On Friday, in yet another debilitating strike of that nefarious venom that is eating at the fabric of (what is left of) our nation, Sabeen Mahmud, the intrepid director of The Second Floor (T2F), was shot down by “unknown gunmen”, on her way back from T2F’s event titled “Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farhana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur”. Upon conclusion of the event, Sabeen and her mother was targeted in the posh area of DHA Phase-II, Karachi, as part of a systematic campaign to silence voices of dissent in our society. Sabeen, who, reportedly, suffered five bullets, died on the way to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, while her mother remains in ‘critical’ condition at the hospital.

And with it, one of the clearest, humblest, truest voices in our otherwise chaotic society has been forever silenced. As a reminder to us all that courage, in the time of cowardice, is punishable by death. That dissent, in the era of conformity, is a crime. That truth, in the age of hypocrisy, is a sin.

Sabeen Mahmud was a friend. Devoting her life, efforts and time to T2F, which she described as a community space for open dialogue, Sabeen was one of those rare breeds of people whose passion (and positivism) was infectious. She believed in the tenacity of human spirit, and the power of whispers to overcome the thunder of gunfire. She believed in our collective ability, while small and inconsequential in isolation, to together bring about cataclysmic changes. She was never pleased with temporary measures. She believed in permanent revolutions, achieved through an accumulation of small voices, and dissident ideas.

We are a country that has no place for Sabeen Mahmuds. We are too callous, too boorish, too vicious for such souls.

We, the fortunate few of our society, have made peace with the darkness of our days. It is comfortable in this darkness. Lighting a candle, even if only to identify oneself as being distraught, would be an unnecessary risk. Sitting in the cold, dark security of our imaginary fortress, why stick our neck out for a cause or an ideal, when we can spend our remaining breaths in (squalid) ‘peace’? Why tinker with the precarious balance of things? Why stand up, and be counted? Why speak, and invite attention? Why say something – anything! – that shows that we have an opinion? That we think at all! It is too risky. Another generation, another time, can do so. But not us. Not while there are birthdays to go to, and weddings to attend. Maybe we can make time for it next week. Maybe not.

This ignominious apathy is not a dramatization of our realities. It is our way of being. As parents, our responsibility extends only to teaching children not to go out after the sunset, instead of working towards creating a society where daylight is not equated with security. We tell our friends not to look too ‘shia’, or sound too Ahmedi, instead of focusing our efforts to eliminate intolerance. We install security alarms in our homes, but lend no hand to eradicating crime. We sob over Sabeen, over Shahzeb Khan, over the Hazaras of Quetta and school children of APS Peshawar, without ever making this our personal battle.

We are a people who encourage conformity, and frown upon dissent. Even constitutionally (Article 19 of the Constitution), we can talk about, write, publish or telecast, whatever we wish – anything at all! – till such time that it does not offend our brittle notions of national security. Or glory of Islam. Or security and defence of Pakistan. Or friendly relations with foreign States. Or public order. Or decency. Or morality. Or contempt of court. Or incitement to offense.

Everything else is kosher. Seriously.

We allow, per Article 20 of the Constitution, the freedoms to profess and practice religion – all religions! – till such time that that it does not offend the Mullah’s notion of Islam. Or public order. Or Morality.

We are happy to talk about a reform of the blasphemy law. With anyone who recognizes that even the slightest questioning of Mullah’s ideologies is blasphemy, and that Mumtaz Qadri is a hero.

We recognize the constitutionally guaranteed dominion of provincial autonomy, and encourage a healthy debate about the plight of regional minorities. Except Muhajirs in Sindh. Or Mama Qadeer supporters in Balochistan.

We are all for free media; except when it speaks about ISI. We are all for an independent bar; except when it criticizes the judiciary. We are all for an independent judiciary, except when it takes on the missing persons case.

And caught in these conflicting ideologies, it threatens us when someone like Sabeen cuts through our web of duplicity to speak of issues that might resuscitate our silent hearts. We do not know what to do about her, or with her. Except, somehow, to get her to stop. Because her words, her efforts, her courage, posses a spark of that flickering flame that can wake us all from our hopeless slumber. A slumber that is as comfortable as it is criminal.

We wait, in anticipation, for someone to extinguish Sabeen’s light. And when that inevitably happens, we turn to each other, and narrate it as a cautionary tale, before turning over and falling back into that familiar slumber.

The murder of Sabeen will do the news rounds for a few days. Pay no heed to it in the long-run, however. She was crazy for nurturing a soul that craved for a better Pakistan. We know better than to follow her example.

Go back to sleep.