Consider the recent dharna outside the parliament in our capital city. A huge group of maulvis parked themselves in front of the buildings of state, agitating for a couple of shockingly retrogressive demands. Most of them probably had already prostrated themselves in front of Mumtaz Qadri’s grave before coming to join the gang that wanted the day of his execution declared a public holiday and for him to be referred to in the same terms one reserves only for select religious figures in our history. Let’s for a moment ignore the irony of how these people took full advantage of the very democracy and legal systems that are in place to allow them the right to the sit-in in the first place—if they had been doing this in Saudi Arabia, their great Valhalla, they would be in jail being flogged. That Great and Noble Wahabi Sharia State would have also dealt very severely with their deification of Qadri and the forehead-laying that is happening at his grave, which is rapidly going the way of Data Darbar. The temerity of these people to equate a cold-blooded murderer with a saint such as Ali Hajvery or any of the Prophet’s sahaba should be enough for any half-religious person to touch their ears, but we all have evidently of hemlock drunk so deep that our senses are completely numbed, and can’t even defend our religion from those who are flagrantly hijacking it even in our own backyards. Everyone was the custodian of the Prophet’s honour when Qadri emptied his gun into the back of a man innocent of this particular crime, but now that same honour doesn’t seem to be anyone’s problem any more.

And so bearded men have taken microphones and on national television call the Prime Minister a Qadiani, journalists Qadianis, their mothers-in-law Qadianis. In this country we know what that means, and yet nary a squeak from anyone. The government blustered about how they wouldn’t tolerate this behaviour at all, no sir! And yet there they were, flinging their shoes at helicopters and cheering. Where were the police? Where were the water-cannons and tear gas that otherwise is pulled out at the drop of a hat by law enforcement on civilians? A large chunk of my family and friends were water-cannoned and lathi charged with jihadi fervour by the police back in the day when they were agitating against Musharraf’s military regime, teachers have last week been lathi-charged in Karachi, but either the police had terrible flashbacks about being beaten by their own maulvi-sahabs or have some newfound delicate compunctions about violence because nobody was given the literal stick. It’s almost disappointing that the only mullah who got walloped recently was Junaid Jamshed, and I do have to grudgingly admit there that even though the man is mind-bogglingly sexist and intolerant, it wasn’t a justified attack.

So where does the Punjab government stand on hate speech and radicalism? Where does our democratic government draw the line between freedom of speech and plain lunacy? On the one hand Zarb-e-Azb is held up as the best student of army initiative, golden stars all around, and on the other we pussyfoot around the mullahs. Who could do such a terrible thing as bomb little children at Gulshan-e-Iqbal park, we ask piteously, making the rounds of hospitals, donating blood and food and clothes. Of course we rally for our wounded, of course we are horrified because we are humans, fellow citizens, people who have not yet lost the capacity to feel grief and horror. But these people have. It’s as simple and brutal as that. The spokespeople who brazenly take responsibility for attacks have not an ounce of remorse or a shred of humanity left in their hearts. How much humanity did Mumtaz Qadri have, to have the gall to take the name of our gentle Prophet (PBUH) and commit murder? Did the people who planned the Gulshan-e-Iqbal attack think of the kids on the ferris wheel, the families picnicking in the park, the young men and women dressed up in their Sunday best? No, they didn’t.

The way this maulvi dharna has been handled is so hideously telling of how our government really feels about the radical elements in our society. They run amok and do as they please, be it interfering in legal matters for women, using Friday sermons as opportunity to spread hate speech or blithely making all kinds of ridiculous statements on morning shows. Surely the spread of religion should help foster peace and tolerance for all—isn’t that what religion is about? Every time an attack happens in the name of Islam anywhere in the world we are the first to say that isn’t what Islam means, what Muslims stand for. So then where is that good-will towards all, where is that large-hearted acceptance, where is the pursuit of justice and mercy? It doesn’t exist because that isn’t the Islam our mullahs stand for. They only stand for hatred and violence, for supporting terrorists who kill children. And when we are silent, we are complicit. When we don’t speak up or fight back or get onto television to loudly and clearly say this is not who we are, and it stops now, we are one of them. The lines are clearly drawn, darker than ever before: this is a fight to the death, and our entire way of life hangs in the balance. We wrested Pakistan out of the hands of the imperial coloniser, and now face a new, more sinister coloniser. The question now is, who is going to win this time?