Let My Motherland Survive - BY: Mohammad Zainal Abedin

Mohammad Zainal Abedin, New York : It was the 26th day of January 2018. New York-bound Emirates landed at JFK Airport just after 8AM local time. According to my habitual practice, to avoid the lengthy queue, leaving my seat I came forward to get down. Around 20 passengers were ahead of me. But the queue remained struck for over 15 minutes. It was an embarrassing moment. Passengers from the front said the door was still remained closed.

A few minutes later an immigration officer carrying a printed piece of paper with a portrait passed down the queue. At one point he shouted from behind, who is the passenger of seat No. 54. Raising my right hand from the front-side I responded: I am fifty-four. The officer neared me. He looked at the portrait and my face as well and questioned: are you Abedin? ‘Yes, I am.’ I replied. “Come with me. Do you feel uneasy? Are you scared? Do you have any problem in your chest? I negated all these questions. He asked me to give my hand-luggage. I gave and let him the passage to go forward. But he asked me to walk ahead. He walked behind me keeping a distance. After leaving the plane he repeated, “Do you feel scared?” “Not at all,” I informed. He directed me to walk affront leaving the luggage hub on the right-hand side and led me straight into a somewhat narrow, but a long room. On the right-hand side there were a pretty number of desks, some of which were devoid of any officer. On the left side there are chairs and benches, perhaps, for those like me. I was stopped in front of the second desk. The officer sitting on a chair upon a podium wanted to know whether I feel any nervousness, or any pain in my chest? My response was negative.

He photographed me, checked my passport and enquired whether ‘Md.’, my first name, refers to Mohammad. “Yes,” I confirmed. He demanded my ID. I provided him New York State ID. “ID, issued by State!” he was surprised and asked, “Is there anymore?” I supplied Pennsylvanian driving license. He wanted to know where I work. I named Prothom Alo of NYC and supplied its ID along with another ID issued by New York Media Center. He took a long time to carefully check and recheck it. “How did you get it?” he exclaimed. “Who issued it?” On having heard my answer he became mum. He, perhaps, comprehended something that I deserve to get such IDs.

No minimum sign of fear was reflected from the outset in my conversation, or attitude, or on my face or gesture. I was spontaneous and carefree having the same mode and spirit what naturally I do have in my house or any meeting. However, I was silently reciting a verse of the Holy ‘Dua-e-Younus’ of the Holy Quran: “La-e-laha Il-la Anta Shubhanaka Inni Kuntu Minaz-joyalaymin.” (Sura Ambiya, verse 87.) He who recites it gets rid of problems and dangers.

He, however, didn’t ask me further question sensing that nothing could create any pressure on me. However, he bid to upset me from another angle. He wanted to know why I went to Pakistan. I informed, Pakistan Media Foundation, a non-governmental organization, invited me to attend an International Media Conference held in Karachi. 43 journalists and intellectuals of 24 countries participated at the conference. I was one of them.

Where did I go there, he asked. Several cities including Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar, I replied. He proceeded further: whom have you met? None, other than the journalists, intellectuals, writers, attorneys, more than one friends of APP (Associated Press of Pakistan) I briefly narrated. However, I came across many common Pakistanis. I even attended wedding parties. I attended several dinners and lunches. I could observe their family, social and cultural values. Instead of staying at hotels I preferred to live with Pakistani families, who were very hospitable to me.

Why so many visiting cards, he inquired. Those who came across me offered me their visiting cards. Visiting cards are a medium of remembrance — a symbol of courtesy. Each and every card was minutely checked. After checking one card, he used to obliquely look at me before checking the next one. Some of those cards belonged to the renowned journalists and intellectuals of Pakistan, America, Canada, England, France, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Spain, Italy, Malaysia, Iran etc. He, perhaps, looked at me comprehending the gravity of those visiting cards.

After checking the cards, he phoned and talked for a long time and leaving his desk repeatedly went to somewhere else. He didn’t exchange any views with me. I asked him only for once, why I was brought there. Without any acceptable answer he simply said, ‘Wait’. ‘Wait’, what I meant, he was waiting for an order of his superior boss/bosses whether I should be released or detained.

Being confused how much time it would take to get out from such undesirable and unpredictable situation; I opted to devote my time in translating a book of an Indian journalist-c**-author. During my plane journey to and from Pakistan and the days in that country I used my time in translating this book. Naturally I never sleep during plane journey, other than napping for a short while.

A long time passed by. Though I didn’t feel so much hungry, but my scheduled time to/for taking medicines exceeded. Suddenly he asked me whether I have any other luggage. I informed: two more. I added more: Out of these one is mine while the other belongs to a Pakistan-origin America. He wanted to know his name and identity. I briefly narrated his activities in mainstream America. I also informed him what materials were kept his luggage, particularly packets of catechu what many South Asian people use during eating betel leaf. As those luggages were not collected, I gave him my boarding pass. Both the luggages were brought intact. I kept seated. Over an hour passed by.
After a while I told the officer, “I need to take medicine. I need water.” “Would you take medicine?” He asked with surprise. He pointed me towards a tap left side behind me.

I took out the medicines from hand-luggage. He wanted to get those. He, with great care, took the medicines from me. He took them with a gesture, as if, he was touching something very dangerous. Taking much time he read the names of each medication and their effects and effectiveness. He returned the medicines with hesitation.

Observing his appearance and gestures I guessed they, perhaps, suspected as a militant, or I am related to militancy that prompted them to escort me from the plane and kept me detained. The medicines were carefully checked, perhaps, he was in suspicion, whether I was taking any suicidal capsule under the camouflage of medicine.

Taking the medicine I devoted to translation again. I felt hungry to somewhat. But nothing could be done. I didn’t hint him of my position. My hunger couldn’t overrun my patience. I asked him how much time more I would have to be seated there. He remained mute. Meanwhile my phone rang repeatedly. I didn’t attend. But no sooner had I responded an important call, he cautioned: switch it off.

About half an hour later he wanted to know what were kept inside the luggage. I answered: clothes, books, papers, catechu for eating betel leaf and nothing more.

Pointing to a narrow hallway behind me, he told: carry the luggage there. I did so, without asking any question. Coming back to my seat, I started translation again. He dismayingly, but obliquely, glanced at me. I remained impassive. I left everything on/to my destiny. I remained mentally prepared for any eventuality and to face any situation. I possessed psychological and mental strength and power: I neither committed, nor am involved in, nor related to any crime. None would get any legal and lawful excuse or clue to detain or arrest me. So I was absolved from anxiousness and remained unworried. Would misfortune wither away if I would have remained worried? I solaced and consoled myself, saying despite my innocence, under such a situation, probability of facing the untoward problem is always 50 per cent. If I am a victim of irony of fate or deliberate conspiracy or intrigue orchestrated by any covert evil axis, problems might be imposed on me, what was beyond my capacity to deter.

About 9.30 pm he said: Your luggage needs to be opened. I extended keys towards him. He said, you are to open it. He accompanied me to the hallway where the luggages were kept earlier. As I set to open them on the floor, he said, lift them on the table. When I bid to lift them, he perhaps, comprehending their weight using his two hands volunteered to lift both the luggages over the table.

Observing his cautiousness while I was checking the luggage I was really bewildered and became sure that they escorted me from the plane suspecting me a militant or militancy-related guy. He stood at a distance while I was opening the luggage. (All of those, except one exercise book, were in English that facilitated him to know their contents.) Bringing all the items — clothes, books and writing papers/exercise books, pieces of notes — he placed on the table and checked all including the garments fold by fold, the pockets of other pants, coats and shirts, visiting cards and cash memo, even notes, and above all, catechu. I silently was remained standing. He was extremely cautious while touching the packets of catechu, as if, something dangerous. He opened more than two packets, broke some portion of the solid catechu and examined it with extra caution. Checking everything he placed them inside the luggage. He asked me to lock luggage and left them there on the table. I returned to my original place and started translation. After 20 to 25 minutes, the officer asked me to proceed taking my hand luggage and bag along the hallway and enter into a right side room. As there were more than three rooms, I was in hesitation exactly in which room I was directed to enter in. The officer came forward and showed me the room. It was at the end of the hallway.

While entering the room a sense of apprehension appeared in my mind — I might face a dangerous situation, even be kept detained without any legal reason.

Reciting Dua-e-Youns (He who recites gets rid of problems) I entered the room. I had no other alternative, but to be bold.

Two officers aged 35 approximately facing the West sitting on the chairs. There was a small table in front of them and a chair on the other side it. Saying “Good morning,” I proceeded. One of them said, “Hello, how are you.” “Good,” I replied. They shook hands with me. “Please sit on.” I sat down facing them. There was a table behind me.

I had to open the luggages once more. They looked over the books, including the auto-biography of Nehru, one by one and upsetting the pages of some of them. A book of an Indian journalist, which I was translating, got their special attention. The exercise-book, in which I was writing the Bengali translation, was also checked. They didn’t ask me any question on any book.

They started interrogating me asking identical questions what the officer of the front-desk asked me earlier: why I went to Pakistan, where I went to, where stayed in, which places I visited, whom I called on and talked with, etc. I repeated my earlier answers. I didn’t even miss to inform that I stayed most of my days in Lahore with a family, instead of a hotel.

Their new question was in which profession I was engaged in Dhaka. I replied: I have been directly involved in newspapers since 1972. However, alongside journalism, I was in teaching profession since 1980. I acted as a teacher in two renowned institutions of Dhaka: Ideal School of Motijheel and SOS Hermann Gmmeiner College of Mirpur.

They wanted to know whether I love America. “Surely and undoubtedly, I am a citizen of this country. I indirectly served American interest far earlier (since 1973) my physical arrival in this country. In the truest sense of the term USIS in Dhaka helped me to become an established writer and journalist. USIS presented and supplied me paper clips, papers, journals, periodicals and books. I desperately wrote innumerable articles, in Bengali and English, with relevant data and documents on Soviet Union and communism, particularly since Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in 1979. It was my ideological struggle.

They, keeping their dismaying and stunning eyes towards me, listened to my discourses. With a minor gap I started: besides, Soviet Union I unveiled Cuba, East Germany, Vietnam, Cambodia, Romania, and even on all those Latin American countries, including Nicaragua, countries movement was in progress. I didn’t leave out to uncover the inhuman sufferings under communist tyrants that were implicated on Lech Walesa, Andrei Shkarov, Anatoly Karpov, Solzhenitsyn and all other dissident poets, novelists, literatures, mathematicians, scientists, journalists and human rights activists. I didn’t miss to narrate how the communists, who were only seven per cent of the total population of USSR, ruled and persecuted the remaining 93 per cent people. I didn’t forget to unveil the condemnable aggressive dream of the Soviet Communists to occupy Muslim countries what they inherited from their predecessors Tsar emperors or their sky-high advantageous luxurious life-style of the communists depriving majority non-communists people.

They were silently listening to me. I added: After Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, an article of mine was published in a Bengali daily of Dhaka in June of 1980 under the caption ‘Sheth Volluker Thaba’ (The Paw of The White Bear). The article was enriched with historical documents how the Tsar Emperors and their communist successors occupied their Southern Muslim countries one after another with a dream to reach the blue and warm water. A few months later the Chairman of that Daily Prof. Fazlay Azim gave me a magazine. The magazine accommodated some articles on Soviet occupation in Afghanistan along with their English, Bengali, Urdu, Persian, Arabic and some other languages. I was surprised seeing that my article ‘Sheth Volluker Thaba’ was placed on the first page of the magazine.

I continued: I spontaneously and voluntarily contributed numerous articles for a long time. None ever asked me to write. I never demanded any remuneration. I never sought for an American visa. However, USIS provided me some magazines and books. Some of them were presented by the then USIS Direct Richard Hilton. I used to participating in some programs on invitation. One of such programs was held at Lily House, 50 St. Gulshan-2, Dhaka. It was a teleconference in the early nineties. Selective journalists of Dhaka, Colombo and Katmandu exchanged their views on American Muslims with Black Muslim leader Wadir Deen Mohammed. On the basis of the conversation and including some other relevant information I prepared a Bengali article ‘America’ay Islam’ which was published in Daily Inqilab. The English version of the same article ‘Islam in America’ was published in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ (now defunct). They were dumbfounded. During my long discourse both of them pointed their eyes to/on my eyes and were dumbfounded.

When I stopped, one of them asked: “Do you love America?” Same question what they asked me earlier. I replied, “Obviously, I do.’ This country is now a part of my existence and survival. None would be able to use me against this country — America.

At one stage they wanted to know regarding my role in 1971. I told: I am a freedom fighter. I was trained at Halflong, Assam, of India. I wrote a drama and staged it there.

They asked whether I welcomed Indian intervention in East Pakistan in 1971. Of course, we had no other option. However, now I am determinedly against Indian roles. India blocked our waters of the international rivers, kills our people on the bordering areas, creates problems in our country and interferes in our affairs. India designs to swallow us. We will not allow it to be happened. The country that was achieved sacrificing about three million lives can’t be a part of India. France assisted you during your war of liberation in 1776. Naval and land forces of France fought alongside with you against the British Forces. France loaned an amount of three billion dollars that ultimately created famine in France and ousted the then sitting the emperor. And one stage America denied repaying the loan. Would you allow France to independently and freely use your land for its support to your war of liberation? Will you tolerate France lordship? Should France decide who should be the President of America?

They neither replied nor remarked, but remained silent. I told: India now avails and using your support dictates its neighboring countries, including Bangladesh. India bids to control our country in multifarious ways. Your alliance and amity with India will go against your far-reaching geo-strategic interest in the region and beyond. India neither worked to favor your interest in the past nor will work in future. India doesn’t desire your presence in the region in the truest sense of the term. An American company relentlessly tried to construct a private terminal at Chittagong Seaport of Bangladesh. It was foiled simply due to Indian opposition. The then mayor of Chittagong, Mohiuddin Chowdhury, played the key role in frustrating it. But when his party allowed India to unrestrictedly use the port, the Mohiuddins didn’t utter a single word against this suicidal decision.

India doesn’t want that Bangladesh should have deep relations with America. The then government of Sheikh Hasina, on the face of Indian pressure, didn’t allow President Clinton to visit our national mausoleum at Savar in the outskirt of Dhaka using the bogey of terrorist attack. President Clinton was virtually confined whole day within the US Embassy campus. Since then no American President visited Bangladesh. They go up to India and do not look at us. India, as if, persuaded America that it would control and supervise Bangladesh. India doesn’t want that no American President should visit Bangladesh. India wants to keep away America from Bangladesh and vice-versa. But I feel Bangladesh desperately and urgently needs to have a direct and effective defense pact either with America and China for its mere survival. If India simultaneously could have signed such pacts with Russia and America, so we reserve the right to have same type of treaty with America and China. The reason is that India designs to engulf our territory. India is a major threat to us. If America has its bases in any of our offshore islands, on condition of refraining from interfering on our internal issues, India will not dare to raise its capacious eyes on Bangladesh. But America policymakers to encircle China made India an undeclared lord or chieftain of our region. They wrote down this point on their notebook.

I, without interval or pause, said: India always worked for defunct Soviet Union — America’s global contender. India launched propaganda undermining America. During the cold war, even to prolong Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, India actively acted as its footman. Even still today India works against American policy on Ukraine and silently sides with Russia. India fuels anti-America sentiment in Bangladesh. I am dismayed that America took India on its lap. But such concession to India will one day go against American interest. Quoting an article of an Indian intellectual and former minister Subramanian Swamy what I read in the nineties, I said: India considers Indian Ocean as its own lake. Subramanian Swamy wrote straightway: America shouldn’t have free access to ply over Indian Ocean. It is the cherished dream of the Indian policymakers to control whole of the Indian Ocean.

While listening to my long discourses they didn’t pass any comment, rather silently listened to me. However, they frequently took notes on their writing pads. I said: in 1971 your Foreign Minister Henry Kissinger went to China using Pakistan. To counter Soviet Union you provided all types of cooperation to strengthen China. You hugely invested in China. Now that China doesn’t care you. To face China, you chose India — a longstanding surrogate of the Soviet communists — as your ally. One day India will also behave with you in the same way. India may emerge as a more detrimental foe for you than China. They also noted these narrations of mine.

I told them it wouldn’t be wise on the part of America to involve in any war with any country. America needs to give its total attention to its own economic prosperity. America’s policy should be such: America will neither engage in any war nor allow other countries to do so. Such policy will solidify America’s acceptability and influence as the guardian of democracy and peace all over the world.

I told on myself: I am a pacifist, peace-loving. I am a liberal Muslim democrat. There is no room for terrorism in our religion that prohibited killing any human being. Our religion says he who kills a person, as if, he the whole human being and he who saves a man he, as if, saves the whole human being. None uncovers who let loose ISIS or which sources provide them money.

We fought for democracy. That cherished democracy withered away from Bangladesh. Practice of democracy stumbles in Bangladesh due to India. Prior to the election of 2014 the then American Ambassador Dan Mozina flew to India to get Indian cooperation for a free and fair election.The then Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh didn’t follow diplomatic norms in dealing with Mozina. Sujata Singh informed him that India would be pleased to see Sheikh Hasina in power. Getting India’s favor and indulgence, the then General Secretary of Awami League didn’t hesitate to insult and mock at Mozina by branding him a diplomat of ‘dhu-ana’ (one-eighth of Bangladeshi one taka). I wrote an article condemning India’s non-diplomatic dealings with Mozina. India wants to control everything of us. We cannot afford it. Our people don’t like Indian lordship.

They stood up at about 11 am. Taking my luggage I got out of JFK. I asked myself: why they escorted me from the aircraft? What reason prompted them to keep me detained or listen to me for a longtime? What information or clue they achieved? I appreciate their patience and their nice behavior with me.

Since long, I keep saying many of my known people that Indian RAW follows each and every step of mine wherever I go, even in America. Someone did so also in Pakistan. They misinformed the concerned American agency and provided my photograph. If I have to face such a situation in a country like America then shouldn’t I think that there is no space in any country of the world for me, where being a peace-loving human being, I would live without any botheration. Am I a something terrible or dangerous? I love my motherland where I originated from. It is my moral obligation. Such obligation or patriotism is to secure my country and its interest. If patriotism is a crime, still I wouldn’t retreat backward even a dot or dust-like distant from my position. I am ready to lose everything, but not my motherland — let my country survive. I will never opt to lose it.

However, I hail those agents or tentacles who biding to harass me helped my country and my nation. They helped my new country — America. They made the way to convey some messages — what the officials noted down — of a tiny guy like me. Those messages may one day bring about some pleasant outcome for America and for Bangladesh as well. *

(Mohammad Zainal Abedin is a Bangladeshi-American journalist & researcher who can be reached at noa@agni.com)

Posted on May 24, 18 | 8:55 am