Let me be honest, I felt a distinct sense of Schadenfreude when I heard that Hamza Ali Abbasi had been banned from hosting a Ramzan show for raising the question of Ahmedi marginalisation.

Don’t judge me too quickly, hear me out.  I am not a fan of Hamza Ali Abbasi – in fact I have despised him for the longest time. His took it upon himself to be a paragon of virtue and a custodian of Islam. In that process I saw him spread hate and bigotry on several topics, leading an army of fans on the same path. He became the voice of the conservative majority – the oppressive majority.

When the true ‘custodians of Islam’, came calling – removed from the social media bubble, and covered in the grit, grime, and dents of the sinister real world –  he was made to feel the terror of the minorities he so often degraded.  Hordes descended on his account, chanting death, where they were lavishing praise before.  The reversal of the roles seemed like poetic justice.

Yet that feeling didn’t last long. Hamza, despite his faults, appreciated an open discussion. I was forced to give his bravery my begrudging respect, and focus on the real evil. That shadowy grin behind a monstrous beard, dripping blood. 

“On the spot, goli maar deni chahiye”. These are the words of Alama Kokab Noorani, who with menacing emphasis told the nation that anyone who even starts a conversation about Ahmedis should be killed – on national, primetime television. The episode is sickening; in a slow calculated tone, Alama Kokab lays down his violent threats, emotionally blackmailing “honest Muslims” to not suffer even an imagined slight on Islam, while the host of the show, TV One’s Shabbir Abu Talib, moans in the background with righteous pleasure, egging on the cleric to be even more vicious.

That should have been the end of both these men, or at the very least Alama Kokab. There was an undeniable and explicit incitement to violence, against a specific person (Hamza Ali Abbasi) and a specific community (Ahmedi), on a widely viewed public forum. You don’t need to open a copy of the Anti-Terrorism and Hate speech laws to know this is an open-shut case.

If that wasn’t enough to incriminate the cleric, the rest will. Alama Kokab Noorai belongs to Ahle Sunnat Wal Jammat (ASWJ), an organization that was banned by the state in 2012 because it was “suspected to have been involved in sectarian violence and terrorism related activities of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the defunct terror group”.  He was last seen giving rousing speeches at the funeral of Mumtaz Qadri, the executed murderer of Salman Taseer. He too incited violence against conversation starters; he too used the same violent language, the same exploitative platitudes.

What does the mighty state do? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.  Like a mewling calf it battens down the hatches, while the Alama Kokab saunters off into infamy. All those glorious generals with their glittering medals, all those pompous politicians with their fervent promises, all of them – silent.

 In this deafening silence steps another self-appointed guardian of the Faith; the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA).  It bans the show of Hamza Ali Abbasi, and as an afterthought, it also bans Shabbir Abu Talib’s show.

PEMRA’s reasons are laughable; in its official notification the body said that the anchor discussed “a matter already settled in the parliament”. So what? Can we not discuss laws already settled by the parliament? How are we ever going to change them or make new ones if this is forbidden? By this logic 95% of all politicians, journalists, news anchors, and talk show analysts should be banned – talking about settled laws is their job description. Shall we get rid of the Parliament too while we are at it?

The fact that this kind of idiotic reasoning needs to be seriously refuted is cringe-worthy.

Fools are we for sticking to logic, PEMRA doesn’t care if it is making sense; intelligence has never been its selling point. However righteousness is another matter.  The body has taken upon itself to protect the fragile morals of the country; banning ads for contraceptives, asking TV serials to not show scenes of sexual harassment, and banning musicians who sing about injustice and revolution.  All in all being a great impediment to any open conversation and progress. Who cares if the expanding population of Pakistan will make it a water scarce country in the next few decades, as long as kids don’t know that adults sometimes have sex for pleasure, right?

Although we shouldn’t be surprised, PEMRA was established during the Musharaff era to censor news channels criticizing the dictator – hindering open discussion is its second nature. Old dog, new tricks, you know how it goes. 

The real shame lies at the doorstep of the new dogs, our national military and political leader who style themselves as messiahs, here to be the harbinger of true change. Where were they when the fate of our minorities was being butchered on national television?

Imran Khan was all smiles when Hamza Ali Abassi shared the stage with him, donning the red and green of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), and extolling virtues of ‘Naya Pakistan’. Two handsome men – the new face of Pakistan. Imran Khan lapped up the stardom, cashed in on his popularity and made him a semi-official spokesperson for the party, but when he was threatened on public television and banned for daring to talk about minority rights, the great Kaptaan was nowhere to be seen. Not even a peep from the loud revolutionary. Not even for one of his own.

Where was the military and the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), who has turned Hamza Ali Abbasi into its patriotic and conservative poster boy? They launched him into fame when he embracing martyrdom while singing the national anthem in ISPR sponsored movies. Will the all conquering Raheel Shariff stand with our minorities? What does Major Asif Bajwa has to say about this episode; usually his twitter account is full of sweeping declarations of protecting minorities and ending terrorism. Here is a brazen act of terrorism, and the sabre-rattling Major can only rattle his teacup as he shudders to face the religious zealotry.

Speak out, stand up; it is easy to be brave when you are bombing tribal militants from the safety of an F-16 cockpit, doing it in the messy egalitarian streets of civilian Pakistan is another matter.