An open letter to Sabeen Mahmud

May 3, 2015

Pakistan’s newest ‘martyr’ and ‘sacrifice’

An open letter to Sabeen Mahmud

Dear Sabeen,

I continue to hope that this letter will find you in good health, though I know that by the time it is published, your bullet-riddled body will be buried somewhere, to be forgotten by all but those who loved you most.

There will be no monuments built to remind us of your courage, only grief for your death. There will be no laments written to commemorate the ideals you stood for, only tears for you, Pakistan’s newest ‘martyr’ and ‘sacrifice’.

The truth is Sabeen, I’m writing to you today, not to apologise to you for all the pain we caused you and those you loved, but instead to tell you that you were wrong. You see, you believed that you or someone like you could change Pakistan, even just a little. I’m writing to tell you that you were wrong.

It’s no fault of your own. You did all you could, and then some. The blame lies with us, and only us. Because Sabeen, no one cares. In Pakistan, there is only one group of people; the victims. Everyone is victim, real or imagined. From colonialism to partition to neo-imperialism to Balochistan, we have all been hurt. All of us feel pain that no one else, not even those around us, can understand. In the mind of every Pakistani, he or she is a victim, and more of a victim than anyone else. And therefore, they care about no one else.

But it doesn’t end there Sabeen. Each one of us also believes that we know everything. We may not be able to tell a terrorist apart from a Waziristani, but we are all definitive authorities on moral philosophy. We all know right from wrong, and we know so better than anyone else. So we have no qualms about judging some worthy of life, and others unworthy, just as we judged you.

We have no problem defining life as only those who agree with us.

But why am I telling you all this? You already know this. I don’t know myself. I guess I’m angry and sad and tired too. Unlike you though, I have lost hope. You sought to make Pakistan a better place, I wish to only see it burn, in the hope that someone will build a new nation out of its ashes. You raised your voice to support those suffering injustice, but I silence myself, willing to let the injustice continue, until one day, the hatred of the oppressed turns into bloody violence.

Also read: Her T2F and mine

But I am not the only one who is silent. No, if indeed silence is a sin, then I am far from the only sinner. But we are a big nation, varied and diverse. Even the sinners are guilty of different types of silence. There are those who are silent because they genuinely do not see the injustice they are a party to. They genuinely believe that the judicial murder of blasphemers and the murder of the Baloch people by the state is necessary. If nothing else, they are true to who they are.

There is another category of silent sinners too though. They are those who know that the systematic oppression of the Baloch people is wrong. They know that unexplained murders and target killings are commonplace. They know that free speech in Pakistan is a lie and religious freedom in Pakistan is a bloody joke. But they stay silent. They watch people like you stand up for what they believe in because they prefer the convenience of silence to the brutality of the truth. So when the Sabeen Mahmuds of this world get shot standing up for their ideals, they feel guilty and hurt and start a social media storm. Profile pictures go black, long statuses are put up, and much noise is made. And nothing changes.

Just like Salmaan Taseer and countless others before you, and the innumerable others after you, you will be made into a martyr. You will be called a national sacrifice. And all the while, the free speech and free religion and equality and transparency you stood for will be put aside and forgotten. Because Sabeen, your life served to remind us that we were perpetrators and bystanders of tragic injustice, but your death makes us victims of national tragedy.

Sabeen, you paid with your life the debt incurred by the silence of the ‘liberals’ and the ‘moderates’. They are not victims of injustice, you are. They sat in their drawing rooms, having chai and coffee, blaming Nawaz Sahrif and Amreeka and the army, and let you take a bullet for them.

Sabeen, you were wrong. Nothing, not even death can unsilence us. You were wrong to believe that we could be changed, and for that Sabeen, I am truly, deeply sorry.

Sincerely and with great regret,

The Liberal Who Is Silent.

An open letter to Sabeen Mahmud