Golam (Ghulam) Azam, aged 91, died last week. In our subcontinent, some enjoy interesting lives after death. Death accords respectability even to the worst scum on earth. Important people declare somber condolences. Numerous concrete memorials come up overnight. The enthusiasm in monotonous memorial building is a signal to living honchos, especially in dynastic political organisations, of one’s devotion and loyalty.
Who was Golam Azam? It’s important that people in the subcontinent know about him, especially at a time when butchers of humanity are being elevated to respectability and greatness by a combination of slick PR and cold hard cash.
The former amir (chief) of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Bangladesh, Golam was the prime leader of the Pro-Pakistan Islamist forces during the Bangladesh liberation struggle. After Mir Jafar in 1757, only by 1971 could Bengal produce another one who would be hated as much by so many. Golam and his Jamaati gangs collaborated and assisted the Pakistani occupation forces in killing lakhs of people (including mass targeted killing of secular Bengali intellectuals – Hindus and Muslims), burning hundreds of villages, raping countless mothers and sisters, forcibly converting many Hindus – all in the name of protecting the eastern flank of his land of pure faith from the polluting influence of Bengal’s culture in general and non-Islamic influence in particular. Though Hindu Bengalis suffered disproportionately during the 1971 reign of terror in East Bengal, millions of Muslim Bengalis suffered too. He let loose rape-arson-torture-conversion-death squads (the notorious Razakars, Al-Badr and Al-Shams among others) on millions. He fled to Pakistan before Bangladesh’s liberation and for years continued to tour and lobby Islamic nations for funds and support for destabilising the new secular republic.
Bangladesh, that unfortunate nation, witnessed this mass-murderer’s return in 1978 on a Pakistani passport. Zia-ur-Rahman’s military junta was busy replacing the Liberation war’s secular edifice by Islamist ideology, brick by brick. Golam’s 1981 attempt at testing public waters by appearing at the Baitul Mokarrom (Dhaka’s central mosque) resulted in shoes being thrown at him by assembled namazis. The extent of deep-seated popular hate against this man was apparent from a now-legendary cartoon image I had seen in a poster at the University of Dhaka. It showed Golam in front of a mike about to give a speech. The mike puckered its mouth to spit back at Golam’s face. However, the insidious Islamisation of politics resulted in his complete political rehabilitation. It was the shahid-janani (martyr’s mother) Jahanara Imam-led struggle that led to the historic gono-adalot (people’s court) passing a death sentence on Golam. In 2013, the International Crimes Tribunal set up by the government of Bangladesh convicted Golam of ‘conspiring, planning, incitement to and complicity in committing genocide, crimes against humanity’ among others. As friend Rayhan Rashid puts it ‘He died a convicted war criminal’. In the years between gono-adalot and Shahbag, the mass memory of Jamaat-assisted butchery watched incredulously as mass-murderer Golam was rebranded into a wise old Islamic scholar.
Jamaat has called for the realisation of Golam Azam’s ideals. The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting, wrote Milan Kundera. The unholy powers that Golam represented are still strong in Bengal. I hope that his misdeeds and those of his ilk are never forgotten. In the name of all that’s just and sacred in this world and other worlds, it’s up to Hindus and Muslims of Bangladesh and all those who stand against the politics of hate to make life difficult for those who share Golam Azam’s idea of an ideal society. That will be a tribute to the victims of Golam Azam.