Sabeen’s Eulogy

To really understand Sabeen’s work, one must know Karachi. Cities are designed by their architects to fulfill certain functions. They determine whether people will meet serendipitously or gather in city squares. They build parks where they want families to raise their children. Where we are standing today, Harvard, is connected to public transport making it accessible for citizens to reach. It is surrounded by cafes where people can meet and dream about startup ideas and political revolutions. Unfortunately the history of Karachi under colonial and subsequent administrations has meant that it is a city deliberately built to prevent people from meeting each other, because when people gather they organize around dangerous ideas critical of governments. Sabeen’s work was a rejection of this status quo.

There were always interesting events going on at T2F, the three room community space that Sabeen created, ranging from acting classes and philosophy talks to qawwali performances and poetry readings. Sabeen herself was one of the most down to earth people you’d ever meet and was always available to help. Her counter-culture influences included Steve Jobs, so it is no surprise she organized Pakistan’s first hackathon and when we were launching Pakathon she got on a Skype call with me at an obscenely early hour to advise me on how to launch our event and non-profit in Boston. I last met her for a brief moment a few months ago, when she was running a program at T2F to commemorate the Peshawar massacre.

The unspoken question behind a lot of eulogies published after Sabeen’s passing is this: does the individual have agency over a pre-existing system? Can an individual win against the established order in politics and society? Can hackers beat the government? Can you be a pirate or should you always join the navy?

The cynical answer is: ‘but look what happened to her — she died standing for her beliefs,’ proof that keeping your head down and doing what you are supposed to do is the best way to go about your days. It is helpful to state the uncomfortable premise behind this line of reasoning: should we measure a person’s life based on them reaching their biological limit? I fundamentally believe that’s the wrong question to ask.

The correct question to ask is, did her life mean anything? Did she make it count? The fact that she mentored and helped hundreds of people like me, and that we are all gathered here today to commemorate her life miles away from her work, is proof that it did. Her legacy is evidence that the individual has agency and that they can create meaning in this world. I hope her sacrifice inspires us to think about what our life means…what our life could mean.

Thank you and god bless.

[1] The above remarks were delivered at a vigil at Harvard last week. I’ve edited a few parts to provide more context for readers

[2] Here is a great overview of Sabeen’s work:

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