In 1971, Bangladesh was released from the grip of Pakistan after a nine month deadly struggle for liberation, in which, according to official reports, three million Bangladeshis were declared to have died. There were many reasons why the (then) East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, wanted to be separated. One of the strongest was that the rulers of (West; now simply) Pakistan had, since its birth, been trying to make the country one of the most powerful representatives of Islam on Earth. The people of East Pakistan, however, wished to have a secular state where they could live harmoniously together with Hindus and others.
During its 23 years of rule since its separation from India in 1947, however, Pakistan has worked hard, with all its soul, to make the Bangladeshi people hostile to its neighboring country -- which happens to have a Hindu majority -- India.
Pakistan not only spread hatred against non-Muslims; it also tried to galvanize Islamic sentiment throughout the eastern areas of Bangladesh, where the majority of the people were moderate Muslims and had different beliefs, including Sufism and Bauls, a local, non-violent, friendly culture. Pakistan has been so bigoted and chauvinist, it even banned the songs of Rabindranath Tagor, the famous novel laureate in literature, by considering him a Hindu.
Meanwhile, the unaccompanied voice of Sheik Mujibur Rahaman, later the father of the nation of Bangladesh, started to roar against the policies of Pakistan. As his rulers and political rivals were Islamic, he established a counter-policy: the creation of an independent, secular state. In 1971, India and the Soviet block strongly supported the independence of Bangladesh. The US and nearly all the Muslim counties, however, stood behind Pakistan.
When Bangladesh finally attained its freedom on December 16, 1971, all the Arabian Nations were highly discontented over Bangladesh's success.
At the time, as international aid was badly needed for the new, war-torn nation, India and Bangladesh lobbied the governments of the powerful and rich states of the world through diplomatic channels. The supreme leaders of Bangladesh and India directly asked – begged -- for recognition of the newborn country. There was, however, very little response from the Muslim brothers of Bangladesh, for whom the people of Bangladesh nonetheless have feelings of the greatest esteem. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia frowned on recognizing Bangladesh until the killing of the founder of nation, Sheik Mujibur Rahaman, at the hands of fundamentalist elements, in 1975.
It was Israel, where Golda Meir was then prime minister, that spontaneously recognized Bangladesh on February 4, 1972. But unfortunately and interestingly, Bangladesh was not even gentle enough to accept the recognition. It is still mysterious why the first government of Bangladesh did not shake the outstretched hand of Israel. In course of time, Bangladesh adopted the "No peace, no recognition, no negotiation with Israel" policy of the Khartoum Conference that took place a few months after the Six Day War.
Bangladesh -- no matter who has been the ruler or what has been its form of government -- still has not changed her policy on Israel. Many of the Arab countries, where Islam was born, at least have diplomatic relations with Israel.
But Bangladesh, a distant country of 170 million people, that officially declares itself secular, does not have any relations with Israel. It is even prominently written on Bangladeshi passports, "ALL COUNTRIES OF THE WORLD EXCEPT ISRAEL".
Anti-Semitism is so high in the atmosphere that even some secular, progressive journalists have decided that it is not safe to speak out against the wrong perceptions of their compatriots. It is unjustifiable. I myself am suffering from this deprivation, as I want to visit that very historic, beautiful land.
Once Taiwan (Formosa) and South Africa were also banned to the people of Bangladesh. But that was erased from the Bangladeshi passport in course of time. Only Israel remains a supposedly hostile nation-state.
Sadly, this decision was not derived from the opinion of the masses, It is not known to more than 70% of Bangladeshi Muslims citizens living in the rural areas that there even is a country named Israel. Neither was it ever a political issue, nor it is mentioned in any election manifesto of the country.
It was a spontaneous decision, an untold accord among the politicians, not to have any kind of relations with Israel. The influential leaders of the country love to visit Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
There is the lame excuse by the oligarchy that it would be a political issue and that Muslim sentiment will be outraged if Bangladesh had relations with Israel. The excuse is a scarecrow. People of this country think of having electricity and the price of commodities -- not about relations with Israel.
Both countries could benefit so highly from a relationship. Israel could directly import garments and textile supplies -- nice garments with very easy prices. And Bangladesh could earn a lot of foreign currency. This country could have the benefit of sophisticated accessories, machines and the technical assistance of Israel in so many different sectors of development. Unfortunately the invisible barrier has thus far been too strong.