Genocide 1971:
 What does the world know about it?

Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq

Courtesy:
Daily Star [December 16, 2006]
New Nation [March 26, 2003]
The Independent Bangladesh [March 26, 2003; part I & II]


 

It has been over three decades since the people of Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan) suffered one of the worst genocides in history in 1971. According to Dr. Adam Jones, a professor with the International Studies Division, Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), Mexico City, Mexico, “The mass killings in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971 vie with the annihilation of the Soviet POWs, the holocaust against the Jews, and the genocide in Rwanda as the most concentrated act of genocide in the twentieth century.”

 

Even without any such comparison, the people of Bangladesh know first hand the horrific nature and extent of that genocide. Every year we celebrate our Independence Day and Victory Day. Despite being quite divided and dysfunctional politically, as a country we regularly remember the independence struggle and the 9-month long genocide. There are many who constantly speak and write about the horrors of 1971 and our awareness (chetona) of it. Over three decades past the genocide and the independence, but there has been no accountability of the war crimes and any possible emotional healing and integration of the nation continues to elude us.

 

I remember the horror of 1971 from my limited, personal experience as a 12 year old boy. Yet, after more than three decades since that genocide and independence the boisterous ritual of remembering that genocide, in my opinion, continues to lack any positive impact on our subsequent history, offering little else but pompous vacuity. But more importantly, I find the silence and negligence of many others, especially the Islamically-oriented segments of Bangladeshis, agonizing and disturbing.

 

Since 1981 I have been out of the country as an expatriate. Throughout this period, I have come across people of various backgrounds, Muslims and non-Muslims, whose ignorance about the genocide has astounded and baffled me. There are many Pakistanis, whose indifference or even prejudice I could understand and attribute to the malicious manipulation and distortion of facts and history by the ruling elites of Pakistan (then West Pakistan). Yet the problem seems to be endemic.

 

A crime committed by anyone against anyone is a crime. A genocide committed by anyone against anyone is genocide. As a human being who is a Muslim, to me it can’t be any other way. I had a rude awakening 5-6 years ago, when I was invited by one of the leading Islamic monthly magazines in the United States to contribute an essay with a theme “Muslim Unity” to one of its upcoming issues.

 

I reminded the editor about my often unorthodox or non-conformist views or approach, but I was still asked to send in the essay. The editor most possibly regretted it upon receipt of my essay. While my writeup was commended by the editor I was requested to remove a portion therefrom, in order to conform to their length requirement. I was told that if I just removed the part related to Bangladesh and genocide in 1971, it would be excellent and conform to their length requirement. I firmly refused. I was deeply disappointed and I sat on it for more than a year before publishing it elsewhere.

 

Over the last few years since, I have actively participated in numerous cyber-exchanges that revolved around topics related to our history, independence struggle, and the genocide. My experience has been that generally we are quite emotional and partisan, unable to engage in substantive discourse that promotes accountability and facilitates healing. Last year, when I shared with the Bangladeshi cyber community some western works on genocides in general and 1971 in particular, one overly zealous writer showered “obhishaap” [curse] on me, because one non-academic work of one of the western authors about genocide in 1971 had some significant omissions or lapses.  Before being saddled with such “obhishaap”, however, I had already contacted the western author about these lapses and he readily explained that he was not an expert on 1971 genocide, and that particular piece was merely an introduction for general cyber community that was interested in various genocides. He also welcomed any pertinent correction so that he could consider revising his piece.  Evidently, while some people interested in presenting the genocide would appreciate better information, some of us seem more enamored with partisan feelings and flinging curses, instead of providing accurate information to those people.

 

As I began to take a closer look at the available works on 1971 genocide, I was truly disappointed and disturbed by misinformation as well as lack of information about it. Relevant to note, the internet in recent times has become an essential media of information, but what is available online about the genocide is indeed pitiful.  Deeply saddened, it was at that time when I decided to start a website about the 1971 genocide. As I communicated with some genocide experts, my suspicion about misinformation as well as lack of information was corroborated before long.

 

Here is a summary picture. There are about 20+ different universities in the USA that offer either a research center and/or some degree program on genocide studies. These universities include major, well-known ones, such as Yale U., and Univ. of Minnesota, and other ones, such as Clark Univ. and Drew Univ.. The most commonly and extensively covered genocide is the Jewish holocaust in Nazi Germany. However, among the other common ones are those that occurred in Armenia, Cambodia, Russia, Rwanda, and Bosnia. While there are several universities that cover one or more such genocides, there is not a single university that has a research program on the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh. There are also focused courses covering one or more such genocides, but not a single course is focused on this 1971 genocide.

 

Almost all the major western countries, including United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, have one or more such genocide studies or degree programs. As far as covering 1971 genocide is concerned, it is no different with these countries either.

 

There are a good number of international organizations that focus on genocides. Some of these are generally focused on creating awareness about past genocides, preventing future ones and/or addressing any ongoing ones. Some of the notable ones are: End Genocide, an initiative of World Federalist Association with headquarters in the US; FEWER, USA; Gendercide Watch, Canada; Genocide Prevention Initiative, run by Aegis Trust in United Kingdom; Genocide Research Project, University of Memphis and Pennsylvania State University, USA; Genocide Watch, Netherlands; Prevent Genocide International, a global network; Center for the Prevention of Genocide; Web Genocide Documentation Center, University of the West of England. Except Gendercide Watch, none of the other ones had any information or link about the 1971 genocide. Gendercide Watch included a weblink to War Liberation Museum in Bangladesh. Others did not have any such links listed. Some of these are now being updated with the new site that I have just begun.

 

There are four academic journals that are focused on genocide studies. They have been there for years. Unfortunately, my search did not turn up any refereed paper on genocide in Bangladesh in 1971.

 

There are other organizations or institutions that are focused on remembering specific genocides. Most such sites do not have any links about the genocide 1971.

 

Strange but true, while there is lack of information about the 1971 genocide, there is no dearth of misinformation. Many genocide-related sites do not have any information about that genocide, but they often have links to sites or pages that refer to “Hindu genocide in East Pakistan (1971)”, generally referring to works that cite that three million Hindus were killed in 1971. See, for example, the site at Webster University. Such misinformation and pure lies are spread by extremist Hindu organizations such as Hindunet.org or anti-Bangladeshi propagandists, such as HRCBM.

 

This should make us wonder how much do we the Bangladeshis really care in a substantive manner about what happened in 1971 and what have we constructively and proactively done in creating awareness about that terrible tragedy. This question is especially pertinent for those who also want to establish some kind of accountability for the genocide and the crimes against humanity. While web pages dedicated by Bangladeshis to the 1971 genocide and the Independence Struggle may abound, most of these are merely emotional statements and/or personal memoirs.  These are valuable, indeed, but collectively they do not contribute adequately toward increasing global awareness about the genocide.

 

Of course, the bulk of the work has to be institutional and Bangladesh Liberation War Museum has done the most valuable and extensive work. However, we are in a cyber age and presence of information online is critical for wide and easy dissemination. While really substantive works must remain to be carried out by pertinent endowed institutions and organizations, individuals can also make meaningful difference in this regard.

 

It was with this goal in mind that a new website, dedicated to 1971 genocide, was conceived. It is still in progress. But the pertinent materials that have already been assembled at the site are substantive and readers should find these valuable.

 

For example, how many of us know that in 1971 International Commission of Jurists undertook an investigative study of the events? Though the work remained incomplete due to lack of cooperation from the Pakistani rulers, the Commission did publish its study in 1972, which still remains one of the most referred to sources by all those who work on 1971 genocide. How many Bangladeshis have read this document? It is a must reading for all those who want to know and create awareness about the events in 1971. The new site has that entire document online, within the reach of all those with internet access.

 

One of the goals behind creating this site is to help improve awareness among the global Muslim community as they seem to have a hypocritical stance regarding the genocide. While they know and care about the genocide in Bosnia and Chechnya, most of them neither know about the 1971 genocide, nor do they seem to care about it similarly. Could it be that, when Muslims perpetrate genocide, we need to treat it differently than when Muslims are victims of the same?

 

One of the reasons genocides have occurred in distant and not-so-distant history is because human beings have often lost their own humanity and their faith in humanity; consequently, treating other fellow human beings, Muslims or non-Muslims, communists or non-communists, Jews or non-Jews, Armenians or non-Armenians, in inhumane manner seemed acceptable. If our faith, philosophy, ideology, creed, conviction does not guide and inspire us to rise above our parochial views and attitudes, to see these matter at the human level, we may not have seen the last of genocides.

 

Hence, as a Bangladeshi, I can’t care about only the genocide committed against the Bengalis. As a Muslim, I can’t care about only the genocide committed against the Muslims. As an Asian, I can’t care about only the genocides committed against the Asians. As human beings, we need to care about any and all genocides committed against any group of humans by other groups. Wherever possible, we must expose the perpetrators and hold them accountable, and continue to work toward preventing any future genocide anywhere on earth.

 

You are invited to visit this website about the 1971 Genocide at http://www.globalwebpost.com/genocide1971 and help in further developing it as a major resource site for information about the 1971 genocide. Let us help the world be informed about the genocide in 1971 just as it is about all other genocides. At the institutional level, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis should work toward establishing genocide studies programs, with special focus on 1971, and also be connected with all those around the world who are working on the noble goal to prevent future genocides.
 


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