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The speech that reignited horrific war memories

Published : Friday, 16 April, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 213
Syed Badiuzzaman

The speech that reignited horrific war memories

The speech that reignited horrific war memories

�When Muslims were killing and raping Muslims during the 1971 Bangladesh War, no Muslim and Arab country in the world uttered a single word -- let alone condemnations." As I heard this statement quite some time ago in the United States from a renowned American scholar who specialized in Islamic studies, I experienced a sudden jolt within myself.

Because frankly speaking I barely thought about it that way. So, I instantly asked myself was I hearing it right; was the scholar telling the truth. Then I thought that such a famous American expert on Islam couldn't be wrong. Truly, no Muslim and Arab country condemned the atrocities committed by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. It was a historical fact.

And that fact was recollected by John Louis Esposito, the well-known American academic and Islamic scholar. A professor of Islamic studies, religion and international affairs at Georgetown University in Washington DC, John Esposito has authored more than 55 books including at least 25 books on Islam alone. His books "Islam and Politics," "Islam: The Straight Path," "Islam: What Everyone Needs to Know" and "The Future of Islam" sold very well in the US going through repeated editions.

So, when a friend called and told me that John Esposito would give a talk on "Challenges Muslims Face Today" at Rhode Island University, I couldn't miss that opportunity. I heard a lot about John Esposito but never had a chance to listen to his speech in real time sitting in an auditorium. So, after driving some 125 km from Boston, Massachusetts -- where I was living at the time --we arrived at Rhode Island University in the neighboring state of Rhode Island to listen to his speech.

As John Esposito made that bombshell statement in reference to the alleged hypocrisy and double standard of many Muslim and Arab countries, I noticed a pin-drop silence in the whole auditorium that was filled to almost capacity. As the atrocities continued in what was then East Pakistan during the 1971 war, people in Muslim and Arab countries kept just quiet while many in non-Muslim countries around the world raised their voice, he told the gathering.

In addition to writing so many books and articles, John Esposito is the editor-in-chief of several Oxford reference works including "The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World," "The Oxford History of Islam," "The Oxford Dictionary of Islam," "The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World" in six volumes and "Oxford Islamic Studies Online." He is also the founding director of Prince Alwaleed Centre for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown.

John Esposito who has a PhD from Temple University also shared an interesting story of his life with his audience that evening at the Rhode Island University. He said after going to graduate school, he decided to specialize in Islamic studies and one day he informed his parents about it. After hearing about his decision, he said, his parents became extremely frustrated. They bluntly told him: "You will never be able to make your living." But he said he took it as a challenge and remained firm in his decision to pursue Islamic studies.

Esposito was right. Not a single Muslim and Arab country condemned the war crimes and one of the worst genocides of history during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. Over 100,000 Pakistani soldiers launched a brutal military campaign called "Operation Searchlight" against 70 million unarmed Bengali civilians and continued their killing spree and raping women for nine months, yet the Arab and Muslim countries regarded what turned out to be a bloody war for Bangladesh's independence as an internal affair of Pakistan.

But the question is how a genocide and deliberate mass rapes of hundreds of thousands of women of different culture and language by soldiers even though they belonged to the same country at the time could be considered as an internal affair and thus was not condemnable. The Arab and Muslim countries that turned a blind eye to the killing and raping of Muslims during the 1971 Bangladesh War siding with Pakistan took the low road to appease that country forsaking their higher moral obligations to speak out against injustice and do the right thing.

On the Victory Day of Bangladesh in 2016, Smithsonian Magazine based in Washington DC, published an article on the events of 1971 Bangladesh War with this courageous headline: "The Genocide the U.S. Can't Remember, But Bangladesh Can't Forget." The article also had a subheading which accurately reflected the casualties as well as the international politics during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh: "Millions were killed in what was then known as East Pakistan, but Cold War geopolitics left defenseless Muslims vulnerable."

There had been a debate over the actual number of women sexually assaulted by Pakistani soldiers and their local collaborators during the 1971 war. But the well-researched article written by Lorraine Boissoneault addressed that controversy squarely. "When the Australian doctor Geoffrey Davis was brought to Dhaka by the United Nations to assist with late-term abortions of raped women, at the end of the war, he believed the estimated figure for the number of Bengali women who were raped -- 200,000 to 400,000 -- was probably too low." That means the actual figure was much higher.

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Muslim-majority countries including Indonesia, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, however, put pressure on Pakistan to recognize Bangladesh as they didn't want the rift that had emerged within the Islamic world to continue for a long time. But even though Pakistan recognized Bangladesh on February 22 in 1974, it hasn't yet admitted war crimes committed by its soldiers during the 1971 Liberation War nor has it formally apologized for such crimes.

So, those who want to see improved relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan should actually work with the Pakistani government leaders and convince them to admit the crimes Pakistani soldiers committed during the 1971 Bangladesh War and formally apologize to the people and government of Bangladesh. It has been 50 years since Bangladesh earned its independence, but Pakistan has failed to do so apparently for the ego and arrogance of a section of truth-denying Pakistani politicians.

Those politicians must bear in mind that Bangladeshis too have their self-respect and in fact a higher sense of pride. Bangladeshis will never forget the war crimes committed against their ancestors by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 Liberation War even if Pakistan formally apologizes for such crimes. Because forgetting those brave sons and daughters of Bangladesh who were brutally murdered and raped by Pakistani soldiers and their local henchmen in 1971 will amount to betrayal with their souls.

So, generation after generation of Bangladeshis will forever remember those who suffered and sacrificed their lives for liberation of Bangladesh and left behind an independent homeland for their descendants. If Pakistan sincerely wishes to improve its relations with Bangladesh, it must formally apologize for the 1971 war crimes. Anything short of an official apology will be unacceptable.
The writer is a Toronto-based journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun and Canada's Postmedia Network

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