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A Rejoinder to a Review

Letters

A Rejoinder to a Review

S
armila Bose’s review ‘Bangladesh: Troubled Future’ (March 4, 2006) of my book, Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan? is tendentious, uses methods that are less than admirable and misrepresents its main thrust.

She writes in the very first paragraph, “If the title was meant to attract attention, the author has been pipped to the post by a Bangladeshi writer who recently wrote a book posing the question, ‘Is Bangladesh becoming a Taliban state?’”.

By beginning her sentence with an “if”, she has hinted at the possibility of my having chosen the title of the book to attract attention, without accusing me directly of doing so. In which case, she should have mentioned the name of the author and the title of the book she has in mind, which would have enabled people to assess whether the hint was tenable. Significantly, she has not done so. The question is fully warranted, since Bose linked the title of my book to a possible quest on my part for attracting attention.

The reviewer writes in the second paragraph that I could have dispensed with much of the first chapter – more about this later – and goes on to state, “When he returns to the topic that is of relevance to the main focus of the book, the creation of Bangladesh, he is unfortunately dependent on one or two sources of doubtful reliability and ends up repeating a number of well-worn myths and clichés without addressing the interesting questions thrown up by some of his remarks”.

One of my major sources has been Shahriar Kabir and his publication, Ekattorer Ghatak o Dalara: Ke Kothaye? (The Killers and Agents of Seventy-One: Who and Where Are They?) published by Muktijuddher Chetana Bikash Kendra, Dhaka (Centre for Spreading the Consciousness of the Liberation War), 2nd edition, 1987. I have also referred to Badruddin Umar’s book The Emergence of Bangladesh: Class Struggles in East Pakistan (1947-58), Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2004. Shahriar Kabir is a noted writer, journalist, freedom fighter, and human rights activist, who has been twice jailed and brutally tortured by Begum Khaleda Zia’s regime on patently false charges. Umar is a highly respected historian who requires no introduction.

Besides, my reference to Bangladesh’s “creation” – “liberation” is the word that freedom fighters use – is relevant to the “main focus of the book” only to the extent it shows the collaborationist and murderous role that parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh (JeIB) and its students wing Islami Chhatra Shangha (reincarnated in 1978 as the Islami Chhatra Shibir), played during the liberation struggle, and explains the circumstances leading to East Pakistan’s (now Bangladesh) alienation from West Pakistan. This is because the JeIB is an important constituent of the coalition government that until recently ruled Bangladesh with the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Khaleda Zia, as prime minister.

The fact is that the JeIB is the fountainhead of Islamist terrorism in Bangladesh today. All the three important terrorist leaders who have been arrested since October last year – Banglabhai aka Siddiqul Islam, the operations commander of the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh, Abdur Rahman, the Shaekh (spiritual leader) of Jamaatul Mujaheedin Bangladesh and Mufti Hannan, operations commander of the

(Continued on p 4828)

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Economic and Political Weekly November 18, 2006

Letters

(Continued from p 4710)

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami Bangladesh – are alumni either of the JeIB or the Islami Chhatra Shibir or both.

Again, Sharmila Bose writes in the penultimate paragraph, “The trouble is that though the book appears to be heavily documented, the notes reveal it to be almost entirely reliant on one newspaper of Bangladesh and of its internet edition”. The newspaper, whose name she did not mention, is The Daily Star, perhaps the most respected publication of its kind in Bangladesh. Faulting one for relying on its internet edition as a source of news and comment regarding Bangladesh, would be like blaming one for using the internet edition of The New York Times or The Washington Post for writing a book on the US. Also, had she looked at the endnotes carefully, she would have found references to material that had appeared in Bengalilanguage newspapers like Prothom Alo and Janakantha and Englishlanguage newspapers like The Independent and The Bangladesh Observer. What matters is not the number of sources one has consulted but the correctness or otherwise of the information and comments cited. Significantly, Bose has not controverted a single information or editorial observation I have cited from The Daily Star.

Finally, the reviewer has written, “The interpretations of Islam and the historical rise of ‘fundamentalist’ Islam are indeed important issues, but this book is not the place and Karlekar probably is not the best person to address them”. If she had read the first chapter carefully, she would have noticed that a considerable part of it deals with the rise of fundamentalist Islam in what is now Bangladesh, a process that began in the last quarter of the 18th century. This is important for understanding the nature, strength and permanence of the constituency that the JeIB and the ICS appeal to.

HIRANMAY KARLEKAR

New Delhi

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