Ghulam azam, a 91-year-old war criminal, has been sentenced to 90 years in prison for the crimes he committed during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971.
A collaborator of the Pakistani army, Azam was directly involved in killing 3 million people and the rapes of 200,000 women. After the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh, Azam returned to the country with the help of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Meanwhile, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the once-banned political party of Islamists, was given a free hand in the Islamisation of politics. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Islamisation went on to destroy the secular fabric of the newborn nation.
Of course, Azam will not live another 90 years to end his prison term. An ailing man, he will stay in the hospital until he dies. He will not really suffer like other prisoners. He enjoyed a celebrity life for more than 40 years as the top leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, the country whose birth he had violently opposed. Even though he will be privileged as a prisoner in his last days, still his punishment means a lot for the secular people in Bangladesh.
The war criminals have got every opportunity to turn a secular country into Darul Islam, the land of Islam. Many of them were even made Parliament members. The Jamaat-e-Islami uses religion to win the hearts and minds of god-fearing ordinary people.
A few months ago, however, there was a big secular uprising despite the threats of the Islamic fundamentalists. Many secularists demanded the banning of Jamaat-e-Islami. I supported that demand even though I am all for democracy, because the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh is a terrorist organisation. The Islamists aim to bring theocracy and bury democracy and secularism forever.
The punishment Azam got now in his 90s is just a symbolic one. Sheikh Hasina has been in power before, but she was reluctant to bring war criminals to justice. But this time, probably, the popularity of the recent secular movement made her decide to punish war criminals. She got a huge number of votes in the last election after she promised to bring them to justice and fight the fundamentalists. Though she also promised to bring back 1972’s secular Constitution, as Prime Minister she showed no such initiative.
Her party is considered the most secular in Bangladesh, yet they arrested some secularist bloggers a few months ago. Indeed, there is no true secular political party in the country that can assure the security of all the people, including non-believers, and protect their right to express their opinions fearlessly.
Bangladesh may have won the war in 1971, but the war actually is far from over. A war is still going on, a war of two opposite ideas — secularism and fundamentalism; between rational, logical thinking and irrational blind faith; between modernism and barbarism, humanism and Islamism; between those who value freedom and those who do not.
The old generation committed an enormous mistake by letting fundamentalists influence the people. Now the new generation has to transmute their country into a secular nation — free of religion, fanaticism, fascism and barbarism. People need to get angry. I am painfully aware of the evil powers that once attempted to eliminate me, and with whom the pro-Islamist government ultimately conspired to throw me out of Bangladesh, my own country, 20 years ago, never to allow me in again.
Therefore, I would love to see millions of angry, passionate young people with a vision rise against the Islamists’ insanity, and guide the country to a new era.