Sabeen Mehmud: A voice of reason, pluralism and secularism

I have been quoted on different stories published on the murder of Sabeen Mahmud. A collection of these is being posted here.

Pakistani rights activist Sabeen Mahmud shot dead – AlJazeera

“Sabeen was a voice of reason, pluralism and secularism: the kind of creed that endangers the insidious side of constructed Pakistani nationalism,” Raza Rumi, a rights activist who escaped an assassination attempt in March 2014 and now lives in the United States out of fear for his life, told Al Jazeera.

“In her work, she was neither a political partisan nor a power seeker but Pakistan’s state and non-state actors are averse to any form of dissent. This is why she had to be killed,” Rumi said.

“Her death has simply reopened my wounds. She gave me support when I escaped death and now I feel even more scared to return to Pakistan. Her death is a huge blow to Pakistan’s civil society and social change movements.”

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Death of a liberal

“I feel dead,” says Pakistani author Raza Rumi who himself was the target of such a targeted killing in 2014 in Lahore. Writing to me from his self-exile in Washington, D.C., he says, “The brutal, barbaric murder of Sabeen Mahmud is not an individual’s death; it is an attempt to silence the alternative voices, kill reason and hope for a tolerant and progressive Pakistan. Sabeen devoted all her time to build a secure space at T2F for artists, writers, thinkers, and youth activists. She was extremely optimistic about social change! I always told her to be careful but Sabeen was fearless, incredibly brave and optimistic.”

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Sabeen did not fear bullets

Speaking to The Hindu from Washington, Raza Rumi, who moved to the U.S. after he escaped an attack in which his driver was killed, said Ms. Mahmud’s “brutal targeting was similar…As I was not driving the car perhaps, I got the chance to lie down on the floor of the car and protect myself. Alas, Sabeen did not. We have lost a formidable voice for progressive Pakistan,” he said.

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In Pakistan, This Activist Was Martyred for Her Moderation

The journalist targeted in Lahore, Raza Rumi, a friend of Sabeen’s, recalled how Sabeen opened the cultural space after a Pakistani friend returned from the U.S., struggling with serious mental illness issues that ended with his suicide. “It’s unbelievable,” he said. “They are trying to silence anyone who speaks up.”

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And my op-ed here:

Sabeen Mahmud, Martyr for Free Speech

Pakistan’s beleaguered liberals must reorganize themselves and mobilize civil society support. They must exert pressure on Parliament and the government to investigate properly and prosecute cases like Ms. Mahmud’s assassination. In addition, they must lobby for reforms of the judicial system to hold the executive authorities accountable and to enforce Pakistan’s fading press freedoms.

The international community should recognize that progress on fighting the Taliban is only part of the story. The Pakistani state must also be pushed to respect civil liberties and not allow the wanton slaying of liberal activists. Unless it does so, Pakistan’s democracy will slide back toward a disastrous authoritarianism.

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