by Nadine Shaanta Murshid for AlalODulal.org
“I wonder. Did he consider his life’s work done: radicalization of people, sowing the dreams of the inevitable Islamic Caliphate that would drive away jahillyya one day from this land of the impure? Did he think he died a hero, a martyr, and an uncompromising leader for many? Particularly the people who think he was wrongly convicted? The people who he turned using religion – Islam – as a political tool?”
Golam Azam is dead.
A flurry of images compete with each other for center stage.
- Me throwing out a person from my house when he said, “I am Golam Azam’s son.” I didn’t physically lift him up and throw him out. I just said, leave. And he did. He may have said he was joking. He may have apologized. But all that is a blur.
- Looking at cartoon versions of Golam Azam, Nizami, Syeedi and others at the age of 11 or so. My grandparents were part of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee and they would take my sister Navine and me to their meetings once in a while. I never got around to asking them why, because she and I were the only children there. But we loved it. We loved Jahanara Imam. And Sufia Kamal. And our grandparents. We loved the Gono Adalat that held mock trials in which war criminals were tried and Golam Azam found guilty and condemned to death. And we despaired, with others, when Jahanara Imam was charged with treason for wanting justice for 1971, for wanting justice for all those who were killed – including her son – during the Liberation War.
- I remember a remark. “But you made him popular, who even knew who Golam Azam was?” to members of the Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee. A remark obviously made with a lot of pain, a lot of anger, turmoil. And I remember my grandmother saying: those who were affected by his crimes remember him. And I remember applause. I remember tears.
- I remember Rafiqun Nabi’s cartoon of Golam Azam in Charukola. And Shishir Bhattacharya’s. (Ma, too, would take us everywhere). And I remember lines in front of the cartoons. Men were taking turns to urinate at it, while women spat. I laughed and laughed that day. I had never seen anything like it.
I miss those days when things were clearer. I miss that we knew where we stood, politically at least. And we knew where our friends and family stood. It was with great conviction that we knew who had fought for Bangladesh’s independence. And who didn’t. At that age perhaps everything is black white. A Bush-esque “us” and “them”
Or maybe it was easy to spot who was who because being “pro 1971” was not a “thing” then. We had a dictator for a president and years of dictatorship had buried what became known as the AL-BNP divide. The fissures were frozen in time, till they weren’t.
Maybe it was obvious – the pro Bangladesh anti Bangladesh divide – because only those who fought in the war, those who actively fought for Bangladesh, were the only ones who wanted justice for 1971. After all, wanting justice at the time could make you a traitor; you could be charged with treason. Like Jahanara Imam.
Maybe because we still agreed that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the father of the nation, and Ziaur Rahman his able personnel who (among others such as MA Hannan) had announced the independence of Bangladesh, that there was less discord, less “othering” between the same. The BNP-AL divide was not a real divide in terms of where individuals stood on the liberation war. In fact, they were united in their fight against dictatorship in Bangladesh, which ultimately led to free/fair elections in 1991.
There were few who named Ziaur Rahman as the killer of Bongobondhu. The names were known: Dalim, Faruque, Rashid and associates were the ones who killed the father of the nation. People did not argue on their behalf. Or I was too young to notice.
Maybe the politicization of 1971 had not yet fully happened, and that allowed people to be who they were. They didn’t have to pretend, those who did not support Bangladesh’s liberation were ostracized, sidelined. Many left the country. Not for political reasons, but existential reasons. And no one hounded them down.
Back then, Jamaat was not a major political force. That lack of political power perhaps rendered Jamaat a “party” of no choice. Their only identity was related to 1971. Not “Islam”. Or “clean business practices”. But as co-conspirators with the Pakistan Army in 1971. And many did not want to side with them. And most did not. At least not publicly.
But that was then. Maybe I simplify what those times were like in the eyes of a little girl. But, I would still say, that was then.
After Jamaat became a political party with Golam Azam as its head, seeds of integration were sown. Jamaat and Pakistan supporters gradually intermingled and inter-married freedom fighters and their family members, blurring the lines between Jamaat and non-Jamaat. Pro-Bangladesh and anti-Bangladesh. At the same time, Jamaat found a niche market for themselves – floundering political parties that need electoral support when they cannot win majority votes. And that is when Jamaat and Golam Azam garnered “power” and became an annoying “force to contend with” in Bangladesh. A Bangladesh he did not want. A Bangladesh he did not want to be a part of.
I wonder. Did he consider his life’s work done: radicalization of people, sowing the dreams of the inevitable Islamic Caliphate that would drive away jahillyya one day from this land of the impure? Did he think he died a hero, a martyr, and an uncompromising leader for many? Particularly the people who think he was wrongly convicted? The people who he turned using religion – Islam – as a political tool?
Or, was it his greatest disappointment or regret that he died in a prison cell in Bangladesh, having been convicted of war crimes against humanity in 1971. Or that he would be buried in the soil of Bangladesh? Or was it that he was involved in genocide? That in the name of making “pure” Islamic children he condoned the rape of many Bengali women?
Or was it that he will never be forgiven, because he never asked for forgiveness.