the freedom that we enjoy today

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    Photo- Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

There is an eerie but serene sort of poeticism in this phenomenon that the day a war criminal of ’71 is first hanged is in such close proximity to our Victory Day. What should have been a time of two-fold celebration for the people of Bangladesh has become a time of destruction and massacre, anarchic leftist conspiracies, and psychotic zealotry.

The perpetrators are comparatively few in number but the damage they are causing the nation is beyond tangible measure. It is almost like watching the manifestation of a deep-seated masochistic disorder – a country trying to do unto herself what had been done unto her 42 years ago. It is also quite evidential of where one’s priorities lie – nationalism and welfare, or self-relevant beliefs and terrorism.

Sensationalist reporters and journalists like John Pilger, and even lawyers like Toby Cadman, have taken it upon themselves to distort reports and have at times gone as far as circulating photos of Gonojagoron Moncho and Projonmo Chottor as photos of people protesting Molla’s execution. BBC, CNN, The Economist, The Guardian and other international news broadcasters and publications have flaunted headlines such as “Bangladeshi Islamic leader hanged” and “Bangladesh executes Islamist leader.”

Yes, that was Abdul Quader Molla’s (I would spell it as Quader Mullah since I don’t want to tarnish Bengali phonology with his name and I’m sure that’s how he would have preferred it himself, but I’m not sure I would be able to take myself seriously if I keep writing the word ‘Mullah’) formal identity throughout his career. While it is not unnatural or incorrect to label him as such, it is problematic and misleading.

Islam, like all other religious institutions, damns evil, and the evils Molla has committed throughout his life cannot be committed by an authentic subscriber of any religious doctrine. Maintaining a grizzly beard, wearing giant white robes and garbling in Arabic does not nullify murder, rape and other atrocities, and is not the recipe of a veritable Muslim.

More importantly, it is highly irrelevant because information regarding Molla’s Islamic leader status without his war criminal status serves no purpose but to make for a compelling Western narrative, where the government is villainised and portrayed as using the trials as a front for disabling opposing parties and suppressing religious freedom.

Yes, the men on trial are members of opposition. But let us take a moment to methodically examine the political careers of these men, and let us think about who we allowed to sit in authoritative positions all these years.

It would be helpful, for example, to recall that Nizami was one of the founders and commanders of the Pakistani military force Al-Badr, that Molla was a member of this force, that Sayeedi was an active informant in Pirojpur, that Azam, for as long as six years after our independence, attended conferences worldwide denouncing and lecturing against Bangladesh and urging nations to not acknowledge it as an independent country.

These men, along with other terrorists, like Zaman, Mueen-Uddin, Salahuddin Quader, Kamaruzzaman and Mujaheed were either exiled or went into hiding after independence. It was only after the military coup of 1975 that killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family, and the subsequent coming to power of Major Ziaur Rahman who not only removed secularism from the constitution and replaced it with Islamic ideals but also rehabilitated all the razakars and their political groups, that they could come back to Bangladesh or come out of hiding.

Let us also not forget that the promise of the trials was in the current government’s manifesto in the general elections of 2008 and this is exactly what had helped them win their landslide victory. It was one of their promises to us, and while their competency at keeping other promises may not always be supreme, this is one promise they are keeping, and striving to keep despite the fact that it will unquestionably open the door to the very well-funded and powerful anti-democracy fundamentalists making it their mission to end their lives.

Ever since the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, ardent Jamaat supporters, and self-proclaimed Islamic scholars like Ajmal Masroor have been calling him a martyr. A martyr of which country exactly do they mean? It certainly cannot be our one. You see, comedians like Zaid Hamid and Munawar Hassan are meanwhile lamenting the loss of their patriotic martyr. There is left little to doubt of the implications of that.

But yes, any human death is a tragedy, and irrespective of all that he has done, Molla’s death merits the same solemnity as any other’s. Yes, I mourn the end of a fellow human being’s life. But I applaud the end of an epitome of sadistic corruption.

Yes, the International Crimes Tribunal may be a less-than-ideal tribunal and the trial proceedings may be unconventional. But a trial held more than forty years after the commission of the crimes is neither a typical war crime case nor a conventional one. It may or may not abide by international standards.

The court may or may not have changed legislations after already declaring a trial decision so that retroactive application of the amendment could be used to alter the previous decision. The process may or may not be flawed. But the decision was not. Sometimes, just sometimes, an impaired justice is better than no justice at all.

There is feverish urgency because if and when opposition comes to power, all progress made will be lost and all evidences acquired will disappear, and the razakars will not only be restored to their political positions, but they will do their level best to terrorise each and every person and each and every party involved and in support of the war crimes trial.

Yes, the country has become a cradle of destruction. But negotiating with and making compromises for terrorists is never the answer. It is important to understand the significance of this cause before assuming its worth. As with any other issue, it is also important to refrain from dropping remarks about this one unless one is well aware and informed of the history of Bangladesh’s uprising and formation, its early years, and the details of its current affairs.

Of course everyone has a voice and it is unreasonable to demand expertise on a topic as a prerequisite of voicing one’s opinion. But it is also important to remember that there is a difference between freedom of speech and bad propaganda; a voice without sufficient knowledge tends to be an empty one and a fodder for the latter.

Most of us fall into one of the following two pitfalls – blindly adopting our parents’ political beliefs without personal research, or blindly internalising beliefs generated by American and English media regarding international politics without critical analysis.

Please remember that all anecdotes are products of personalisation whose integrity is reinforced by confirmation bias, and all reports are always part of a bigger commercial narrative whose intention is never to encourage objectivity. More importantly, please also remember the US involvement in our liberation war and their current international ties, and what that might mean today.

In the end, however, it is alright. It is alright because for every Yahya Khan, every Bhutto, for every Nixon, every Kissinger, for every Pilger and every Cadman, there is a Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, there is an Abu Taher, there is a Ziaur Rahman, there is an Indira Gandhi, there is a David Frost, there is a Lawrence Lifschultz.

For every Molla and every other razakar, there are all the victims and all the fighters, who were and who are the living, breathing stories of 1971. For every razakar, there is now also us. This needs to happen because it is not about the razakars. What happens to their lives is far less important than all the lives that are currently being lost and all the damage that is being done every day in this chaos.

It needs to happen because it is about all the victims – those who have not survived and those who have. It is less about delivering justice to the razakars and more about serving justice to the people whose lives were deliberately and systematically destroyed because of these men. It is about bringing peace and balance in the long run, even if that means sacrificing it in the short run.

Our country may have been free since 1971, but we are not truly free until these people are removed from positions that allow them to exercise power over us, and until justice has been served.

It is an insult to our nation to let these people run governing parties, it is an insult to the victims to not punish them, and it is an insult to our nation and to the victims to underestimate the importance of this cause and deem it gratuitous in light of the country’s current state.

This is not a cosmetic movement. We owe it to our martyrs, we owe it to our freedom fighters. We owe it to our country, and we owe it to ourselves.

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Niyonta Nahia Chowdhury

The author is a student of Clinical Psychology and Literary Arts at Sarah Lawrence College and Bristol University.