by Rakib Ehsan
Friday, 26
March 2021
Event
10:30

Don’t whitewash Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War

Western progressives won't see the conflict for what it was
by Rakib Ehsan
Two boys observing a photo exhibition which remembers Bangladesh Independence day. Credit: Getty

Today is the 50-year anniversary of Bangladesh’s birth as an independent nation-state.

Following the bloody 1947 partition, West Pakistan (now modern-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were created under a singular Islamic republic — separated by the width of India. This unworkable arrangement came to a head after the 1970 Pakistani general election. East Pakistan’s Awami League — currently the governing party of Bangladesh — won the general election by defeating West Pakistan’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Following West Pakistan’s refusal to respect the result, Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared national independence.

What followed was a brutal and devastating liberation war that lasted until Bangladesh’s ‘Victory Day’ on 16 December 1971. During the War, West Pakistan launched two particularly horrific initiatives in East Pakistan — the systematic sexual torture of Bangladeshi women and an orchestrated campaign to eradicate the newly-independent country’s ‘backbone’ of medical professionals, mechanical engineers, and leading educationalists.

It is testament to the perseverance and ingenuity of the Bangladeshi people that they moved on from such horrors and overturned these disadvantages, with Pakistan now trailing Bangladesh in a number of socio-economic metrics — including literacy rate, life expectancy, GDP per capita, and female economic activity. Bangladesh also has a superior ranking to Pakistan for Freedom House’s Global Freedom Index and the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.

What Bangladesh’s 1971 Liberation War teaches us is that national sovereignty — a country in charge of its political, cultural, and economic destiny — is something to be treasured and protected. Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and secularists made the ultimate sacrifice in the face of a belligerent Islamist force which sought to keep together the world’s first Islamic republic.

In the west, we rarely hear about the 1971 War. Despite its geopolitical significance, it is curiously absent from discussion, particularly in the context of deepening UK-Bangladeshi ties. That is, in large part, because it does not fit in with the western progressive framing of conflicts and geopolitical disputes through the prism of the ‘Non-Muslim on Muslim’ oppression, but is more reluctant to engage with historical cases in which the belligerent perpetrator is overwhelmingly Muslim. To do so would undermine the structure of their ‘global oppression pyramid’ which considers being Muslim as an ‘oppressed characteristic’. Unfortunately, this not only masks the Islamist persecution of non-Muslim groups, but also overlooks conflicts where secular-minded Muslims have been systematically killed, maimed, and tortured by radical co-religionists.

Those who fought for Bangladesh’s liberation should never be forgotten. Their contribution does not deserve to be whitewashed by those who are selective in the cases of historical atrocities they wish to engage with and draw attention to. This includes a number of British-Muslim identitarian organisations who would like nothing more than the airbrushing of the 1971 Liberation War from the pages of history in the name of ‘Islamic solidarity’.

Bangladesh is a relatively young and rapidly-developing nation — the circumstances surrounding its liberation should be remembered, with its future potential being recognised by a post-Brexit UK which is looking to boost its ties with rising members of the Commonwealth.

Dr Rakib Ehsan is an independent analyst specialising in British ethnic-minority public attitudes.

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Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago

The western liberals are too busy landing their sympathetic ears to more important matters like muslims complaining about their feelings being hurt by a British school teacher using Mohammad cartoons in his classroom where vulnerable muslim children are being educated. How dare British schools teach truth to such sensitive muslim children? Only muslims are allowed to brainwash their own sensitive children.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago

I certainly won’t forget the war for the liberation and formation of the freed Bangladesh by let’s be honest, India. I was there in West Bengal at the time from 1968 to 1971 and saw millions flood over the Indian border to escape the West Pakistani butchery in 1971. Many never returned of the 2 million refugees.
West Pakistani language and culture and Bengali language and culture are very different. The environment and climates are also different from the predominately Punjab and Sindi culture and environment in Pakistan. There is even now a movement for the liberation of Baluchistan which is officially still part of Pakistan.
However what I find tragic is the ingratitude of the politics in Bangladesh towards India. Because of religion which is heavily Islamic in Bangladesh and mainly Hindu in West Bengal but with an increasing Muslim presence in West Bengal tensions have arisen greatly. When politics an religion get mixed like this there is bound to be a social disaster which is a real shame for a region that is scenically beautiful and culturally vibrant with a deep sense of history. No wonder the British made Calcutta the second capital of its empire for a while but were idiotic in Bengal’s partition in its game of geopolitics.
As a former vice chancellor of a Bengali University told me once. ‘You see we in West Bengal and those in Bangladesh are same people but divided by religion’.

Last edited 1 year ago by clem alford
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  clem alford

I believe Indera went to war with W Pakistan to stop the refugee flow from swamping India.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

That is still a good enough reason.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

No, Pakistan provoked India. Don’t forget they had been at war before. If India had not intervened it would have been genocide. See some of the reports by Indian officers. See Gita Mehta’s film, ‘Dateline Bangladesh’, it is a pretty accurate account of events leading up to and the war itself. (1) Gita Mehta’s documentary Dateline Bangladesh – YouTube
James Cameron was a very distinguished British reporter at the time and who was seriously injured there and agreed. West Pakistan was economically plundering the Bengalis and trying to enforce Urdu as the national language which was a step too far, in spite of them both being Islamic. In fact, the Pakistani army was killing the mullahs and imams in spite of their Islamic religion both professed to follow. I recently just saw a comment on social media by an Indian Bengali and he says at street level the average Bangladeshi is ungrateful for what India did. The government, of course, says differently When I was in Dhaka a few years ago I felt that also with an unjustified arrogance towards India which I can only put down to religion. Hinduism and Islam are very different. Hinduism is indigenous to the sub-continent and Islam was imposed on Bharat in a similar way Pakistan was doing to then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

That is, in large part, because it does not fit in with the western progressive framing of conflicts and geopolitical disputes through the prism of the ‘Non-Muslim on Muslim’ oppression, but is more reluctant to engage with historical cases in which the belligerent perpetrator is overwhelmingly Muslim.”
Lets also note the same attitude that highlights the huge civilian death toll in Iraq following the 2003 invasion without mentioning that 90% of the victims were killed by other Muslims for the sole crime of being the wrong sort of Muslim.

Tami Misledus
Tami Misledus
1 year ago

In islam, how many muslims of the right kind are there? islam is a supremacist cult, and each of its warring factions want to be the ones who control the spoils of war (and peace).
Wars of religion are wars of conquest, just like all other wars.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago

I would just like to add that there is a film that was made in 1971 by Geta Mehta called Dateline Bangladesh. It is available to see on YouTube. I assisted doing the music. The film is very accurate in its portrayal of what happened and the events that led up to that terrible war.
I believe James Cameron who was a reporter was seriously injured covering it.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 year ago
Reply to  clem alford

I will look it up. Thanks for the tip and for your observations.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  clem alford

I just looked it up on Youtube. You have to verify your age and google asks for credit card details. I’ve not known that before. Always reluctant to give out info so hesitating to watch.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

That’s very strange. I just opened Youtube and entered the title and it came up with no problem!! Maybe info control!!!

Tami Misledus
Tami Misledus
1 year ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

When google asks for financial details to setup (complete) an account, there is a “camouflaged” button to skip.
It always works for me.

Susannah Baring Tait
Susannah Baring Tait
1 year ago

I was driving Sheikh Mujib Rahman around when he first came to visit the UK shortly after . He went barefoot, as did his retinue, but all stayed at Claridge’s. He was charming and had me drive him around areas such as Notting Hill Gate – especially at lunch times – where he would stop unannounced at the  homes of Bangladeshi immigrants who would delightedly welcome him in to share their lunches. The moment this invitation had been extended, he would turn and call me in to join them. I have never since enjoyed such delicious dahls, etc.. It was an interesting interlude. But in marked contrast to my next encounter with his new State’s diplomatic representative. Another story!

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago

Interesting. I have noticed a change in the Bangladeshis here in the UK.
Can’t quite put my finger on it. Of course, mostly they are from a farming background in the Sylette district. I don’t understand their Bengali very much. I used to have one music student who was brought up in both Bangladesh and here in England. He became very schizoid on a cultural level and more so after he had done the Haj and then came back to the UK. He also had a hard time in Bangladesh when he was older to study Bangla language and was put in a class with a bunch of 12 to 14-year-olds which affected him. He was married with kids!!

Tami Misledus
Tami Misledus
1 year ago
Reply to  clem alford

After he had done his haj which confirms his worship of allah who absolutely hates non-muslims.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago

It should also be remembered that the US was on the side of Pakistan during this war. In fact, Nixon warned Indira Gandhi not to send Indian troops into East Pakistan. The US actually placed an aircraft carrier in the Bay of Bengal to threaten India. Is there any wonder that this war is being whitewashed? It is in the interest of the US, Pakistan and the most of the Islamic world that this horror be whitewashed. For God’s sake, even Bangladeshi political establishment is ungrateful to India for liberating them. Sunni muslims must pretend to be unified in the face of truth.

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
1 year ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Puzzling. Would you have some ideas about how US interests would have been perceived to be served by frustrating the independence of West Pakistan?

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago

Well, the US was helped by Pakistan in containing the USSR in Afghanistan. And to be honest, India was after all an ally of the USSR!

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Come on, that was a decade later, 1980. But you are right, India-Russia, USA- Pakistan, it was a mess. Still is, was through all the decades since. I do not think Pakistan makes a good ally.

But it was a complete SNAFU, the Russia/India/China/USA/Pakistan 5 party Cold War mess with Nixon at the Helm. I remember it vaguely, and the crazy Nixon/China times. Maybe the analogy of ‘The Great Game’ is a good one, which was to hold the status quo less the wrong powers faced each other across a border, always keep neutral lands between global powers.

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

In those days, it is said that Karachi was crawling with CIA agents and New Delhi was crawling with KGB.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  Vijay Kant

Well didn’t Nehru go to USSR and said he had seen socialism?

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

But wasn’t India part of that ‘non allied’ group? Or was that in name only?

m pathy
m pathy
1 year ago

What is yet missing from this account is the systematic targetting and eradication of Bangladesh’s hindu minority – widely represented in the “‘backbone’ of medical professionals, mechanical engineers, and leading educationalists.” the Mr Ehsan mentions. It was a hindu holocaust. Many of the war criminals live in the UK and openly help to organise jihadi groups in present day Bangladesh.
The tactic of hiding from an open discussion of these atrocities for fear of playing into hindu RW politics – how successful is it? 5 decades later, hindutva forces are ascendant in India and passing laws to curb muslim migration into the country because these memories simply cannot be simply eradicated by liberal fiat.
https://indianexpress.com/article/world/world-others/not-bengalis-hindus-were-pakistani-targets-in-1971-bangladesh-war-claims-new-book/

Last edited 1 year ago by m pathy
clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  m pathy

Yes, you are correct. Hindus fled Bangladesh. My Indian Bengali teacher’s son-in-law’s Hindu family was originally from East Pakistan. They were Bengali Brahmans. Banerjee, and was a history professor.
Many of the top classical musicians left East Bengal to live in India.

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
1 year ago

If the West doesn’t want to talk about East and West Pakistan much anymore, it is because the Arab counterpart of East and West Pakistan, Gaza and the West Bank, also broke apart in a violent way going on 14 years ago in June. The idea of a single smallish Arab state with Israel in between always seemed like a dimwitted one, but people of goodwill were at least willing to give it a decent try. As it turned out, the so-called Palestinians themselves bailed on the idea. Nevertheless, it seems the consensus Western view is still to try to revive this corpse. It’s a view that should really be abandoned. The people of Gaza and the West Bank don’t have different languages like the people of East and West Pakistan, but non-contiguous countries never work very well. The only exceptions are countries like the United States, with Alaska and the contiguous 48 American states, where the smaller of the non-contiguous entities is so much smaller in population and output as to dwindle into insignificance. (Kaliningrad is not a problem in the Russian Federation for the same reason.) This is not the case with Gaza, which in 2017 had 1.8M people, as opposed to 2.7M people in the West Bank. So this is a similar kind of division to that between East and West Pakistan. The two regions, east and west are also much closer to each other in population than the rest of Germany with close to 63M people (as of 1933) and East Prussia, with 2.7M people. That also didn’t work out very well, although as with Gaza and the West Bank, there was no difference in religion. In 1939, East Prussia was made contiguous with the rest of Germany by obliterating Poland. The only people who should find the idea of Palestine as the Arab Pakistan attractive are those whose ultimate goal is to make the two parts contiguous by obliterating Israel. That’s why everyone else should drop the idea for good.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 year ago

Little girls at Ariana Grande concerts know all too well that Muslims are ‘belligerent perpetrators’.

Michael St John Croasdale
Michael St John Croasdale
1 year ago

I would like to know much more about this. I do remember a Bangladeshi Restaurateur in Derby in the mid 70s, a retired Army Officer, talking about the immense courage displayed by his compatriots at home, in Bangladesh.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago

See Geeta Mehta’s ‘Dateline Bangladesh’ an hour long film made back in 1971 at the time of the war. It is an accurate account as to what happened as I was not only in Bengal at the time but involved in the films production.

Tami Misledus
Tami Misledus
1 year ago

Well he would, wouldn’t he?

Andrea Re
Andrea Re
1 year ago

I knew that Pakistan and Bangladesh used to be one nation, but I know nothing about what led to their separation.
Do tell us more.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrea Re
David McKee
David McKee
1 year ago

I am a student at SOAS. I can categorically assure Dr. Ehsan that the birth of Bangladesh has not been forgotten, and is being taught in the Political Science classrooms. And it makes no difference if the academics are American, Indian or Pakistani: they all approached very contested issues with admirable fairness.

clem alford
clem alford
1 year ago
Reply to  David McKee

Be careful of SOAS. They have a vested interest in what they teach. It has a bit of a checkered colonial history.

Tami Misledus
Tami Misledus
1 year ago

It’s a pity that these two primitive sharia states didn’t fight their war until complete destruction of one or (preferably) both of them.

Pauline Baxter
Pauline Baxter
1 year ago

Thank You. I did not know that detail of Bangladesh’s history. Though I did know that there are differences between different groups of Muslims.
Now I will add Bangladesh to my personal list, of Commonwealth Countries, that Brexit Britain should trade with.