Saturday, 16 February 2013

Origins of Shahbag: Bangladeshi Nationalism

Consider this passage from Rahnuma Ahmed's recent critical analysis of the Shahbag movement, quoting a blogger:

We want the ruling party to be pro-liberation, we want the opposition party to be pro-liberation, we want that every political party, every political leader, every organisation, every school, college, madrassah, university, all business organisations, civic organisations, everyone in the country, should be pro-liberation. Not a tall order but rather basic when you think of it, for, after all, it is the liberation war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.

A dichotomy is implicitly constructed here: even 40 years after the war, one is either a collaborator, or pro-liberation. Moreover, the dichotomy must extend to every level of the state and civil institutions and even individual citizens. It is not clear what exactly is meant by 'pro-liberation': does one have to non-critically accept the Awami League-centric narrative of the history with all its flaws? Does a Chakma or Bihari citizen of Bangladesh have to be as pro-liberation as everyone else, given the discrimination and internal colonialism that these people have been subjected to?

Now, Jamaat-e-Islaami has (somewhat ineptly) attempted to catch up with the development of the pro-liberation narrative and states in its manifesto that

Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami started working with the pledge to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and Islamic values of Bangladesh which became independent through a great liberation war in 1971.

They forget to mention here that at the time they considered what they now call the 'great liberation war' to have been a secessionist rebelion led by Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League, in which they sided with the Pakistani military regime. It's not clear at which point the views of JI towards what happened in '71 changed, but they do seem to have moved on - at least on the face of it - to accommodate to the prevailing narrative about the liberation war.

As most or all other analyses of Shahbag by Bangladeshi writers, Rahnuma Ahmed does not address the credibility of the verdicts on Azad and Molla. She wonders in passing why "the ICT was formed not drawing upon the country’s best judges, lawyers and prosecutors, but on the basis of mindless allegiance and loyalty to the Awami League?", which appears to imply that the process itself was credible, but the people involved incompetent or influenced by the Awami League political establishment, which presumably resulted in the prison sentence rather than the desired execution.

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