The women may be on the front lines of this protest, but it's clear the clerics in the mosque next door are calling the shots. The children's library is a few yards from one of the most radical mosques in Pakistan, Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, which has posted dozens of lean young jihadists in black turbans around the library, brandishing swords, staffs, axes, and AK-47s. The men from the mosque include pro-Taliban clerics and Javed Ibrahim Paracha, a bearded, heavyset former member of parliament who has been dubbed "al Qaeda's lawyer" for successfully representing several hundred jihadists captured in Pakistan after 9/11. He explains what emboldens these young women to risk their lives for Islam: "This government has lost all credibility," he says. "People look at Musharraf and they see a U.S. puppet who's willing to declare war on fellow Muslims to satisfy America. They also see his generals getting rich, while they're getting poorer every day. People are losing hope. Pakistan and its government are becoming two different things. This will have to change, and soon."
A week later, the standoff comes to an apparent end after the government backs down and agrees to start rebuilding the mosques. The children's library is stripped of all books deemed un-Islamic, and the students take over. In the capital, a mere ten minutes' drive from the presidential palace, the Islamists have won. (Months later, as this story goes to press, the government finally stormed the Red Mosque and killed scores of militants. Umme Ayman survived.)
More than anyone, it was General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq who created Pakistan's current generation of Islamic radicals, and the climate in which they thrive. A Punjabi general with a pencil-thin mustache and raccoon circles under his eyes, Zia seized power in a coup in 1977, had the democratically elected prime minister tried and hanged, and promptly pressed for the Islamization of Pakistan, calling for more religion in the classroom and the use of punishments such as flogging and amputations for crimes against Islam. To Zia, Pakistan's secular founders, with their emphasis on Muslim culture, had it exactly backward. "We were created on the basis of Islam," Zia said, and he set out to remake democratic Pakistan as a strict Islamic state—despite the fact that a large majority of Pakistanis were, and remain, moderates.
Whether by temperament or tradition, most Pakistani Muslims are more comfortable with the mystical and ecstatic rituals of Barelvi Islam, a colorful blend of Indian Islamic practice and Sufism. For a Punjabi farmer whose crop has just come in, it has always been more satisfying to hang out at a Sufi shrine listening to qawwali music and watching dervishes whirl than reciting the Koran in a fundamentalist mosque. Most Pakistanis, though powerless to resist, were lukewarm to Zia's Islamization program, as was much of the outside world.