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Idealism didn't kill Sabeen, bullets did

Published Apr 25, 2015 02:28pm


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Sabeen wouldn’t rest in peace. She had too much still to do, create, fight for. — Photo by Insiya Syed
Sabeen wouldn’t rest in peace. She had too much still to do, create, fight for. — Photo by Insiya Syed

It’s easy to be cynical. Being cynical means not having to do anything, and the lack of action creates its own self-fulfilling prophecy. The cynical person sees a protest march and thinks, “That won’t accomplish anything”. And, if it doesn’t, then their cynicism is rewarded.

But, maybe, all the march needed was that one extra person to truly work.

Sabeen Mahmud wasn’t cynical. She was sarcastic, angry, bold. But not cynical. She was the one who believed in direct action, in marching in streets, in carrying signs and organising vigils.

Sabeen created things. She created movements and she created avenues of protest. She had no time for cynicism, because Sabeen was fuelled by hope. And, it was that hope that killed her.

Actually, that’s not true.

It’s easy in these things to say, “We killed her with our apathy,” or, “Her idealism killed her”. But none of those things killed her. Hosting and promoting a talk on Balochistan didn’t even kill her. Giving Mama Qadeer space to speak didn’t kill her either, nor was she killed by her refusal to be cowed by censorship.

Also read: T2F hosts the Balochistan discussion that others shy away from

In the end, we know what killed her.

Five bullets, fired by a gunman, authorised by decision makers who have had so many others killed.

That’s what killed her.

She wasn’t the first to be killed by them, and she won’t be the last.

So don’t blame yourself, and don’t blame hope or idealism or courage or society or any of those other philosophical concepts. We need them.

The only ones to blame are her killers.

So what did they kill?

They killed Sabeen Mahmud. Sabeen who gave me my first job, back when she ran a web design company on Kh-e-Ittehad. Sabeen Mahmud who told me about her idea for a cafe that would be a safe space for creativity and expression, and I cynically told her it would never work.

Sabeen Mahmud who used to make me bring my daughter to comedy gigs so that she could play with her.

Sabeen Mahmud who used to idolise Steve Jobs and I used to goad her into arguments by mocking him, just because I knew we both liked arguing.

Sabeen Mahmud who said ‘no’ to tired and lazy cynicism, and set about creating avenues of hope.

Sabeen Mahmud who created a place where art hung on the walls and poets and writers and activists spoke the truth.

Sabeen Mahmud who knew this would eventually happen to her, but didn’t let that stop her, or even slow her down.

They killed Sabeen Mahmud, a restless, bold, courageous, fiery, idealistic force of nature that never stopped trying to do things better and make things greater.

Also read: Sabeen, the one who never backed down

It’s customary also, to say, “Rest in peace.” But that’s not Sabeen.

Sabeen wouldn’t rest in peace. She had too much still to do, create, fight for.

Peace is what Sabeen was striving towards, and was killed for doing so. Sabeen Mahmud was too restless to “rest in peace”.

I’m trying really hard to honour Sabeen’s life by fighting off the cynicism and stoking hope. But, right now, I just can’t stop crying.


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Sami Shah is a comedian, writer, and doer of other stuff.

Find out more about him here

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (56) Closed

Last Word Apr 25, 2015 02:44pm

Everyone knows who silences the brave journalists and human rights activists in Pakistan and very aptly commented that she won't be the last. The country is heading for a another division since no lessons have been learnt from the past.

usman Apr 25, 2015 02:47pm

this women worked for humanity and in the eyes of the creator that is one great thing indeed. the world has truly lost a caring soul

Sunil Apr 25, 2015 02:54pm

Journalists, peace activists are never safe in Pakistan.

Akram Apr 25, 2015 02:56pm

Pakistan needs doo-ers, we have enough cynics. Doo-ers bring change, while cynics sit back and produce little more than hot air. I hope the death is properly investigated, this is nothing less than murder. It doesn't matter who did it, as long as they are punished. No one has the right to arbitrarily kill someone. Not even those who profess to be serving the nation.

Zak Apr 25, 2015 03:20pm
One sabeen's death will give rise to a 100 more, death of 100's of sabeen to a million more, we cannot suppress real struggle of people for freedom.              
Satish Kumar Dogra Apr 25, 2015 03:41pm

A very touching write-up. Indeed it comes from the heart and touches the hearts.

M. Baluch Apr 25, 2015 03:52pm

An iconic heroine that some of us are only being introduced to after her death. May her spirit guide the city to a new dawn where we could all live and love each other - so her soul may find the peace she was so desperate for us all to have.

افغان ميهن Apr 25, 2015 04:14pm

A truly insecure and paranoid state kills its own citizens who dare to dissent and stand up for the oppressed.

Observer Apr 25, 2015 04:25pm

Before we stop crying, forget and move on as we tend to do in any such incident.

Let's hope she does not become a statistics and forgotten as rest God knows how many have been killed by same bullets in past.

But I thought we were told law and order situation has improved. Really!

Aamir Amjad Apr 25, 2015 04:27pm

The nation should know the cowards and animals behind this sickning act.

Puru Apr 25, 2015 04:28pm

A subcontinent where truth is often punishable with death. Be it Pakistan, India or Bangladesh .. makes me remember a sad gazal ..

"Sacchi baat kahi thi maine, logo ne suli pe chadhaya, mujhko zahar ka jaam pilaya, fir bhi unko chain na aaya ... "

M.M.Sherazi Apr 25, 2015 04:38pm

she is the victim of proxy-war, we all know who is behind this proxy-war. COAS was very clear in his last statement and warned the countries without naming them...

ka Apr 25, 2015 04:39pm

@Akram yes agree

AHMAD Apr 25, 2015 04:39pm

Shame for Pakistan. What our agencies are doing either military or civil. It is there failure. Shame Shame Shame.

Citizen of Karachi Apr 25, 2015 05:24pm

Rest in peace and may your blood be avenged.

rashid Apr 25, 2015 05:57pm

@Last Word Sorry I failed to understand who killed her other than Taliban or someone individual or an apponent group whom she knew as there were threats made. Please don't blame anyone without proper evidence. Please name them if you know who it is.

Vaqar Apr 25, 2015 06:19pm

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I hope some of us have the courage to continue the work that she gave her life for.

dc Apr 25, 2015 06:24pm

@Sunil As if common person are

Najibey Ansari Apr 25, 2015 06:52pm

@Zak , There-in lies the Defeat of the Purpose . The Hienous Act.

kk Apr 25, 2015 07:04pm

last time I justified fake encounter for national interest but now it seems that some days we can also rest in silent in fake encounter by guilty of want of breathing in free open and fresh though t thinking society

Vijay(Toronto) Apr 25, 2015 07:09pm

@Zak And the 50000 odd Pakistanis killed in the last while has given rise to how many million 'fighters' so far? Nothing will change till person in the street stops looking up to the forces of evil.

optimist Apr 25, 2015 07:24pm

Five bullets, fired by a gunman, authorised by decision makers who have had so many others killed. Will there be a JIT to investigate this killing.

akhanusa Apr 25, 2015 07:34pm

Either you keep quiet and live or you tell the truth and die. I salute Sabeen to choose the later!!!

rana1 Apr 25, 2015 07:40pm

@Observer and order cannot improve when citizens are part of that disorder and lawlessness.

B.Ally Apr 25, 2015 08:11pm

Killing solves nothing. When shall we learn to let people live on who cares for society. I still hope one day sense shall start prevailing to cherish life and it's contribution toward huminity. Sabeen your legacy shall live on.

Ero Apr 25, 2015 08:24pm

One of the most emotionally charged articles I have ever read. Sad story.

Akash Apr 25, 2015 08:50pm

It is important to realize this is nothing but a freedom struggle. Just the way United India back in the days fought with British, now Pakistanis are fighting for freedom from Extreme elements.

But problem is , most of Pakistanis who are not on Dawn, still sympethize with Extremists.

Muzaffar Ali Apr 25, 2015 08:51pm

Thanks for your heartfelt thoughts....May her soul rest in peace and may her loved ones and admirers bear her loss with courage and patience. Sabeen will live in our hearts forever...

She died for Truth, Justice, and Service to Humanity....they never die as they are always in our thoughts and mind.

Her killers and their bosses are cowards! Their own children will disown them in this world! This is the universal truth!

Parvez Apr 25, 2015 10:50pm

Well said Sami Shah......the question now being asked is weather Pakistan is worth saving ?

John David Apr 25, 2015 10:56pm

Shame! on those who kill a woman. Anyone killing a woman shows the powerlessness and impotency of the killer. Shame again

John David Apr 25, 2015 10:57pm

Shame! on those who kill a woman. Anyone killing a woman shows the powerlessness and impotency of the killer. Shame again

Sad Dude Apr 26, 2015 01:22am

It is a shame, isn't it .. that the ones who gave us hope are taken away just because they chose to think differently. Others in S Asia include Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman. It is perhaps time for many more T2Fs in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India to challenge the "beards". BTW, these beards come in different guises - RSS being another.

It reminds me of the poem by Ram Prasad Bismil, "sarfaroshi ki tamanna".

RIP, we will miss you in this realm.

rana1 Apr 26, 2015 07:19am

@Sunil ....neither is the female in India safe.You are obsessed with Pakistan.Check your own backyard.

Assad Mirza Apr 26, 2015 09:53am

The killers ought to tell people as why they killed the targeted person and how they salved their conscience. There is no difference between a human and robot who just obeys the orders. I just know one thing that conscience wakes up after completing it'slkeep. Apr 26, 2015 09:56am

@M.M.Sherazi This is the sort of hidden reference to the 'foreign hand' that allows these sort of tragedies to continue. Let's at least with this latest tragedy at least acknowledge that there are at least local agents for these alleged 'foreign hands' at rout them out - that of course can never be done as we all know who they are in bed with

Honey Badger Apr 26, 2015 12:08pm

This actually happened infront of my cousin who was getting ready to go home from work

khanm Apr 26, 2015 04:54pm

@usman ...The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. Her soul will not go in vain...

khanm Apr 26, 2015 04:57pm

@Sunil Who is safe ....... except for the ruling class...The ache for a safe homeland lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned and killed.

khanm Apr 26, 2015 05:03pm

@Akram ...Who are the doers...we have become insensitive in about ever aspect of human life.. The pain and suffering cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart and that would be the beginning..

AA Apr 26, 2015 06:30pm

Our establishment needs to understand that people of provinces other than punjab and KPK are as much pakistani as the above mentioned provinces... if baloch want some extra rights give them...if karachi wants to become a separate province let them can't control people by suffocating have to let them be free and give them their rights and they will continue being pakistani

Haroon Al-Rashid Apr 26, 2015 07:45pm

So who's behind all this? On April 9, 2015, Mama Qadeer was scheduled to give a talk titled "Unsilencing Balochistan" in an event at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. The event was cancelled at the last minute by the administration citing "order from government" as the reason behind the cancellation. The incident was followed by protests from the students and faculty of the institute against the "academic censorship".The cancellation also created an uproar on the social media in Pakistan. Following the cancellation, an event titled 'Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur' was held at T2F Karachi. Following the event, Sabeen Mahmud, the director of T2F, was shot dead by unidentified assailants. QED (quod erat demonstrandum: it is proven).

Syed Zafar Kazmi Apr 26, 2015 07:48pm

@Last Word "The country is heading for a another division since no lessons have been learnt from the past."

With a heavy heart and deep sorrow, I am afraid I can not but agree with this conclusion. Wake up dear Pakistan before the lust for power and unfettered desire for monopoly over what belongs to others splinter this country again like 4 decades ago when we lost our Eastern wing. Baluchistan needs justice and our love and respect. Undoubtedly, Sabeen Mahmood was a great voive of freedom, justice and human voice. Forever live Sabeen and her very brave mother who begot Sabeen and raised her into such wonderful human being.

Sierrabrave Apr 26, 2015 09:24pm

@M.M.Sherazi wow!!!

sanjay Apr 26, 2015 09:25pm

why was she killed? The article is not giving full information. who killed her? Taliban?

Qasim Apr 26, 2015 09:56pm

Bullets don't kill people. People kill people.

The question is, who fired them bullets. Motive, opportunity.

It doesn't add up that our intel agencies killed her for promoting "Mama Qadeer", because if so, they could have directly taken care of Qadeer.

IndianJones Apr 26, 2015 10:21pm

@rashid i tried to post the name of killers Dawn refused to publish it but you can guess the name other than taliban

Maxx Apr 26, 2015 11:15pm

She has been killed in the name of power games, played by bigger players. Gwadar, Baluchistan, China investment, which country is least happy with development in Baluchistan and China's massive investment.

It is an open secret that it is the region which develops, If Baluchistan develops, it will trickle down to all the regional countries but nations with hindsight and suffering from vengeance and tunnel vision cannot see it.

Umair Apr 27, 2015 01:32am

Look Sami, I know what you're trying to say but all the idealism in the world can't make you bulletproof. The reason we're cynical is because the government does absolutely nothing to protect liberals in this country and openly supports fascist thugs. Until they change their policies then all the idealists are just walking into their own graves. I have people who depend on me. Putting myself at risk of being killed by some psychopath with nothing to lose would be selfish. If the police were able to do it's job, then the entire country would be saying exactly what Sabeen has been saying this whole time.

Arslan Khan Apr 27, 2015 01:41am

Deep state in action, once again.

Abdul Majid Zargar Apr 27, 2015 04:45am

Pakistan is increasingly becoming an intolerant nation. It does not augur well for its survival.

chacha Apr 27, 2015 09:29am

Alas, I admit I don't know Sabeen. It looks like she was doing a noble cause. It seems people associated with Dawn are being quietly silenced...

Ali Apr 27, 2015 10:44am

I don't get these NGOs. Have all the problems relating to education, health, corruption etc. solved? if not then why not focus on these first and not meddle in national security matters. Politics maybe is a fair game, national security isn't.

Zafar Apr 27, 2015 10:59am

“who wishes to fight must first count the cost” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Balochistan Zindabad Apr 27, 2015 11:20am

Media trial of state security apparatus after landmark deal of $45 billion between Pakistan and China. Poor Sabeen was used as a scapegoat by her "oppressed brothers". Grow up, don't fight, it's time to get united for betterment of the people of Pakistan. Let CPEC become a reality and then see how prosperous our countrymen and our country will become.

Iqbal Apr 27, 2015 11:36am

Karachi is a loser from her death... who is the beneficiary ?

Hassan Apr 27, 2015 01:15pm

Peaople like Sabeen Mahmud getting killed, we have certainly failed to live like humans.