a woman's war, photography, research

in memoriam: Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu

Fauzilla Tunnesa Bulu, known to many as Bulu Khala, was born in 1919 in then-India. Fifty-two-years old when the Liberation War broke out, she is the oldest woman included in “A Woman’s War” from any country thus far.  Bulu Khala was a key driving force throughout the Liberation War, working to maintain the Kuchbihar refugee camp, as well as recruit and prepare mukti bahini (Bangladeshi guerrilla fighters) for battle. Last week, at the age of 93, living in rural Rangpur with her children and their families, Bulu Khala passed away.

When I met Bulu Khala in June 2011 at her home in Rangpur, in far northwest Bangladesh, she could barely speak – her family and friends provided much of this information on her behalf.  Though she found it difficult to move without assistance, just before we were leaving, she took my hand, kissed it, and quietly said I love you.  She then took my face and kissed it three times. Right, left, forehead. I love you.

She had barely known me for an hour.  I’ll never forget it.

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a woman's war, photography, research

a woman’s war: Bangladesh

An updated version of “A Woman’s War: Bangladesh.”  As featured on FotoVisura and as FotoVisura’s Photo of the Day.

A Woman’s War

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the birth of Bangladesh, a nation that emerged from a bloody fight for independence from Pakistan. The story of Bangladesh’s liberation struggle is one that is well told and well remembered by the nation; the official narratives are retold and exchanged often – and often by heart.  Stories of the origins of the movement, of its key players and events, of its Freedom Fighters, or mukti juddha, who came together to fight for Bangladeshi independence and emerged victorious in December 1971 after nine months of intense guerrilla warfare, are recounted in schoolbooks and events across the country, month after month, year after year. Continue reading

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commentary, research

the legacy of women in the liberation war, 40 years on

Tarfia Faizullah, a fellow Fulbrighter and beautiful poet who was based in Bangladesh for the past year, is working on a long-term project on women who were raped during the Liberation War.  Out of her project has emerged a series of poems, which she has so wonderfully agreed to share here today.

Following the end of Bangladesh’s Liberation War on 16 December 1971, forty years ago today, all women who were raped were given the honorific term birangona by the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.  The term, which is often translated to war heroine, was meant to pay respect to the women for their sacrifices during wartime.  Yet it soon became a mark of shame, with many of the women rejected by their families and ostracized by their communities upon their learning of the assault; rape was, and largely still is, seen as an enormous source of shame in Bangladesh for the assaulted woman. Continue reading

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9/11, commentary, research

The Politics of 9/11 Narratives in History Textbooks


“He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.”

Orwell 1949: 37

Think back to your high school history textbook.  How many hours did you spend bent over its pages, copying “key terms” onto flashcards the night before an exam?  How often did you complain of the weight it added to your backpack?

How often did you question what was written on its pages?

“The Politics of 9/11 Narratives in History Textbooks Worldwide” is an in-depth analysis of how political forces have shaped the narratives on 9/11 in high school textbooks worldwide.  It provides a never-before seen look into history textbooks from across the globe, illustrating how purportedly objective accounts are refashioned for political ends. While history textbooks are often seen as an authority on their subject, authored by teachers and historians, those who can be counted on to write objectively on events of the past, to distill the “important stuff,” this study reveals that it is press teams more than educators and politicians more than academics who are dictating the narratives currently found in textbooks around the world.

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9/11, research

images of 9/11 in US textbooks

In United States history textbooks, the events of September 11 are most often described as an attack – specifically a terrorist attack.  The timeline of day’s events is described in great detail, with a large emphasis in the response questions placed on memorization of the order and nature of the attacks.  For texts that are generally characterized by fairly straight forward, bland sentences throughout other chapters on other subjects, the 9/11 narrative is dominated by action verbs and passionate retellings.

For the vast amount of space devoted to discussion of the destruction and death caused by 9/11, the reader is provided surprisingly few pictures.  There are rarely pictures of the burning or fallen towers.  This is especially interesting, as such an image (see above) is often the sole or main image that accompanies the discussion of 9/11 in foreign textbooks.

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9/11, commentary, research

it’s the history, stupid

A while back, Foreign Policy magazine came out with a fantastic piece by Robert A. Pape, delving deep into an issue that is rarely discussed – the why rather than the how of anti-American attacks.

For nearly a decade, Americans have been waging a long war against terrorism without much serious public debate about what is truly motivating terrorists to kill them. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, this was perfectly explicable — the need to destroy al Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan was too urgent to await sober analyses of root causes. Continue reading

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9/11, commentary, research

lost memories

In November 2009, I spent a week with my head buried in textbooks as far as the eye can see.  Where can one do this?  At the one and only Georg Eckert Institute in Brunschweig, Germany, home to over 100,000 textbooks from scores of countries.

I was on a research trip collecting clippings, searching for retellings of 9/11 in history textbooks from all over the world.  It was a bit like a treasure hunt – and a coded one at that.  As I spoke painfully few of the languages in the books I was sifting through I found myself looking for clues – dates, names, catch words – to tip me off about the mention of the event.  But sometimes even these don’t jump out, especially for languages with non-Roman alphabets.

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