Stephen Gill in search for peace 



Dr. Stephen Gill


*Talk given at the 86th Birth Anniversay of Sheikh Mujib

arranged by Bangladesh Awami League (Quebec Brach)

on March 20th 2005 at 439 Jean Talon Quest, Montreal, Canada. 

When Bangladesh was fighting for its freedom in 1971, one night somebody asked   me in my dream   about Bangladesh.   Next day, I began writing my book titled  Discovery of  Bangladesh  that was published in England by Colin Venton. When the manuscript of the book was ready, Colin Venton was the first publisher  I tried and he accepted to publish it at once. I did not write this  book to please or to displease anyone. I wrote this book remaining  as much impersonal  as it is humanly possible. It appears that my book was the first in the market about Bangladesh. 

To me Sheikh Mujib holds the same status as Mahatma Gandhi does  in the history of  India  and Mr. Jinnah  in the history of Pakistan.   Sheikh Mujib is the builder of a nation- he is the  hope of Bangladesh.  He is the way to peace and prosperity. Sheikh Mujib was the  messiah of Bangladesh  who  along with  several members of his family was   murdered brutally on August 15 in 1975.   

Sheikh Mujib   envisaged a   secular and multicultural Bangladesh.    The founder of Pakistan  Mr. Jinnah  also envisaged  a Pakistan that would be for Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and other. In his first speech at the first national assembly of Pakistan Mr. Jinnah clearly stated that now Muslims can go to their mosques and Christians to their churches, Hindus to their temples and Sikhs to their gurudawaras. He envisaged a Pakistan that would be a secular democracy. The same can be said about Mahatma Gandhi. His policies were based on tolerance.  

In Canada, peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights are two main areas that shape Canada's foreign as well as domestic policies. Here freedom is not a matter of resolutions. Here freedom is  a way of daily life.  Canadian society  permits free development of every culture, language and religion to work together to achieve a higher form of the principles of freedom and democracy, equality and justice. I believe that this is the blueprint to structure the rest of the world, including Bangladesh. 

Sheikh Mujib  wanted  to  structure Bangladesh on  the  same principles of coexistence.  Sheikh Mujib espoused  secularism that  is confirmed from the fact that he selected one of the poems of Robindernath Tagore, a non-Muslim, for the country's national anthem. The name of his political party is Awami League that has no religious affiliation.  Before 1956, it was called Jinnah Awami Muslim League. The words Jinnah and Muslim were dropped to make it a party for all, irrespective of religious connections.  

We have gathered here this  evening under the banner of Awami League.  This is  the

political party that won  the general election of 1970. At that time, there was no Bangladesh as a sovereign state. It was a wing of Pakistan, called East  Pakistan.  During the general election in Pakistan, Awami League won majority of seats. As it happens, the leader of the party that wins the majority of seats  forms  the central government. On the contrary,  Awami League was denied its  legitimate right to form the government. It was because   Pakistan  did not want that their country should be ruled by Bengalees.   On  March 1, 1971, General Yahya Khan postponed the Assembly session indefinitely. To protest that decision, he called for a general strike. Troops of  Pakistan moved into action and a curfew was imposed in answer to that strike. The situation grew tense.  

On March 3, 1971, Sheikh Mujib launched nonviolent, non-cooperation movement.  On March 25 the Pakistani Army started attacking unarmed  Bangalees without giving any warning. Sheikh Mujib was arrested. On March 26, all political activities were banned, press censorship was  imposed,  all educational institutions were closed and bank transactions were terminated.   

The Pakistan army unleashed its terror on the sleeping, unarmed Bengalees on the night of 25th of March 1971. That night marked a turning point in the history of that country. Independence of Bangladesh as a sovereign state was declared on a radio. When this sovereign state was freed, it had nothing but destruction everywhere.    The transport and communication system,  railway tracks and signals, and major bridges were destroyed. There was no currency, there was no food, there were no industries, there were no administrations and no defence.  The land  of Bangladesh  became   red  with the blood of three  million Bengladeshis.  Ten million escaped to the neighbouring country of India.  Millions of other Bengalees had their cattle killed to feed the Pakistani army. Moreover,  their houses were destroyed and their property looted. Riots, fear, and exodus of citizens left most of the land uncultivated. Many months after the war, many factories could not be worked to their full capacities due to lack of skilled managers and administrators, who came largely from Pakistan. The retreating Pakistani army created threat and insecurity for the citizens by freeing every prisoner. Armed robbery became the order of the day.  There were cries from the  raped women.   It was a land of anarchy and atrocities. Out of the confusion and atrocities  on  defenceless persons,  there emerged a new nation that is called now Bangladesh.  Sheikh Mujib  became prime minister of a country  that faced  “the greatest manmade disaster in history,” as he once said. 

There was still something vibrant in the country  that no one could destroy.  That was the hope of Bangladeshis, that was the self-determination and love  to work  to  build  a  new  future for  Bangladesh.   Sheikh Mujib and his government adopted  four main  ideologies to follow. They included  Bengali nationalism, socialism, secularism and democracy. His secular democracy is almost the same that was of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister  of India. It may be called Nehruvian or democratic socialism. 

Sheikh Mujib believed in secularism and democracy. Secularism means also multiculturalism. It also means coexistence. Multiculturalism  is based on the principal of live and let live. That is a  secret of the progress of Canada. That is a  secret of the progress of western democracies. That is what Gandhi and Nehru wanted for their countries also and  this  is what  Mr. Mohammed Ali Jinnah wanted for Pakistan. That is what Sheikh Mujib wanted  for Bangladesh.   

Peaceful coexistence is possible when there is rule of law. And when there is rule of law, minorities  participate fully in the nation building activities. And when minorities  participate fully in nation building activities there is significant  reduction in the brain drain that is caused by fear. This situation brings  more money within the country and more peace. That peaceful coexistence is the official policy of Canada.                                                                                                     

Canada expressed her desire for peace more vehemently long before  through her child Lester B. Pearson. He was instrumental in establishing the United Nations, and he was also instrumental in transforming Canadian society into a United Nation in the microcosm. Lester Pearson,born in 1897, influenced the domestic and foreign policies of Canada considerably. He describes his path to achieve his ideal society in The Four Faces of Peace :                                         

"... .How can there be peace without people understanding each other? How can there be cooperative coexistence, which is the only kind that mean anything, if men are cut off from each other; if they are not allowed to learn more about each other? So let's throw aside the curtains against contacts and communications." 1                                                                             

Pearson's emphasis is on multiculturalism. Before him, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, another Prime Minister of Canada, said in a more poetic way:                                                                    

"I have visited in England one of those models of Gothic architecture which the hand of genius, guided by an unerring faith, has moulded into a harmonious whole. This cathedral is made of marble, oak and granite. It is the image of the nation I would like to see Canada become. For here, I want the marble to remain the marble; the granite to remain granite; the oak to remain the oak; and out of all these elements I would build a nation great among the nations of the world."2                                                                                  

The above is one way to express the multi racial character of Canadian society. Another way to express the same thought is that of Prime Minister John G. Diefenbaker. He said in 1961:                                                                                                                                         

"It is rather a garden into which have been transplanted the hardiest and brightest flowers from many lands, each retaining in its new environment the best of the qualities for which it was loved and prized in its native land."3                                                   

Mr. Pearson, a Nobel Prize laureate for peace, puts in a different way :                         

"We are now emerging into an age when different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other's history

and ideals and art and culture, mutually enriching each other's lives. The alternative, in

this overcrowded little world is misunderstanding, tension, clash and catastrophe."4          

There have been movements in Bangladesh to crush  the dream of Sheikh Mujib. That dream of Sheikh Mujib was  to live side by side with minorities in peace.   The latest incidents of religious intolerance in Bangladesh confirm that the country is turning into a hotbed for fundamentalists. There have been attacks on religious minorities as well as on secular intellectuals and journalists. These  incidents  do not bring any credit to Bangladesh from the international community. These incidents of intolerance will isolate Bangladesh further. International corporations do not want to invest their capital in a country where there is no security. Such countries create problems for other countries through the influx of refugees. A country that has no security will not attract  tourists that is a big industry in this century. Several countries depend on the industry of tourism to earn their foreign currency. To build a strong tourist industry, it is vital to have security first. 

I believe that peace comes through peaceful means.  I also believe that no  government has any  business to get involved with religion.  I also believe that peace and progress go together. I  believe that to achieve  peace, majority has to take steps to make minorities proud of their country. If there is no peace, intellectuals and highly skilled persons will leave the country to settle where there are  better opportunities for them and also for their children.  As a result of this brain drain, the third world nations are becoming more and more poor. 

We are living in a global state. The globe is under constant change though it  does not

have its own government.   In the matter of taste, fashions, ideologies, travels, communications and several other ways, the world is one.  Telecommunication and  internet have shrunk the world further. For internet users there are no boundaries.  We are living in a world that is on the way  of forming one secular democratic government.  Just look around this hall. We have people from different religious backgrounds and races. It is just not possible to have only one race or religion in a country by suppressing or killing others. It is just a dream to think of homogeneity in the area of religion or race Why to try to have only one race or religion when it is not even possible. No country can move forward without rule of law. This  rule  of  law  must  be  enshrined  in the constitution as well as in   the souls  of the citizens. 

Love begets love and  hatred begets hatred. Where there is hatred there cannot be peace and where there is no peace there cannot be progress of any nature. Bangladesh is a country of different religions and ethnic groups. Canada has even more diversity than Bangladesh has. Here governments have been encouraging multiculturalism that means that all citizens are equal before law and have equal opportunities for progress. This practice has been promoting ethnic, cultural and religious understanding and harmony. This practice also discourages hatred, violence and ghettoisation. This practice encourages citizens to participate actively in the social, economic and political life of the country. 

This does not mean that Canada does not feel tensions  from differences. However, Canada learns to address these tensions  through peaceful means..  Canada is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also of several other treaties with the international community. Canada has been learning to solve tensions through dialogue and laws. 

I believe that Bangladesh can also solve its tension between its religious groups by recognizing diversity and through dialogue and the rule of  law. The future of Bangladesh depends on a policy of peaceful coexistence  with its minorities. Diversity is a natural phenomenon.  Every individual is different, every ethnic group is different, every nation is different. No one can bring uniformity in creeds and colours. Even God does not want it. In the garden of the world, God has created flowers  of different colours  of different shapes and of different sizes and beauty.  He sends his sun to shine for everyone and sends his rain to fall on cottages as well as on castles. It does not help anyone  to shed the blood of those who do not think or behave as the majority does. 

For the sake of peace within and without, there should be bridges of understanding, bridges to recognize that diversity is the law of nature, the bridge of acceptance for the common good. The majority that accepts this fact promotes peace, encourages prosperity and stimulates the nation to move forward towards the smiling fields that nurture a healthy growth.       

Sheikh Mujib and Mahatma Gandhi espoused  coexistence that is the prerequisite for peace.  The policy of live and let live is based on the rock of tolerance. This philosophy  promotes peace and  prosperity.  

On the other hand, intolerance is the sword that uproots the lilies of harmony. Intolerance is the poison that kills  life.  It  is the wall that creates division.  It  is  the hand that causes isolation and destruction. Intolerance  is the same sword that divided India and created Pakistan, causing a horrific bloodbath of the twentieth century. Intolerance  is the same sword that divided Pakistan and created Bangladesh, causing another horrific bloodbath. The same sword is flashing in Bangladesh again that has started causing another  division.   It is the right time to  break  this sword  for the sake of prosperity,  progress and  solidarity within the country, and also for opportunities for everyone. Intolerance is a rusted weapon now.. 

In the twenty first century in which global unity is clearly visible, minorities are not that week as they used to be and majorities are not that powerful as they assume themselves to be. Moreover, every religious minority is in majority somewhere and every majority is also in minority in other places. Suppression of minorities under one or the other excuse is the suppression of beauty in the garden of humans.  It is to plant the shrubs of agonies in the valley of happiness.  This does not help anyone in any shape in any shape. 


1Pearson, Lester B. The Four Faces of Peace. McClelland & Steward Limited, Toronto. 1964, page 17.

2Yuzyk, Senator Paul. For a Better Canada. Ukranian National Association, Toronto, 1973, pages 39-40

3--------------------. For a Better Canada. Ukranian National Association, Toronto, 1973, pages 88

4Pearson, Lester B. Democracy in World Politics. S.J. Reginald Saunders and Company, Toronto, 1955. Page 84


©Stephen Gill