By Haroon Riaz
April 26, 2015
Sends shivers down your spine just when you think of writing about Sabeen Mahmud.
Because no matter who you are, her closest of friends, or just someone whose life she distantly touched like mine, you cannot help but be in awe of Sabeen’s colossal courage. And I try not using that word lightly.
For the sort of acceptance free speech has in our society, her fearlessness and initiative were extraordinary. Shocking actually. And she was not going anywhere.
There is also a stark difference between her and all those who are writing about her. Sabeen was a person of action, not words. She lived what she believed in. Took action when others would hesitate and never follow up.
Her organization is reflective of this very fact. Instead of talking gibberish about solutions, she actually presented the claustrophobic Pakistani society with one. She showed the way to people to express themselves freely. She showed us that we should not wait for the government to make our lives better.
I very clearly recall the night in November 2013 when Shia-Sunni clashes erupted in the Raja Bazaar area last Muharram. Being in Karachi, she could not wait to send out a message of peace and condolence to the victims of a mosque attack on behalf of Pakistan for All. I wanted to go, but could not. Did not. Rather stay away from the riots targeting Imam Bargahs and the curfew that shortly ensued.
But it was her passion that made me feel ashamed of my lack of empathy for the victims of that riot, or my sheer lack of action. Of course, there must not be a single soul who would not be disturbed by sectarian violence including myself, but it’s reaching out that matters. Her messages and my lack of action are now going to haunt me forever. My self-esteem dwarfed by her towering, though selfless humanity.
Not just in humanity, but in sheer, fearless courage. For someone who received way too many death threats for her fair share, she was amazingly defiant. During her Valentine’s Day campaign, someone even issued a fatwa against her, or almost did. In other words, a lot of supposedly morally righteous people were pretty much after her life. Not that it deterred her in the least.
Finally, she probably went too far in the eyes of our deep state when she invited Baloch activist Mama Qadeer for the Unsilencing Balochistan talk that LUMS turned down for obvious reasons. The social media pages of her organization were apparently blocked because of that, which is a good sign that the state was targeting her cause. Whoever brutally murdered her, could the state be completely absolved of the way they targeted her organization?
Wusatullah Khan’s column, which is a resounding slap on the faces of her killers, reports that she died satisfied that the talk went well. Nothing outrageous, inflammatory or offensive about it. Everybody went home satisfied. Sabeen too, only she didn’t reach her home.
Though in the eyes of the holier-than-thou patriots, that was one offense too many.
Why did she do it? Well, somebody has to fight. Somebody’s got to do it.
A lot of my rational friends cringe at my admiration for Mahatma Gandhi. I don’t care if he was a religious fanatic, or ridiculously devoted to peace and non-violence. I just admire the fact that he practiced what he preached, and so completely. Or at least he tried. I admire that because I know it’s very hard to do so.
I can hardly think of anyone else who lives so completely what they preach. Maybe Malala and Edhi are other such people. But if I were to think of someone else, hardly anyone but Sabeen’s name comes to mind. If people like her don’t leave you awestruck, then probably you have no idea what it takes to live like that.
If anyone from the youth is reading this, it is people like her who are fighting for your freedom, for true democratic values. This is what free speech is about.
To be honest, I have personally lost a lot of faith in this country today. But I am not sure if giving up is even an option if you are going to be fair to her legacy, as Jibran Nasir said. It is time to support her organization with even greater vigor and donate.
She had the option to live just like any of us. Keeping a low profile, being quiet, not involving themselves in these needless social problems. She even had the option of leaving Pakistan. That would have made a lot of sense after the Valentine’s Day campaign controversy. But guess what, she didn’t.
I just saw Kamila Shamsie’s tweet who asked her to be careful. She replied, in almost Geetaesque conviction, “somebody has to fight.”
She did not leave the battlefield. She waged war, with PeaceNiche.
It is the battlefield where heroes are needed.
It is in the battlefield that heroes fall.
It is up to us whether we take up and carry on her fight or not. Now that we got a hero in her.
But if you don’t, it’s alright because not everyone is that brave. I know I am not.
But I do know, for a coward that I am, that she died for my freedom.
Sabeen died for your freedom.
Haroon Riaz is a Rawalpindi-based independent blogger and believes in promoting free speech and secularism.