Genocide Seminar on Bangladesh: An unprecedented step at a US
Bangladesh Genocide Study Group at Kean University
It was a chilly evening with possible forecast of freezing rain or even snow on December 9, yet the 150-acre picturesque Kean University campus at Union, New Jersey was full of life with the presence of some 250 Bangladeshis from all over the United States and some 50 Kean University faculty and students. They all gathered for one cause: to attend an unprecedented seminar on the Bangladeshi Genocide of 1971 titled under “Bangladesh 1971: Intolerance, Violence and Genocide”.
This unique program is the first of its kind to be arranged, sponsored and hosted by a US university. Kean, the third largest public university in the State of New Jersey, has the most diverse student community, and is one of the very few institutions to offer a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Kean University has one of the largest collections of oral history of the Jewish Holocaust in the State of New Jersey.
There was an international conference on digital story telling at Kean in 2004, where Arif participated with his short, 3 minute photo story movie – titled “A Tale of a Flag” – depicting the horror of the genocide. It received attention of many faculty on campus, and this encouraged him to proceed with a bigger vision – a campus wide awareness on Bangladesh Genocide.
When first approached by Arif Rahman, with the compelling video footages, pictures, research documents and books, Dr. Bernard Weinstein, coordinator of Holocaust and Genocide Studies program, was convinced that this genocide should really be a subject to public awareness in the US as well as in other countries of the world. Together they explored the possibility of the awareness seminar on Bangladesh Genocide of 1971 at Kean University. With unbelievable support and encouragement from the Graduate College and the Dean, Dr. Kristie Reilly, this program came to life on December 9, 2007.
Mammoth Task and a Great Teamwork
With Mohammad Rahman, Kean’s Network Analyst and Wafi Sattar, a Graphics Communication student at Kean on his side, Arif Rahman has collected numerous resources and created the webpage and the first blog on the web about the seminar. They approached Dr. Nuran Nabi of New Jersey, a freedom fighter and author of various liberation war books, for his suggestions, and for his network to the Bangladeshi Community in New York, New Jersey and other states. Dr. Nabi helped with his heart to find the speakers and to gather family members of the victims who shared their stories at the end of the seminar. Dr. Nabi was also invited as a speaker in this seminar.
The organizers including Dr. Nabi reached out to the Bangladeshi community, in and outside of New Jersey, by flyers, emails, blogs and personal phone calls. Arif Rahman, a former student and currently Assistant Director in the Office of Registrar, reached the Kean faculty by personal email requests and through distribution of flyers, while Mohammad Rahman prepared and maintained the website for the program, arranged technical support and Wafi Sattar designed the much praised poster and flyers. University Relations Office sent out press release http://www.kean.edu/pressreleases/2007/12_03_07_Bangladesh_Genocide.html
03_07_Bangladesh_Genocide.html to The New Jersey Star Ledger, Union county Newspaper, and the New York Times. University Relations also featured the seminar on their Administrative Report (http://www.kean.edu/publications/2007/AdminReport12-3-07.pdf) and sent out blast emails to the Kean community. Arif, Mohammad, Wafi, Dr. Nabi, Dr. Subarna Khan, M.M.R Jalal, Mr. Wazir Sattar, Dr. Muhammad Zafar Iqbal, Mr, Abdur Rahman and many others also spread the news about the seminar all over the US and Bangladesh. Meanwhile the Liberation War Museum extended their hand by providing research materials and pictures; many expatriate Bangladeshis stepped up by locating and sharing article on our genocide. Attendees joined from far states like North and South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Washington D.C, New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania etc. With everybody’s heartiest input, the program became a success even though it was held on a gloomy Sunday afternoon.
Goal of the Seminar
The seminar was designed to serve as the platform for creating a professional research network in the academia as well as to convince the university to initiate a course on Bangladesh Genocide within Kean’s Master of Arts in Holocaust and Genocide Studies (MAHGS). A goal of the seminar was also to create a platform to reach out the family members for their stories for archival purpose.
Key Speakers and Exhibitors
Key speakers of the seminar were Dr. Rounaq Jahan from Columbia University, New York, Dr. Sachi Dastidar from Westbury College, New York, Dr. A.B.M Nasir from Noth Carolina Central University and Dr. Halimur Khan from US Air force Academy of Colorado. The pre function display of documents, books, and pictures of genocide were brought in by M.M.R. Jalal from Texas, S. Ahmed from New Jersey, Dr. Nuran Nabi from New Jersey, Mustahid Hossain from Boston and Arif Rahman. Dr. Zia Ahmed from Pennsylvania compiled a few stories of the family members of the victims of the genocide. This compilation was distributed in the program when the family members shared their stories with the audience.
Kean University president Dr. Dawood Farahi and the graduate Dean Dr. Kristie Reilly were present in this event and shared their thoughts in brief speech. They watched a thirty-minute version of the documentary – ‘Nine Months to Freedom’ – which, mainly focused on the genocide, and later they listened to the speeches presented by the key speakers and eyewitness accounts of the victim’s family members. The president encouraged the organizers to have more of such events in the future. Both the president and the Dean were impressed with the turnout, and praised the heart wrenching displays in the pre-function lobby. In his speech the president maintained his stand for human rights in the world and encouraged the organizers for bringing this topic into day light. The president also voiced the need of sharing the stories of such genocides and atrocities that happened within last few decades and that are still going on today such as in Darfur.
In this seminar Kean University president was presented a complimentary award for his effort to raise fund for the victims of recent cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. This award was handed over on behalf of the Bangladeshi community by Mr. Faruque Chowdhury, Director of Human Resources, Kean University.
The seminar was a definite success; audience were touched, including the second generation Bangladeshis and the Americans, many of whom had very little or no knowledge of this genocide prior to this event or had very little knowledge about the magnitude of the atrocities. With eyes filled with tears, the audience including faculty, staff and students, recognized the decadence of humanity and voiced the need for shedding more light on this terrifying story of Bangladesh, which is still hardly known to west.
Congratulations to Arif – who was persistent and focused on his goal since 2004 to bring this topic to the university. Congratulations to Dr. Nabi, Mohammad, Wafi, Mr. Wazir Sattar, Mr. Abdur Rahman and all others who volunteered from the beginning to the end with their heart to make this event a success; to all who helped spreading the word and attended the seminar to show their support. Thanks to all who traveled thousands of miles; and to those who contributed with ethnic food and crafts for display from the community, and of course thanks to Kean University authority for supporting the event. Many thanks to Liberation War Museum and the patrons involved with it, for letting us use some of their excellent collection of resources.
Only time will tell whether the university is convinced enough to offer a full research course on this event, let us hope for the best and wait for the university administration to extend their hand to create a strong research network and possibly a course in Bangladesh Genocide. The official declaration from the administration is still pending.
Where do we see this effort going from here? If a course is introduced, it will open up a whole different level of opportunity for academic research on our genocide, which naturally will bring more authenticity to the statistics and other facts.. A consolidated library with all the resources, interconnected with the other universities around the globe will bring the facts and research findings at the fingertips of anyone who are interested in the history and research of Holocaust and Genocide. Once these records are archived, the history will remain un-tampered and unbiased yet so accessible to all – isn’t that something that we all have been cherishing for so long? Accessibility to true historical information will help grow a generation of neutral, unbiased researchers in the United States and in other countries of the world. In addition to that, it will help verify names and deeds of collaborators and war criminals – and these names will get etched, forever, in the academic research findings and database.
The next step to this program is to gather a lot of help from Bangladesh government, universities, schools, educators, NGO’s, newspapers, liberation and human rights institutions, individual collectors of Bangladesh genocide materials, historians and researchers. Expatriate Bangladeshis from all over the world who got in touch with us hope that we will have all these non political organizations by our side when time comes.
Documents and power point slides used by the speakers, as well as other documents showcased during the program will soon be available under the resource section at the program’s official website: http://cie.kean.edu/~bdgenostudy