I landed in New York way back in 1984 in my first trip to the West and the hustle-bustle of the Big Apple City was a shock (in an amazing way) to me. What I did not know that my place of training as a Dag Hammarskjold Fellow, one of the most prestigious in international journalism, would not only become the strongest base of my media career, but also introduce me to one of the big names in international journalism. The few names that I can recollect are David Horowitz, A Balu, Iftikhar Ali, Kay Rainey Grey and Sannaa Youssef. One of them has remained in my thoughts and memory for being one of my great teachers and giving me the unexpected “shame” that I cannot forget ever.
David Horowitz, a former senior American journalist, asked me where I came from and I replied “Bangladesh.” He retorted with a disgust after he came to know of my nationality and said, “You are an ungrateful nation. You killed your father of the nation. How could you?” That reply was indeed shameful on my part as he pointed out something that was unanswerable.That very elderly short man was among my regular teachers during the time of my fellowship. I admired him for all the knowledge that he shared, not only on journalism, but on human history and religion. He was a Jew. But never during our times together he had mentioned anything about his strong views on Judaism, rather he talked about religious harmony when I once questioned him regarding the Middle East situation concerning Israel and Palestine.
To David, who worked for the World Press Union, history was everything after journalism. David was among those who founded the United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) and described by the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan in 1998 as among the “true pioneers and veterans, working with us (UN) now for over two decades.” It is mentionable that he had been instrumental in exposing former Nazi war criminals living in the U.S., such as Romanian bishop Valerian Trifa and Hungarian Fenrec Korah. He was recognized for his efforts when The Committee to Bring Nazi War Criminals to Justice in the United States awarded him the Zehor (Remember) Award on March 31, 1981.
However, let me get back to my main point. The astounding fact was that David knew Bangladesh because of Bangabandhu. He added, “I know Bangladesh because of Mujib as he was not just another politician especially from your part of the world. Is his secular politics still in practice after his assassination?” To his query, I replied, “It’s all very religion-oriented (Islam) now and secularism has been thrown out of the country’s constitution.” He just said, “Hmmm.”
Well, such was the aura of personality that Bangabandhu possessed and spread during his lifetime. That’s why the world still bows its head in deep respect for our father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, for not only giving us the much cherished freedom, but for his strategy that started with his six-point charter. And there is no denying that despite the military might of the then West Pakistan the Bengalis won the war using initially their bare hands, knives and then other weapons which were far less sophisticated than the ones used by the enemies only because of Bangabandhu’s diplomatic wizardry.
David’s final words in this connection still whisper in my ears when I go down the memory lane. He went on to say, “Nadeem, Mujib gave you independent Bangladesh and had you let him live he could have done wonders ... because it is an incredible story of independence of a nation.”
Not only David who passed away in 2002, rather all patriotic Bengalis think in the same way as far as the immense possibilities Bangabandhu could have tapped into if he could live for some more years among us.
(The writer is a UN Dag Hammarskjold Scholar in journalism and currently the Consulting Editor of the Daily Sun.)