I remember exactly what I did when I found out Mumtaz Qadri is dead - I rejoiced. It was a raw feeling, not contrived nor rationalised; I was happy. There I was, stuck in a heavier than usual Lahore traffic when a colleague called me and told me going to the office today was futile, I should come see him instead. “Why” I asked. “Have you been living under a rock? They hung Qadri today, all the roads are blocked”. I congratulated him, he congratulated me, I rolled down the window, stuck my arm out and went the opposite direction quite merrily. It was later that day when a twitter warrior went on rampage that I was told that I - a “bleeding heart liberal” - should be ashamed for celebrating Mumtaz Qadri’s execution. After all, wasn’t I against the death penalty, didn’t I campaign vociferously against it, wasn’t this hypocrisy?

I admit, that from all the arguments presented by extremism apologists following the execution - and there were a lot - this was the only one that made sense. If support for the death penalty can change depending on who we are sending to their death, then our principles become inconsistent, and we become arbitrary opportunists - the same kind of people we claim to abhor. “We” in this regard is the general grouping of liberal minded people, activists, journalists and politicians; a lot of whom struggled with this dichotomy, giving the polar opposite views coming from different newspapers and opinion groups who up till then had been pretty consistent in their views regarding the Mumtaz Qadri case. The response was weak, divided and hesitant, and religious groups claimed yet another moral high ground against the immoral “libtards”.

I write today in the defense of this seeming hypocrisy. It is easy to criticise religious parties for lack of nuance when it comes to not understating the difference between committing blasphemy and arguing for a change in the blasphemy law, but this past week it is these critics that lack nuance. The stance against the death penalty has been misrepresented and misunderstood, leading to the conundrums liberal critics find themselves in. The penalty is opposed not because of abstract ideas on the “scared nature of all life” but on real life deficiencies in the criminal justice system, and while many believe both these notions, it has to be understood that the first is a metaphysical fiction, that not even the most ardent Pakistani liberal cannot defend under sustained questioning.

Sanctity of life is an important idea that extrapolates to countless other humanitarian actions and polices, but it was never meant to be taken in absolute. Even governments that have abolished the death penalty give firearms to their law enforcement agencies and have laws that justify murder in self defense. All government’s recognise fact that at some moments taking a life becomes necessary; those “moment” need to be carefully and restrictively defined, but once circumstances match those definitions, then the sanctity of life can be superseded. Those who argue that we cannot give the Pakistani government the right to decide whose life to take have forgotten that they were the first in line to hand the government this right when they clamoured - loudly and consistently - for the military operation in the tribal belt. The commander that decides to bomb one target or the other makes dozens such decisions everyday. Had Mumtaz Qadri died in the hills of Waziristan with a gun in his hand at in a hail of bullets, he would have been chalked up as another “terrorist” killed, and liberals and conservatives alike would have sung praises of the Pak Army. Even today, those who propose the abolition of death penalty support the military operation. The absolute sanctity of life exists only gloriously eloquent debates in decadently furnished living rooms.

For those who actually campaign against the penalty - running ragged through government offices and baking in sun outside jailhouses have a very different notion of this problem. The contention of activists against the death penalty is simple; the justice system is broken. It doesn’t have satisfactory safeguards, the lawyers and judges are pressured for time by the mountainous backlog of cases, death is proscribed for too many crimes, it can be - and often is - easily manipulated by the rich and influential and minority/biradiri bias is strong.

Mistakes are made, and innocent people can be awarded death - an irreversible act. Those who are guilty and repentant but sentenced harshly are also dealt injustice. This is why everyone was out in droves to protect Shafqat Hussain - an alleged juvenile that was convicted on a confession obtained through torture. Abolitionists argue that life sentence would allow us to rectify these mistakes in the future. None of these concern are a factor when it comes to Mumtaz Qadri, who was captured on the scene of the crime, a smoking gun in his hand, loudly declaiming his murder as an act done in the glory of god.

Times of war dictate extraordinary steps - and make no mistake this is war. This isn’t hypocrisy - this is necessity. Mumtaz Qadri needed to go to the gallows for a strong precedent to be set, this doesn’t mean I won’t campaign for the hapless labourer sentenced to death on trumped up charges.