The word obsession usually carries positive connotation. For instance, in my every speech that I deliver to our fellow compatriots, specially commemorating our three national days, I always begin with the words "liberation war is my obsession. I live with it when I am awake, dream with it when I sleep". It seems both Bergman and I have obsessions, one extolling our monumental sacrifice while other trying tooth and nail to trivialize it. There is, of course, other fundamental difference. I am a Bangalee who wipes out emotional tears when our national anthem is sung, while for Bergman, it hardly matters what is being sung even if Bergman is a naturalized citizen of Bangladesh. For instance, even if I am a naturalized citizen of Canada, I don't feel any emotion when Canada's national anthem is sung in any occasion. My feeling is in full tune with that every Bangalee (one does not have to be an Awami League supporter) who holds our Liberation War close to his/her heart. For instance, on the 23rd of March, to celebrate our Independence and National Day, I was given the honour to raise the Bangladesh flag in Queen's Park, the parliament of Ontario, assisted by the Honourable Speaker of the legislative assembly of Ontario, while hundreds of flag-waving Bangalees were singing our national anthem, many like me were sobbing out of emotions. The Honourable Speaker noticing tears in my eyes embraced me and said, "I absolutely understand your feelings. It is only natural for the people of a nation that scarified millions to acquire this flag to get emotional at this history making moment".
In his ceaseless attempt to demean our sacrifice, Bergman has written one more piece in the New York Times (April 5, 2016) vis-?-vis the draft 'Liberation War Denial Crimes Act', under the title, "The Politics of Bangladesh's Genocide Debate" in which elaborating his own usual arguments, Bergman has concluded: "The proposed genocide law might work to the political advantage of the Awami League in the short term. But in the long term, curtailing free expression for sectarian political purposes is dangerous for democracy".
As an 'investigative journalist' Bergman must be aware of the difference between academic research and political statements. The purpose of an academic research is to find out truth as much as possible with noble intentions. For instance, Bergman quoted from the book "Sheikh Mujib: Triumph and Tragedy," where the author S A Karim reported that the prime minister's office told him the figure was taken from Pravda, a Soviet newspaper. But Bergman failed to quote Mr Karim's further view, "The correct figure is likely to be around a million. But for a relatively short period that the war lasted even this figure is enormous". He further added, "The shocking aspect of the behaviour of the occupying forces was not merely the wanton massacre of innocent civilians but the cruelty with which the killings were done. In addition, there was raping of women on a scale unparalleled in
In his recently published, award winning, much acclaimed book, "Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide", Prof Gary Bass of Princeton University, who has his own estimate of the number of martyrs, wrote, "The slaughter in what is now Bangladesh stands as one of the cardinal moral challenges of recent history? In the dark annals of modern cruelty, it ranks as bloodier than Bosnia and by some accounts in the same rough league as Rwanda."
Quite to the contrary, those who claim that not as many people died during the Liberation War seem to be trying to trivialise and minimise our sacrifices, and in some cases, tacitly justify the crimes committed against our people. Khaleda Zia's speech which Bergman has referred to in his article was absolutely a political one in line with the sole objective to achieve the aforementioned objective. In the congregation of the freedom fighters who now belong to her party she said, "There is still a controversy about the exact number of people martyred in the Liberation War. Different books give different accounts". Khaleda's comment came hot on the heels of Pakistan's denial in last November of committing any war crimes or atrocities during the nine-month bloody war. In the same speech, in line with her consisting stand, she also renewed her demand for a 'transparent' war crimes trial of 'international standards'. One of the cabinet ministers and a parliamentary adviser of Khaleda Zia have already met the gallows through the due process of law (which, of course, Bergman finds 'falling far short of proper due process').
Moreover, Khaleda Zia's intention could be further illustrated by the recent obituary reference of arguably the most despised, convicted and executed war criminal, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, in her party's recently held national council. In Europe, if any obituary reference is made about any of the executed war criminals of Nuremberg trials by any major political party, would it be allowed to function?
In no genocide, numbers of casualties were recorded on the basis of head counts. After World War-II, allied forces had claimed that the Nazi forces killed six million Jews. Though the lawyers for the Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg Tribunal and later Nazi sympathisers questioned the figure, the official figure remains six million, as was provided by the allied governments. As Jew (not that I care about anyone's religion) himself, if Bergman questions the official six million figure, if he lives in Israel, what kind of fate would he meet?
In Belgium, Holocaust denial was made illegal in 1995. The law stipulates that "whoever, denies, grossly minimizes, attempts to justify, or approves the genocide committed by the German National Socialist Regime during the Second World War shall be punished by a prison sentence". In Germany, "whoever publicly or in a meeting approves of, denies or belittles an act committed under the rule of National Socialism shall be punished". The Parliament of Hungary declared the denial or trivialization of the Holocaust a crime punishable by up to three years' imprisonment.
Last year, the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Bergman guilty of contempt for challenging the official death toll in the War of Liberation. Delivering the verdict, presiding Judge Obaidul Hassan told the courtroom, "Freedom of expression can be exercised in good faith and public interest". "David Bergman neither had good faith nor had he done it to serve public interest", the judge added. In the same token, Khaleda Zia's observation of 'controversy about the exact number of people martyred in the Liberation War' did not have any of the two aforesaid merits.
The tribunal reiterated that it was historically established that three million people were killed in the Liberation War. The tribunal also referred to its previous judgements where it mentioned the number (three million). "Anyone can research this but they have to be aware about not making any comment that may hurt the tribunal's dignity", added the honourable judge. The draft Denial law has taken the observations of the ICT in full consideration.
To illustrate his apprehension about the application of the Denial Law by the government to pressurise independent news media, he has alluded to a newspaper editor. As a Bangladesh based journalist, Bergman must be aware of the fact that all citizens of the Republic with free-thoughts and especially the eminent ones who are considered the conscience of the nation and staunch proponents of the trials of war criminals have come out vehemently protesting the harassment of the editor, who himself is a freedom fighter, an unflinching advocate of our demand, in his own words, demands the UN 'to declare killings by the Pakistanis of three million Bangalees within the category of genocide' and whose the most influential news daily and mighty pen is the vanguard of our pursuit to bring all the alleged war criminals to book.
Mozammel H Khan is the Convenor of the Canadian Committee for Human Rights and Democracy in Bangladesh