With the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy, Bangladesh lost a very dear friend

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

In 1971, Senator Edward Kennedy was only 39 years but he was astute enough to realize that a terrible genocide has taken place in erstwhile East Pakistan by the marauding and occupational army of Pakistan. The spate of mass killing had stirred the mind of this liberal senator from America so much so that the senator rushed to Dhaka barely 60 days after Bangladesh got its independence on December 16, 1971. Senator Kennedy wanted to visit the prime killing field, which was the campus of Dhaka University where hundreds of professors, students, and staff members were butchered by Pakistani army alone in the wee hours of March 26, 1971. All told, nearly 3 million people were the victims of wanton killing by the brute occupational army. This bothered Senator Kennedy who came to Bangladesh to bring into fore the Bengali genocide. The senator gave an impromptu speech at the campus showing his anguish over the mass murder inside the campus. This is not all. The senator crisscrossed parts of West Bengal during 1971 to bring attention to the colossal refugee problem when tens and thousands of Bengalis, young and old, moved from erstwhile East Pakistan to neighboring Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura under the threat of annihilation by the brute occupational force of Pakistani military that waged a full-scale genocide and ethnic cleansing..

Today, America is mourning the death of Senator Kennedy as soon as the news of his passing away was flashed in the morning of August 26, 2009. Valiantly, he fought the brain cancer for about a year. He died in his Cape Cod home surrounded by family members in the night of August 25, 2009.

Senator Edward Kennedy, who was popularly known as Ted Kennedy, served nearly 50 years in the US Senate; he was eulogized as 'Lion of the Senate.' Some even went as far as calling him the 'Patriarch of the Senate.' He left a strong legacy and to his credit authored many legislations those that impacted the entire gamut of American life over the last half a century. He left his marks on legislations covering health care, civil rights, education, immigration reform, etc.

Among senators he was one of the bluest liberal legislators who never shied away from speaking his mind. At a time he was seen as a combative politician who would not give an inch but at other times he was very gentle and kind. In early 2008 he courageously endorsed the candidacy of Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries when political endorsement was difficult to come by. Senator Kennedy and his family members including his niece, Caroline Kennedy, gave their enthusiastic endorsement to Barack Obama, which catapulted the freshman senator from Chicago to become a viable alternative to Senator Hillary Clinton to run for the highest office in the land. What happened next is a history.

President Obama was vacationing in Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts when the news of Senator Kennedy's death filled the air waves on Wednesday (August 26, 2009) morning. In a brief statement to the press, President Obama lauded Kennedy as one of the "most accomplished Americans" in history and a man whose work in Congress helped give millions new opportunities. Obama included himself to be one of the millions who benefited from Kennedy's legislative work in the Senate.

Senator Ted Kennedy started his public service as a senator from Massachusetts in the early 1960s when President Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House and he served the nation as a senator continuously until his death. During these times 9 presidents had served the nation.

His pristine public service record was briefly marred by an incidence in 1969 when his car went under water near Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts resulting in the death of a female campaign worker. This incident practically ruined his ambition to run for the White House in 1980 presidential election. Senator Kennedy then devoted all his energies to help legislate key civil rights laws and other bills that had impacted lives of millions of Americans.

Today, I learned via official e-mail that flags at all US government offices all across the nation will be half-staff starting from August 26 through August 30, 2009. I am awed by the proclamation made by President Obama. I have never witnessed such adulation made by any sitting president to a legislator.

With the passing away of Senator Ted Kennedy America lost a giant legislator and Bangladesh lost a dear friend. Senator Kennedy did all he could to thwart President Nixon's ability to help Pakistan during 1971. If there weren't a senator like Kennedy, Nixon would have helped General Yahya Khan militarily and Bangladesh's Liberation War would have prolonged causing loss of more lives. Senator Ted Kennedy's name should go in the annals of Bangladesh history as an American legislator who gave so much to stop a full-scale genocide perpetrated by Pakistani military. And that should be his legacy from the perspective of Bangladesh and her Liberation War.

Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans, USA

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