This article presents an English translation of a prison letter written by Muhammad Kamaruzzaman, the progressive Assistant Secretary General of Jamaat-e-Islam Bangladesh, to the acting leadership of the organisation. Kamaruzzaman faces an imminent death penalty from Bangladesh’s flawed and vendetta-driven War Crimes Tribunal.
The letter was titled Strategy for Change and is dated 26th November 2010, by which time the author had already been detained without formal charge for over four months. It articulates a view from the progressive tendency within the party, concerned for the welfare of its members, the public at large and the political stagnation taking hold of the party.
It met with dismissal by a leadership ‘stunned’ by the Awami League government’s persecution on one side and resistant, or unable, to reform on the other. Following a frosty reception with its intended readership, it was leaked and published in the vernacular dailyKaler Kontho newspaper.
Our knowledge of Muhammad Kamaruzzaman’s experience in the dock at the country’s War Crimes Tribunal is less developed than those of more headline hitting leaders. A website developed by his family goes some way to humanise him and elaborate on the trial proceedings and highlight discrepancies. The son of a Sherpur businessman, Kamaruzzaman turned 19 during the Bangladesh war and later studied journalism at Dhaka University. He denies the charges ranged against him, for which the Tribunal has sentenced him to death.
In recent weeks, Geoffrey Robertson QC, an independent and international authority on crimes against humanity published a report detailing the structural and procedural unfairness of the Tribunal. The report is constructive, inclusive and critical, outlining clear steps for internationalisation, truth and reconciliation on the issue.
Kamaruzzaman’s party, despite the rhetoric of its avowed enemies and many of its supporters, is not monolithic. This letter’s discussion presents us with the opportunity to listen for internal debates to which the public rarely have access. It is our hope that making this letter accessible to the English-reading audience humanises an individual who has been demonised and persecuted. In order for meaningful societal dialogue to occur, we are required to allow different parties to communicate in their own terms and listen to each other.
Notes on the translation
This letter has been sub-titled for English reading audiences at home and abroad and edited for brevity. The full text of the Bangla language original can be found online. The translation is verbatim, with the exception of editorial notes for clarification that are to be found distinguished by square brackets. The letter precedes a number of major relevant world events, notably the Arab Spring/Winter.
We enter the letter at the point where Kamaruzzaman begins to outline a three-pronged fork in the road for the party, to deal with its current situation. Previously he has introduced Jamaat’s experience in Bangladesh with respect to other Islam oriented parties in the Middle East and the extraordinary crisis confronting it. This crisis is discussed as the successful and continual labelling of Jamaat as anti-liberation for the purposes of Divide and Rule. The campaign of vilification is said to have been, and is, most successful amongst the elite, educated class.
Highlighting the strategic public interest basis of Jamaat’s alliance with the BNP, and its history, he relates various arguments deployed by the Indian side to try and pull constituent partners apart and how the war crimes issue, used against many people who were not even members of the party during the war is a political instrument in the narrowest sense, and is socially amplified through the media. In addition, the Tribunal is argued to distract the public from political misrule, social degeneration and the release of dangerous criminals into the populace.
Before addressing the three options for Jamaat as he saw them, Kamaruzzaman discusses the government’s strategy on the party from where he was in 2010, and that most of the cards were the government’s to play.
The long extract can be read here -> StrategyforChange
Some extracts follow.
On the Three Options
“We have become stunned at this point in time. Now the question is, what is actually in store for our future?
- Let it be. We will remain as we are now. (Currently we are following this strategy)
- Considering the changing circumstances, Jamaat will organise a new platform and remain behind the scenes. This organisation will tackle the anti-religious quarter with wisdom and determination.
- Among us, those who have been convicted of war crimes will step down from leadership positions and hand over the party reigns to an entirely new leadership.
According to my understanding the first way is actually the act of foolishness and pessimism. A dynamic movement cannot take such an outdated strategy.
We could compromise with the third strategy if we could solve the issue of 1971 politically. However, the way Jamaat’s image has been destroyed in the media, in the textbooks and to our youth, it will not be able to revive its image even if it brings new leadership in its pavilion.”
On Student Politics
“Besides reforming Jamaat, reform in the student’s wing is also necessary. Students should not work as a political tool and should be kept away from direct political activities. Importance should be given on seeking knowledge, debate, discussion, building character and sound physical and mental health. They must say no to party politics, addictions and narcotics.”
On the New Party
“Considering the Constitution of Bangladesh, we should form an organisation which will not face any constitutional questions. Justice and good governance should be its motto. In this regard the organisation can be formed along the lines of the structure and manifesto of the AKP. However, their structure and manifesto are too repetitive and lengthy. For Bangladesh, it has to be brief and adapted for the conditions and demands of the Bangladeshi populace, and certain issues of public demand have to be highlighted.”