by Mofidul Hoque
Liberation War Museum
September 11th marks a tragic and painful event that the world remembers and observes in so many ways, and remembering is always about how we interpret the past. To memorialize the past at first seems like a simple exercise, one in which almost every society has engaged itself. Take a deeper look, however, and it becomes obvious that negotiating with the past is as difficult as confronting present-day realities. The past is never a simple story of good against evil, truth against falsehood, but a struggle against the distortion of truth and the dominance of a single narrative over others. Confronting the past requires continuously creating new spaces for understanding, tolerance and justice. This is true a year, ten years, and decades after the event.
Here in Bangladesh, a group of survivors of the country’s 1971 struggle for independence embarked on the path to memorialization 25 years after the war began. The Liberation War Museum set out to remember these events and, as a private museum with strong community support, could rediscover, revitalize, and re-present history to the Bangladeshi people.
Bangladesh’s liberation struggle was not only a political battle for independence but also an effort to establish a secular, democratic nation-state out of the theocratic, militarist state of what was then East Pakistan. Today, although official denial of history has come to an end, its place has been taken by a single, dominant narrative of what happened.
Liberation War Museum decided to unpack this narrative and uphold the core democratic values of Bangladesh by presenting a broad national perspective as well as the contribution of common people. Through its rich collection of personal artifacts, Liberation War Museum presents the human aspect of the struggle. In the museum’s exhibits, the story of the war is told through objects – documents, artifacts, and memorabilia – leaving it to visitors to formulate their own outlooks. The museum’s interpretive style provides the visitor with multiple perspectives, helping to broaden the historical narrative and invite visitors to make sense of past and present.
Based on these experiences, when we look at the events of9/11, we feel that the process of memorialization can be a powerful part of dealing with such a tragic and painful past. When we had initiated the process of memorialization through a museum, we had no idea that gradually we would come to possess such a rich treasure of memories, reflected in the personal narratives, documents, and evidentiary artifacts we collected. This process opened up newer and greater possibilities for memorializing the war.
The events of September 11th are very much part of our complex present, leaving us a legacy that is difficult to confront. Complicating memorialization efforts is the fact that this tragedy is global in so many ways, from those who died in the attacks to those whose lives have been changed by the ensuing events of the past ten years. We in Bangladesh are also a part of it, as along with other nationals, Bangladeshi people lost their lives in the brutal attack. At the same time, Bangladesh has become an actor and a victim in the “war on terror,” with different forces dealing with the consequences in different ways.
Looking back on Bangladesh’s struggle, we better understand the global impact that seemingly regional or local issues can have. While peoples’ participation played a big role in the ultimate victory of democratic values, the major world powers also played their parts in supporting or undermining independence. Liberation War Museum presents both stories at the museum, which strengthens the understanding of all peoples’ role in history.
Within this global context, remembering can be a way to continue the struggle against forces of bigotry, dogmatism, hatred and violence. Memorialization is an ongoing process, one of learning, that can open up many narratives and should have room for many personal perspectives. This course of action is an integral part of the common human struggle for tolerance, peace and justice.
This post is also available in: Spanish