Fear won’t silence us

On November 2, there was an attack on two of my very dear friends: Marvi Sirmed and her husband Sirmed Manzoor. Bullets were fired at their car when they were on their way home but thankfully they were not hurt. So far no one has claimed responsibility for the attack. It seems as if this was more of a scare tactic than an assassination attempt. Such attacks take place as a ‘warning shot’ to send a clear message: we can kill you whenever we want to. So back down now or else you will not get a second chance.

Marvi works as a democratic-governance professional but she is also a human rights activist and columnist while Sirmed is a journalist and the Secretary-General of South Asian Free Media Association’s (SAFMA’s) Pakistan chapter. Marvi is a very vocal supporter of a democratic, liberal, secular and pluralistic Pakistan. She has had threats from several quarters, be it the military establishment, militant organisations or extremists. Marvi believes that this attack was not just aimed to silence her voice but to give a message to the entire community of rights campaigners. This is something that must be taken seriously not just by civil society but by the government of Pakistan as well. I have said it before and I will say it again (at the risk of being repetitive), one by one, all rational voices are being silenced in Pakistan. Those who have the guts to speak out against the military establishment, terrorist organisations, the Taliban and other extremist groups come under fire from one quarter or the other. Those who dare to say the truth are hounded; their phones are tapped, their e-mails are scanned, their movements are monitored. They are treated as enemies of state rather than those terrorists and their mentors who are actually destabilising our country. One is reminded of the plot to assassinate Asma Jahangir earlier this year. In a pre-emptive move, Ms Jahangir went public to thwart those who had hatched the plan to kill her.

To be honest, the attack on Marvi and Sirmed shook me. When two people you love and respect come under fire, it is bound to terrify you. Yes, it was too close for comfort but it also made me realise that if we give in to bullying tactics, we might as well give up on our country. This attack was a warning for all those Pakistanis who want a secular and democratic Pakistan. In the face of adversity, you either give up your cause or you become more determined to fight for a just cause. Some people are of the view that we should be more cautious and live to fight another day. While this approach is pragmatic, it is very difficult for a rational Pakistani to sit quietly and watch our country go up in flames. Most of us would like to follow Medger Evans’ mantra: “You can kill a man but you can’t kill an idea.”

The state of Pakistan might have abdicated its responsibility to protect its citizens but as responsible citizens, we cannot give up on Pakistan. We cannot give up on the idea of a country where there is peace, where all citizens are treated equally, where there is freedom of expression and speech, where democracy thrives, where secularism is enshrined in the constitution and where pluralism exists. History will never forgive us if we do that. We cannot and must not give up!

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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