Asma Jahangir (1952 – 2018): A Life of Fearless Fortitude

by Ali Minai

Asma-jehangir-1600x500A light went out in the world yesterday. Asma Jahangir — Pakistan’s icon of human rights and liberal values — passed away. In her short 66 years, she lived the length — and made the impact — of many lifetimes. If a person’s character is known by the enemies they make, her credentials are impeccable. Every dictator, every autocrat, every paternalistic preacher, every friend of the powerful hated her — and she welcomed their hatred as a badge of honor. Even in death, the barbs of her enemies ennoble her further for posterity.
There are also many who disliked her because of her political views, her liberalism, or her uncompromising positions. As with all those who act only on principle, she sometimes faced difficult dilemmas and found herself taking unpopular positions — including some that were branded “unpatriotic”, as though Patriotism can ever be a higher value than Justice. She may sometimes have ended up on what many thought was the “wrong” side of the line, but she was always there for the right reasons. When all other champions of truth were silent in the face of diktat, she stood up against the oppression of women and minorities, against the lack of due process, and against inhuman laws imposed in the name of God and country. Sometimes she won, and often she did not, but she never wavered.
Many friends have already paid tribute to Asma Jahangir and lamented her passing, and I debated whether I should say anything — especially since it will surely invite controversial comments. But then I thought of my daughters, and what a fearless woman like Asma Jahangir truly signifies for them — and that is why I needed to write this. So Anosha and Afreen, if you ever wonder what sort of person you should aim to be, or how to stand up for justice against all odds, or what a full life of fearless fortitude is like, look to this Pakistani lawyer who packed all the furies of righteousness in her slight body and lived her life like a flame that the winds simply could not extinguish. Now a greater extinguisher has taken her, but the flame will stay alive in the hearts and minds of those who share her values. And even those who do not — or perhaps their future generations — will benefit from the sparks she has sown, because even the unjust want justice when they find themselves oppressed.
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Editor’s Note: Asma Jahangir’s Wikipedia page is here. You can also read obituaries in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Dawn, the Express Tribune, Time, and many others.