Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The red in Valentine's


I look at the office calendar and notice that Valentine's Day is recorded as an important date. I think about Pakistan and smile about the irony. I think about Sabeen Mahmud. I met her at a conference in 2013 in Bangkok where she was a speaker. The topic of discussion was Freedom of Speech; a right she avidly demanded, worked for and died for less than a year ago from today.

She was funny and animated as she narrated how her Valentine's Day rally in Karachi was responded to with death threats by radicals. She had to go underground for a while until the Muslims found something else to criticise about. 

Two years later, she was killed. One of her killers - an educated boy from my university - claimed that  her unIslamic Valentine's Day rally was the sin she eventually paid for. Here it is just a day on the calendar. People can choose to celebrate it or ignore it. It can be a perfect excuse to buy more commodities or a reason to feel loved/unloved. It cannot be a matter of right and wrong, piety or evil, life or death. 

Such memories remind me of the reasons I left. I didn't stay, I didn't fight. You can't fight religious dogma. It is too big an evil to be dealt with through dialogue or creative expression. It is too ominous to win over. I wish Sabeen had known that.