Tahmima Anam, The New York Times and the Bangladesh Motanarrative

 Narratives that make your head bleed

Last week, the ultranationalist bloc in Bangladesh, The Shahbag, was burning effigies of Imran Khan. He had dared to comment on that crown jewel of Bangladesh's 'internal affairs', the dubious trials of those accused of crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh War.  Please note that I have been against these trials since before they existed, as they are based on a false history and a narrative which makes the head go fat (mota), and unable to handle other truths.  

It is what I call a motanarrative, a story that possesses you so much it gives you brain damage.

Imran Khan's speech in his parliament was rare (video), and took place in the context of the aftermath of the judicial murder of Abdul Quader Mollah in Dhaka on 12th December by a judicial system whose credibility is at an extreme low point.

It may be a little late in the day for it, but a growing body of commentators are coming to the consensus that the term fascism can be justly applied to the running situation in Bangladesh.

A letter to America?

Tahmima Anam's New York Times article was not the best intervention from a Bangladeshi on the subject of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations on 1971. That prize goes to this letter to Imran Khan, as well as people of balanced mind and silenced tongue, which addresses issues of Truth and Reconciliation. However it was a powerful contribution, from an author with a right to audience granted primarily by her inherited symbolic capital, and western academic credentials.

For those who do not know and who should, Tahmima Anam is the daughter of Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Dhaka based and Transcom associated Daily Star. She has a masters in Creative Writing and wrote an anthropology PhD at Harvard University on the intriguingly titles Fixing the Past: War, Violence, and Habitations of Memory in Post-Independence Bangladesh. She is also responsible for the Hay Festival Dhaka, critiqued this year as the end of the line eyewash for an elite covering up a massacre.

My comments on the piece are in [square brackets], although the title sounds agreeable, I have several problems with it.

As I would expect, it misreads Anthony Masceranas, the Christian Pakistani journalist who blew a whistle on the deeds of the Pakistan Army; and Hamoodur Rahman, the Bengali-Pakistani judge whose commission report on the matter was only declassified nearly 30 years after the War.


Pakistan's State of Denial

  • SAVE

DHAKA, Bangladesh — It was a Paksistani [sp] journalist, Anthony Mascarenhas, who gave the world the first detailed account of Bangladesh’s war of independence. In April 1971, soon after the army of Pakistan started suppressing the secessionist movement in what was then still the eastern part of the country, it invited Mr. Mascarenhas to report on the conflict, believing he would buttress the false propaganda of a just war. Mr. Mascarenhas promptly moved his family, and then himself, to Britain knowing that soon he would no longer be able to live in Pakistan.
Zahedul I Khan
Tahmima Anam
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“For six days as I traveled with the officers of the 9th Division headquarters at Comilla I witnessed at close quarters the extent of the killing,” Mr. Mascarenhas wrote in a lengthy, damning report published under the headline “Genocide” in the June 13, 1971, edition of The Sunday Times.
“I saw Hindus, hunted from village to village and door to door, shot off-hand after a cursory ‘short-arm inspection’ showed they were uncircumcised. I have heard the screams of men bludgeoned to death in the compound of the Circuit House (civil administrative headquarters) in Comilla. I have seen truckloads of other human targets and those who had the humanity to try to help them hauled off ‘for disposal’ under the cover of darkness and curfew.” [Note how Anam has been silent about the truck loads of human bodies removed from the scene of the Motijheel Massacre on 6th May 2013, attacked in the dead of night by cover of darkness Ref: Audio eyewitness Account, Hospitalised victim account 1, Hospitalised victim account 2, Hospitalised victim account 3, Hospitalised victim account 4 , secretly filmed policeman in a taxi stating 400 were killed]
Four decades later, Mr. Mascarenhas’s government still insists on denying the past: the mass killing of civilians (perhaps as many as three million [Anam knows this is patently untrue yet repeats this figure for emotional effect. Ref: The journalist who was present when the 3 million death toll was first stated by a fresh out of jail Mujib]), the targeting of Hindus, the systematic rape of thousands [Recent, detailed research by Sarmila Bose appreciates much of the Brave Masceranas account, but also finds limitations to his informant network] . On Dec. 16, Pakistan’s National Assembly adopted a resolution expressing concern over the recent execution of Abdul Quader Mollah, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Bangladesh’s leading Islamic party, who was convicted by a Bangladeshi court [a highly problematic trial] of committing murder and rape while collaborating with the Pakistani Army during the 1971 war. Calling Mr. Mollah a Pakistani sympathizer — and the independence of Bangladesh “the fall of Dhaka” — a multiparty majority of the assembly complained that Mr. Mollah was sentenced because of his “loyalty to Pakistan” [This was quite dumb on the part of the Pakistanis, and suggests a lack of homework]  and asked the Bangladeshi government to drop all other cases against the Jamaat leadership.
There is no doubt the Pakistani Army committed war crimes in 1971. Yet in history books and schoolrooms throughout Pakistan, the army’s atrocities are glossed over. [Just like we gloss over how Bengali Nationalists committed atrocities on their adversaries before during and after the war]
This denial prevails despite an official study by the Pakistani Army. Just after the war, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto set up an independent judicial commission to investigate atrocities committed in East Pakistan in order to understand why the army had failed there. When the Hamoodur Rahman [interesting fact, Hamoodur Rahman was Bengali] Commission report was published in 1974, it documented how, under the pretense of quashing a rebellion, the Pakistani Army had planned and carried out the execution of intellectuals, soldiers, officials, businessmen and industrialists, and had buried them in mass graves. [ I don't think Anam has read the report properly, which does include crimes of Pak army, but is heavily geared towards military failure analysis and documenting crimes of Mukti Bahini before and during the war. You can read it HERE]
The commission recommended that the Pakistani government set up a special court to further investigate misconduct by the army. This never happened, and the report remained classified for nearly three decades. Five Pakistani heads of state have visited Bangladesh since 1971 without extending a formal apology. The closest any of them came to recognizing Pakistan’s wrongs was Pervez Musharraf, who wrote in 2002 in a visitors’ book at a war memorial near Dhaka, “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pains of the events of 1971. The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regrettable.”
Bangladesh’s own efforts to deal with its messy birth were unsuccessful [with success being measured in what?] — until 2008, when the Awami League was voted into power partly on a mandate to hold a war crimes trial [ Hardly, it did not headline their manifesto but was enthusiastically backed by a strong special interest group] that would bring to justice the people who collaborated with the Pakistani Army in 1971. (By then Bangladeshis [Who she lobbies for] had grown weary of successive governments’ turning a blind eye to crimes many of their own families had endured.) The International Crimes Tribunal was created in 2009; 12 men have been charged so far; three of them have been convicted, including Mr. Mollah.
From the outset, the court was dogged with criticism [Moot mention used well here, to avoid: Skype scandal, judicial incompetance, inequality of witness rights, abduction of a defence witness, harrassment of defense team  ].  It has been accused of skirting international procedural standards and of being politically motivated: Most of the accused are members of Jamaat-e-Islami. In December 2012, President Abdullah Gul of Turkey requested “clemency” for the defendants, on the grounds that they were “too old” to stand trial. On the eve of Mr. Mollah’s appeal, Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly warned Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh that Mr. Mollah’s execution would create instability on the eve of the general election set for Jan. 5.
Whatever one thinks of these trials or the death penalty generally [ More liberal mooting from a writer who is anything but liberal] , the sentence against Mr. Mollah was handed down by an independent [No, influenced by both executive and activists] court  in a sovereign country [Hmm,  high dependance on aid, international labour not to mention India] on the basis of extensive eyewitness testimony [ Momena, the critical witness in his case was only 13 years old in 1971 and changed her story in  way that looks forced. It is not hard to buy or scare people in Bangladesh] . And Mr. Mollah’s execution on Dec. 12 had widespread public support. Never mind Prime Minister Hasina’s flaws: At least she has had the political courage to take a stand against whitewashing the past [ By Banglawashing the past with a false, self serving narrative which is slowing being peeled away], while the opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, has reinforced her ties with Jamaat by remaining silent on the matter [Key strategic objective for secular illiberals like Tahmia Anam is to disrupt the alliance between the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami Opposition parties]
But then, a few days after Mr. Mollah’s execution — precisely on the anniversary of Pakistani Army’s surrender to independent Bangladesh [Rather defeat at the hands of the Indian-led armed forces] — the Pakistani National Assembly adopted its denialist resolution. Instead of supporting Bangladesh’s efforts to come to terms with its brutal birth [You cannot be serious? nobody apart from the Indians support the sham trials], Pakistan is pouring salt into its wounds. Pakistan, it is high time you apologize. [Today's Pakistan is not yesterday's Pakistan, and although investigation, sorrow and tawba are crucial, so too is an investigation of and apology from the Awami League, Mukti Bahini and friends]
Tahmima Anam is a writer and anthropologist, and the author of the novel “A Golden Age.”

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