Notes from the Underground is in Berlin, and back home Mashal Khan is dead. I am in a city with a dreadful past. Berlin is one of the most important cities in the world, host to philosophers and writers, melting pot of ideas and culture. And yet it is also the city cut in two by opposing governments. It is the city where, in a square called Bebelplatz, Nazis burned twenty thousand books in 1933 because they were afraid of the power of knowledge. WW2 saw the city bombed, a lot. There is an iconic tower called the Fersehturm—it looks like a meatball on a very spiky seekh—built in the sixties by the German Democratic Republic (the same folks who built the Berlin wall too) as a symbol of Communist power, but to build it they razed a lot of historical landmarks of medieval Berlin. It’s a beautiful city, but with a quiet gravity. The streets have seen a lot, and not all of it was pleasant. But there is order, there is awareness, there is a sense of ‘never again’. The length of the Berlin wall that still remains has been covered with peace-themed murals and turned into the world’s largest open-air art gallery. On one side are the murals, on the other side a canal lined with pink blossom trees. It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge the past and bring something positive out of it. And at the back of my mind is Mardan.

Let’s not pretend that anyone in our country is educated. Education means nothing, because the education available to our children is only basic reading and writing. They have no minds of their own, they have no thoughts or critical thinking skills. We don’t want them to have any, and it is clear as day how convenient that is. We only want cannon fodder for our armies, and mindless drones who will work in offices crunching numbers and answering the telephones and saying “yes sir” and “no sir” as required. From the highest seat of office in the country down to the lowest peon, we are a nation of followers. We are not dynamic do-ers, changers of the world. We just do what we’re told, whether it’s the Chinese telling us to let our markets be flooded by their cheap products, our coasts developed by them or anything else that can make them money at our expense or the Saudis telling us to jump when they want. We all know who is funding the madrassahs, who has been insidiously changing the narrative of our discourse for decades now. Do you think it is impossible for PEMRA to permanently shut down hate speech on television? Of course not. Do you think a country with intelligence agencies as ruthless and efficient as ours really has no way of monitoring and curtailing hate speech in mosque khutbas on Friday? Lest any of us think it’s really hard to do the right thing let’s be clear: it is not. There is a reason why other countries don’t have students being lynched for blasphemy and we do, and it has everything to do with our capitalist re-colonization.

Our country is just a puppet in the hands of others and nobody who can stop it want to, because it doesn’t suit them. Is the prime minister going to get on television and address the nation and promise that this will never be allowed to happen again? No. Is the KPK government going to fire Professor Dr. Ihsan Ali, the Vice Chancellor of Abdul Wali Khan University? Unlikely. A few arrests have been made but of course too little too late. The police at the scene said they were helpless against the mob. Because water cannons and rubber pellets are saved only for civilians demonstrating against military rule, not to contain murdering mobs of young men. Incidentally, the mob had a gun, but the police either didn’t, or doesn’t know how to use theirs. In a country (and a province) where being trigger-happy is hardly news, it’s such a mystery why the police couldn’t do a single thing to help Mashal Khan, except retrieve his broken body for his mother and father to bury.

Mashal, whose name means light, didn’t do anything. There is no evidence of his “gustakhi” anywhere. But we are sheep, we are raising sheep and we are nurturing the snakes of others in our bosoms. We are furthering the agendas of those who would destroy us in a minute because it made them some more money. Has anyone ever thought, for a single second, why it is so easy for mobs to kill? Christians being lynched, brothers in Sialkot being lynched, Mashal Khan being lynched. Do you think by remaining silent you will save yourself? We are in the middle of an inferno and we are no Ibrahim to escape unharmed from the flames. The Berlin Wall was a symbol of oppression, the site of violence and loss. And in 1989 the people were the ones who tore it down. Refugees from the GDR, fleeing the oppressive communist regime, were the ones who brought the wall down. It was the people who said enough, who stood up to their governments, who said no more. And back home, it’s the same handful of people pushing back and it’s the same thousands of people who are silent, each time. Berlin fought back, Germany rose from the shame and horror of the Nazi government. What are we going to do? What is Lahore, Mardan, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta—what are they going to do? If the answer is nothing, then we are already lost. We have lost our daughters and sons, we have lost everything our grandparents struggled for, we have shamed our Quaid and everything Pakistan was meant to stand for. “Light, light, if only to die in”—Mashal Khan is dead, his light is gone. But if we won’t rage against it, we will be next.