Remembering Sabeen Mahmud, and Making Sure Her Voice is Not Silenced

We at the Asia Society are shocked and saddened by the news of the murder of Sabeen Mahmud, founder and director of PeaceNiche and a member of and a member of our Asia 21 Young Leaders network. Sabeen and her mother were on their way home in Karachi, Pakistan, when they were shot by unidentified gunmen Friday night. According to the newspaper Dawn, Sabeen died on her way to the hospital. Her mother was said to be in critical condition.

Sabeen was a brilliant and effective advocate for building bridges between the people of India and Pakistan, and as such she was perfectly suited for the India-Pakistan branch of the Asia 21 network. She established her Karachi-based not-for-profit organization “to promote democratic discourse and conflict resolution through intellectual and cultural engagement,” and she carried out that mission on the premises of a space she called The Second Floor (T2F). T2F, she said, was a “café, book shop, art gallery, and performance space,” a place that hosted hundreds of events since its founding in 2007. The T2F website called it “an alternative, independent, safe space for discourse,” and in an interview with Asia Society’s Sanjeev Sherchan in April 2014 Sabeen put it simply: “We do whatever we can get away with.”

Beyond her engagement with Asia 21, Sabeen was also one of the 40 participants in the Asia Society’s Women Leaders of New Asia summit in New Delhi in 2013.

Sabeen was under no illusions about the dangers inherent in her work, and in her native city. In that same interview she reflected on the “dubious honor” Karachi held of being “one of the most dangerous megacities” in the world. But she believed profoundly in the power of dialogue, and the power of culture to, in her words, defeat “the gloom and doom” so common in Pakistan today. The interview with Sanjeev reflects that optimism, as well as her belief in the “great value” of Asia 21 and in particular the “myth-busting” power of the Asia 21 India-Pakistan initiative.

In her last hours Sabeen had organized and led a talk titled “Unsilencing Balochistan” in the space at T2F.

It is difficult to think of a person who more embodied the spirit of the Asia 21 network, or for that matter the bridge-building mission of the Asia Society as a whole. Please take a moment — seven minutes, actually — to watch the interview we did with Sabeen last year (embedded above). At the very least it seems so important at this moment to be sure that her voice is not silenced.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Tom Nagorski
Tom Nagorski is Executive Vice President of the Asia Society. Prior to joining Asia Society he was Managing Editor for International Coverage at ABC News.