Two cheers for democracy!

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.

Let’s sing for Bangladesh!

My heartfelt thanks to Tarek Fatah for writing a heart touching piece about Bangladesh.

In a tiny country on the other side of the globe, far away from the glare of celebrity TV anchors and big-shot correspondents in jungle khaki, a revolution is unfolding, but not if you watch CNN, BBC or CBC.

For two weeks now, hundreds of thousands people from young men and women, aging former guerrilla fighters and grandmothers who still carry the scars of violence, have occupied the Shahbag Square in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The collective anger of a nation, simmering for over 40 years below the surface, finally erupted this month.

The roots of this resentment lay in the genocide of the Bengali people that started in March 1971 by the Pakistan Army and its accuses jihadi collaborators, the mullahs of the Jamaat-e-Islami. The military-sanctioned massacres did not stop until nine months later in December that year when the Indian Army intervened and the Pakistan military promptly surrendered.

From the ashes of a war and three million dead people choking its rivers, the new country of Bangladesh emerged…

For the first time ever in the Muslim world, there has been a popular uprising against the fascism of Islamist parties. One would have expected the western intelligentsia to be thrilled at this development and for the media to report from the square, but the Walter Cronkites of the world are no more.

Back in the 1970s when ratings was not all that mattered to the super stars of the time, George Harrison and Ravi Shankar played for our conscience at the memorable ‘Concert for Bangladesh’ in Madison Square Garden. And then there was Joan Baez who let out a wail in the midst of a genocide. Her song rallied millions:

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh

When the sun sinks in the west

Die a million people of the Bangladesh

Today too, the sun sinks in the west,, but no one is singing for Bangladesh anymore.

‘For the first time ever in the Muslim world, there has been a popular uprising against the fascism of Islamist parties.’ Nothing can be better than mass protests against fascism and barbarism. I am not really supporting the execution of war criminals as I am against the death penalty. If you do not want to do anything but to cry for the death penalty, you can cry as much as you want. The people who are for abolishing the death penalty will not lend you their shoulders to cry on. I support the banning of Jamaat-e-Islami. In Bangladesh, it is nothing but a terrorist organization. The religious terrorist organizations should be banned if we want true democracy, human rights, women’s freedom and freedom of expression.

The Shahbag movement should be led by secular progressive people. If the political parties hijack the movement, they will definitely ruin it. All the political parties in Bangladesh made the fascist Jamaat-e-Islami their allies in the past. It is foolish to trust them.

George Harrison died. The great people of the ‘concert for Bangladesh’ are not here. They are not singing for Bangladesh. But we, humanists, secularists, and dreamers are still alive. Let’s sing for Bangladesh! Let’s make our dreams come true. Let’s encourage people of Bangladesh to make their country a secular country without poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, superstitions,a country without religionism, fanaticism, fascism, barbarism, a country without crimes and corruption!

Shahbag is a new Tahrir Square


After Arab Spring, Tahrir revolution, and the victory of Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in Egypt, I am not impressed by the crowd. Bangladesh’s Shahbag is now like a tiny Tahrir Square. Facebook and Twitter generation gathered at Shahbag to demand death penalty for Abdul Kader Mullah, the war criminal. He raped and killed people during Bangladesh liberation war in 1971, more than 40 years ago. The war criminal gets life imprisonment, but the Shahbag crowd is not happy, wants death penalty for him. As more people join the crowd, Shahbag starts asking death penalty for all war criminals. The fact is, all war criminals are Islamists. They did not want to be separated from Pakistan, a country based on Islam.

The Shahbag crowd is desperate to execute an old war-criminal-Islamist. What would they do to the millions of growing young Islamists in Bangladesh? I questioned. The crowd has made it clear that they are not against Islam or Islamists, they are against criminals, rapists, and murderers of 1971. The Tahrir crowd was against Mubarak but not against Islamists. The Shahbag crowd is quite similar to the Tahrir crowd. The Shahbag crowd is against war criminals but not against Islamists.

Four hundred thousand Islamists gathered in the streets demanded my execution by hanging in Bangladesh in 1994, much bigger than today’s Shahbag crowd. In 20 years, Islamists have gained their strength quite a lot. The Bangladesh government filed a case against me on the charges of hurting religious feelings and threw me out of the country. No government has shown courage yet to allow me to enter the country since then. Since then no people, no organization, no media protested against the heinous crime committed by the fundamentalists and the state against an innocent writer.

I believe if Islamists now want to have a public meeting in Bangladesh, they will be able to make 100 times bigger crowd than the Shahbag crowd. More people go to Madrasas than to facebook or twitter or blogs. More people are brainwashed to be Islamists than to be non-Islamists, more people are conservative, religious than progressive and enlightened. Much more women are veiled now than before. Now much more men go to mosques to pray than before. I lost hopes I had for Bangladesh many years ago. I probably should have new hopes, because young people at least are fighting against war criminals, a bunch of rapists and mass murderers, who have been forgiven, given opportunities, adored, respected, empowered by the worthless politicians and military since the independence of Bangladesh. I sympathize with young people at Shahbag, I can show my solidarity, but I can not support capital punishment for anymore, not even for the biggest enemy of mine, for whatever crimes they commit, not even for my assassin. I strongly believe everyone has the right to live. Bad ruling systems, bad societal systems, bad education or lack of education make people bad, corrupt, criminal, extremists.

I asked a Shahbag revolutionary, ‘Abdul Kader Mullah is now 64. He will die in prison while serving life sentence. Why are you asking for his execution?’
He said, ‘He will be freed by the next government.’
I said, ‘Then you should start protesting again the way you are protesting now. There will be second Shahbag!’
He did not like my arguments, so he called me bad names.

If those war criminals or Islamists want to kill a person, that is me, not the Shahbag crowd. They know very well who their real enemy is. They hounded me for decades. I am against all kinds of religious fundamentalists, against Islamists, against war criminals, but I am also against the death penalty. People in an uncivilized corrupt country drowned in Islamism get crazy to hang an old man. By killing Abdul Kader Mullah along with all war criminals, you will not be able to get rid of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, patriarchy, misogyny, corruption, Islamism – your real enemies. Until you fight your real enemies, none of your revolution is a real revolution.