I'm a politician. I admit it. I look things in our world from the angle of someone who works in politics; someone who believes actvism, civic participation, and democracy are the best way to make a better world. But in the world of politics, there are things we are supposed to talk about because powerful constituencies advocate or goad us into taking action on an issue; and then there are things we are supposed to ignore or stay silent on, lest we awaken a slumbering beast whose wakefulness will have profound consequences for the status quo.
Among Muslim Americans, the Bengali genocide is one of those issues. In 1971, Pakistani military forces commanded by Tikka Khan (no relation) committed acts of genocide and other unspeakable atrocities against the Bengali people of East Pakistan. East Pakistan's population had revolted against Pakistani rule after being perpetually ignored by the military government in West Pakistan. An estimated 3 million Bengali civilians were killed by Pakistan in an attempt to put down the rebellion, leading to international condemnation, and a police action by India to end the genocide. The result was India's invasion of East Pakistan, the declaration and recognition of a new country, Bangladesh, and the third straight loss of war by Pakistan to India in less than forty years. Pakistan has yet to accept responsibility and apologize for the genocide.
Muslim Americans rarely discuss the impact of what was the worst genocide since the Holocaust up until that time. One reason is fear of retribution by Pakistan's powerful military establishment against Pakistani-Americans who raise the matter publicly. Another reason is that many Pakistani-Americans are in positions of authority throughout the Muslim American community, and will not allow open discourse in Muslim spaces of the Bengali Genocide. Finally, Bangladeshi-Americans are "new kids on the block", and their institutions and leadership are still largely in an incubatory stage of development.
As a Muslim-American, I work hard to transcend the ethnic and racial divide within our community. Admittedly, I am just one voice out of many working towards a more unified and civicly-engaged Muslim-American presence--and by far not one of the best at it. That honor goes to professionally-run organizations such as ISNA, UMAA, Emerge USA and MPAC. But that doesn't change the fact that we must all work in tandem to recognize the Bengali Genocide for what it was: a human tragedy of profound magnitude, and a moral failing on the part of the greater Muslim world that will haunt our faithful community (the Ummah) for generations to come.
I urge Muslim-Americans to join me this election year in asking local and state legislatures to recognize the Bengali Genocide. As a religious community, our duty is to the truth--no matter how embarrassing and hurtful it might be. Islam transcends political convenience, and therefore so must we.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Bengali Genocide by the Pakistani military.