The chaos Dr Imtiaz's book has caused

Unless the squalid contents in the book are turned around, we shall face irretrievable stumbling blocks everywhere, including in UNESCO and the UN General Assembly

AHM Shamsuddin ChoudhuryAHM Shamsuddin Choudhury
Published : 10 May 2023, 00:21 AM
Updated : 10 May 2023, 00:21 AM

During my employment with the UK Immigration Advisory Service, I had to deliver lectures at the training courses of the British immigration and visa officers, the police and diplomats, connected with visa and immigration matters, in an ex-officio capacity.

In response to an invitation accorded to me by Alan Montgomery, the head of the visa wing at the British Foreign and Commonwealth office at the given time, I travelled to Dhaka to act as a resource person in the training sessions of the British visa and immigration officers, based in the South Asian countries, who assembled for training in Dhaka from Feb 18, 1992. During my turn, a participant placed me in an awkward situation by asking whether the derogatory comments on the Bengali people Thomas Babington Macaulay recorded in the minutes' prelude to the codification of the penal laws for India represented the truth. When I asked the audience not to put any credence on such insidious remarks, they insisted that the comments being in black and white shall always remain extant and attract inquisition. The argument they advanced could not be jettisoned. A written document survives through eternity, and that is why the British authorities fought tooth and nail to impede the publication of the book, ‘Spy Catcher’ authored by Peter Wright, a retired top brass of MI 5, the British intelligence agency, due to its allegations about government policy and incidents.

Everything stated above applies equally well to ‘Historicizing 1971 Genocide: State Versus Person’, a book by Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, the former head of Dhaka University’s Centre for Genocide Studies, contents wherein shall have infinite longevity unless torpedoed.

Dhaka University has taken an infallible decision by castigating the author for concocting historical events, asking him and the publishing house to take steps to withdraw the book and asking the government to bring to book those who took part in the loathsome acts of distortion. Members of the university syndicate definitely deserve encomium and high accolades for such a commendable move of national interest. Yet, what cannot be ignored is that the despicable contents of the book shall survive as a part of our history for generations to come, even if the book is withdrawn, to ignite an enigma in the minds of the readers. In view of the standing of the author, as the head of the Genocide Studies Centre of the University, at least some people will tend to place reliance on what has been written in the book. It has, quite congruously, been claimed by a section of the gentry that it is a person’s inalienable right to air his opinion. But they fail to draw an unambiguous line between an expression of opinion and a statement of fact. While some contents in the book are opinion-oriented, there are claims which are purely factual, where questions of opinion are otiose. Dr Imtiaz’s claim that Bangabandhu (Mujib in his vocabulary) ended his March 7 speech with the words “Joy Pakistan” and that he was present at the venue to hear the speech can certainly not be brought within the threshold of opinion by any stress of imagination. Irrespective of whether or not Bangabandhu was denigrated by Dr Imtiaz’s outrageous and evidently unfounded claim, the truth is that the bizarre assertion was impregnated with an abominable degree of falsehood. Bangabandhu’s speech, having been incorporated in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution, Dr Imtiaz’s grotesque claim is punishable for the violation of the Constitution. Over and above, it may engender a state of confusion in the minds of the people in UNESCO, who accorded recognition to the speech as being part of the world heritage. A scholar, who would undertake research on Bangabandhus March 7 speech, would definitely be swamped with inscrutable enigma. A well-acclaimed retired professor of the university, while defending Dr Imtiaz’s so-called right of expression and academic exploration, nevertheless insists that Bangabandhu never uttered the words “Joy Pakistan”, adding that he was himself present in the venue to act as an interpreter for an overseas journo. This bit of assertion by the said professor goes all the way to vindicating the allegation that Dr Imtiaz took recourse to a blatant form of falsehood on an issue of historical significance. The person who stood next to Banbabandhu, acting as his bodyguard, Mohammed Mohiuddin, and those who were quite close to the stage, such as AKM Mozammel Haque, the incumbent minister for Liberation War Affairs, Dr Syed Modasser Ali, Lieutenant General Moinul Islam, Muhammad Nurul Huda, the director general of Bangla Academy, unequivocally vouch that Bangabandhu never said “Joy Pakistan”. Assertions by such revered people substantiate beyond any shadow of doubt that Dr Imtiaz’s claim is impregnated with a bagful of lies, which by itself, justifies the syndicate to reprimand Dr Imtiaz. He also stands liable for violating the Constitution, where the March 7 deliberation stands incorporated. A fact-finding committee set up by the High Court and comprising Prof Dr Muntassir Mamoon, poet Zafar Wazed and others in their dossier confirmed the accuracy of the speech as stands incorporated in our Constitution. Whether Bangabandhu said “Joy Pakistan” or not, being purely a question of fact, any pretentious claim as to exposition of opinion or academic exploration on this exclusive question of fact, is totally spurious. 

Dr Imtiaz’s claim that the Pakistani soldiers surrendered only to those of India alone is another instance of factual mortification. Whether they surrendered to the conjoint forces, comprising Indian and Bangladeshi soldiers, is a loudly pronounced question of fact of universal knowledge, supported by invincible documents. Hence, no opinion can be permeated into this fact-oriented matter either. 

Questions raised on the number of the martyred people, may be encompassed within the enclave of “opinion”, but again Dr Imtiaz rendered himself liable to penal sanction because his ominous inquisition on this well settled matter is tantamount to denial of the officially recorded figure. Most importantly, this amorphous and lethal asseveration, along with some others, may put in jeopardy our resolve to procure international recognition of the Bangladesh genocide. His aspersion that Bangabandhu’s government gave in to dilly-dally device to thwart the trial of the war criminals, by advancing lame excuses, such as difficulty to adduce evidence, coupled with Dr Imtiaz’s claim that the functionaries concerned were not aware of the identity or the number of martyred people, that “apart from the fact that death figure of three million in nine months became a statistical nightmare, and the officers in charge had no foreknowledge or even the means to substantiate all the killings, the government also dilly-dallied in starting the trial”, that it was the army-backed government that paved the conduit for the trial of the war criminals, that Mujib (as he stated) on his return from Pakistani captivity, instead of listening to those who suffered during the nine-month war, opted to be carried away by the party sycophants, that he (Bangabandhu) said “that he did not want to waste energy or time on holding war crimes trials”, are structured upon frenzied speculation, and may inundate our national interest with abysmal catastrophe as these may plunge into oblivion our move to attain universal recognition, whether or not such claims can be denominated as expression of opinion. Dr Imtiaz’s claim that we misunderstood his write-ups is absolutely ludicrous, to say the least. On fact-based narratives, questions of interpretation are rather grotesque. Claim aired by Dr Imtiaz that up to 50,000 Biharis may have been chopped off by the Bengali goons, claim that Bangladesh liberation struggle eventually crawled into an India-Pakistan issue, may be epitomised as expressions of opinion, yet these are so weird, thorny, flabbergasting, infelicitous and infested with so much obscuration, that these must also be obliterated so that no one, including those, who shall steer the UN decision, be in a quandary. 

Dr Imtiaz’s expression that the homicide in 1971 was a political whirlwind alone because (in his language) there existed no qualm on language, ethnicity, race or religion represents an infernal phenomenon. Whether one would compartmentalise this assertion as a statement of fact or not, this can genuinely spark the apprehension that this claim may throttle our move to procure international recognition because such recognition cannot be accorded if the killings were not within the definition of the 1948 Genocide Convention, which contemplates an attack by one human group upon another, because of national, racial, ethnic or religious antipathy. It goes without saying that everything stated in the expostulatory book, must be expurgated so that none can be led to any reproachful conclusion, or down the garden path, by reading the same. This can be done by following either of the two ways (i) by adhering to the Kao Tao device, as was done by AK Khandaker, explicitly confessing in writing that he had lied, or by publishing a new edition of the book, by the statement that the new edition is necessitated to erase the falsehood resorted in the apprehensive 2009 edition.

Unless the squalid contents in the book are turned around, we shall face irretrievable stumbling blocks everywhere, including in UNESCO and the UN General Assembly.

Concerned people should read the book to be able to draw a distinction between pure factual matrix, and exposition of opinion based on introspection. Perusal of the book shall also enable the readers to reckon how the prediction made in the book may infernally extinguish our aspiration to receive global recognition. Claim by the head of the Genocide Centre of Dhaka University that the killings were not on national, racial, religious or ethnic squabble, thereby insinuating that they could not be embraced within the provisions of the Genocide Convention and that the number of martyred people, as portrayed by the government, is a hoax, that the founding father of the nation himself was reluctant to bring the perpetrators to book for paucity of evidence, that the responsible officers had no knowledge about the identity and the number of slain people, that the claim as to 3 million death, amounted to a “statistical nightmare” may infernally extirpate our expectation to be blessed with global acceptance. Dr Imtiaz’s view on the number is indeed tantamount to putting on the scale of the credibility, not only the authorities in Bangladesh, but even that of Bangabandhu himself, because it is Bangabandhu’s government which put the said figure on the official record. His insistence that Bangabandhu’s government arrived at the said figure without undertaking necessary investigation, but on speculation, is too repulsive for any thought of exoneration. People advocating for freedom of academic discourse should not be oblivious to the fact such freedom cannot be availed to tear apart a factual scenario, nor can it allow a person to bring about a cataclysm to the national interest. We cannot ignore the predicament Dr Imtiaz’s perilous publication has bestowed on our aspiration to attain global recognition. Unless we can bring it to the knowledge of the world community that his book, written with Pakistani money, is not conducive to the truth, we may have to face an uphill task to achieve our goal. I am utterly surprised to note some people’s illusive belief that Dr Imtiaz has made a contribution to flare up the case of the 1971 genocide. Seemingly they have not read his book. Reading the book will open up their eyes to be able to dissect the extent and the horizon of the catastrophe his deplorable book has inflicted. The question now is as to how to reorient the pupils who had been given to believe as true erroneous facts and information and also to tell people abroad, who attended his lectures, to ignore whatever they have been told. 

[The author is a retired justice of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. The views expressed here are of the author’s.]