I have a dream. The dream allows me indulgence into this hope to one day forget the past. True, the past is a crucial teacher, but a bloody past loses its ability at pedagogy and instead drives the student into inescapable morbidity. Pakistan’s past is bloody. Can we, all of us, please be allowed to forget it?

Pakistan is in shambles and it’s getting worse by the day. The solutions however are simple but also unspeakable. Those who tend to speak the ugly truth are silenced. This is a norm in this country; murders make breaking news, nothing more.

The speakers in most of the sessions in the recently held Islamabad Literary Festival did indeed speak about Sabeen Mahmud. The audience too reflected but, as always, the mood soon dissipated. The famous faces seated on the brightly lit stages drowned back into the comfort of their mirages with little time to waste. They spoke of optimism. They spoke of a Pakistan that does not exist. They spoke of a media which competed against each other on the quality of news and integrity of resources. They spoke of a woman Jirga which could make a difference to the women of Swat. The audience clapped on the hopes and utopian dreams. They smiled and took selfies as if the stench of all that was wrong with Pakistan had faded away. The literary festival, much like the city it was held in, was a deep dive into the soothing ocean of our cowardly delusions.

A gentleman with an overtly American accent and Elvis sideburns took the mic during one such session. He spoke of his anger on Sabeen’s murder. She was a friend, he claimed, and her loss had hurt him. She was an inspiration to him; a mentor. There was a pregnant pause, a clearing of throat, before the said Elvis impersonator continued, his voice drenched in melancholy: All ‘empirical evidence’ indicates that international agencies were involved in this ruthless act. How can we protect our agencies from all such attempts that seek to defame them?

This, right here, is as tragic as it gets. A life was lost, a good life. A voice silenced forever and here we are, instead of celebrating the cause of her last efforts, painting her demise in romantic conspiracies. The woman’s death hence has become a mere detail in a grander play of things. And in this new setting, she doesn’t matter anymore. She was a means to an end; an end that seemingly deserves most of the attention.

In all honesty though, maybe the implied foreign agency is the easiest answer to this predicament; regardless of how absurd the idea may be. The ‘others’ have been an answer to all our woes and have helped us stay sane amidst our chaotic existence. They’ve allowed us to look away from our scars and ignore all that is blatantly wrong with us. They’ve allowed us to be cowards and not feel bad about it.

Those who insist on the ‘others’ being involved and the innocence of ‘them’ quote the age old metaphor unequivocally: If ‘they’ were infact involved, this move must have backfired on them. They’ve tried silencing one Sabeen and as a result 10 more will rise up and become her voice. ‘They’ couldn’t have made such a blunder.

These people are wrong with their optimism. This claim, the exponential rise, is a myth in Pakistan. Did we see 10 Salman Taseers rise when the psychopath Mumtaz Qadri gunned him down? Did we see 10 Rashid Rehmans rise when the man was murdered for agreeing to fight the case of the blasphemy accused Fulbright scholar, Junaid Hafeez? Did 10 Shahbaz Bhattis rise up to voice the grievances of the minorities on the draconian blasphemy laws? And then of course, there was Saleem Shehzad.

Professors who were part of the organizing committee of the LUMS event ‘Unsilencing Balochistan’ were vocal in their social media based reactions to the cancelling of the event but the fact remains that they did in fact give in to the powers that be, the very same shadows they had sought to challenge by holding the event in the first place. Now the student body mourns Sabeen’s death with ‘Rest in Power’ chants hoping this would be enough to wade away the putrid stench of betrayal that permeates around them. They gave in to the ideals Sabeen insisted upon and died defending. There is no going back on this cowardice.  

The 10 Sabeens will never rise in Pakistan. The optimistic dreams are in vain. Everyone, each one of us, has given into our fears. Ignorance is bliss for us; hope an unparalleled comforter. Optimism makes reality beautiful and works to numb the pain. Pakistan has grown addicted to its silence and fights those that seek to pull it out of its miserable labyrinths. The country and its men and women are part of the same bloody past my dream insists on forgetting. For what it’s worth, I too relish the hope that comes with making this dream a reality.