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Archive for the ‘Social Media Ban’ Category

I doubt if there could be a better illustration of the conflict between the teachings of orthodox Islam and the technological underpinnings of modern society than the recent decision of a top Egyptian cleric to issue a ban (ie. “fatwa”) on Muslims’ use of social networking sites such as Facebook and My Space. According to the cleric: “While one or other of the spouses is at work, the other is chatting online with someone else, wasting their time and flouting the Sharia. This endangers the Muslim family.” He further explained: “It’s an instrument that destroys the family because it encourages spouses to have relations with other people which break Islamic Sharia law.”

Well, he is certainly on to something in that social online networks are believed to be behind one in five divorces in Egypt. He is dead wrong, however, in his decision to issue a religious ban on use of social online networks for the simple reason that a marriage has to be fundamentally weak in the first place in order for a partner to want to leave it at the first available opportunity. Put differently, online networks seem to provide a way out for people caught in unhappy, failed marriages as opposed to being the reason for failure of a marriage. They should be a cause of celebration for escape (for some) from a life-time of misery.

The cleric’s fatwa can be seen at:  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/itslideshow/5579165.cms

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I don’t want to sound overly philosophical, but I have to say: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. And Pakistan has taken more than a few first steps in the right direction with recent liberalization of its media. Witness the videos on my YouTube channel as proof of the caliber of discussions taking place. Banning of Facebook, YouTube, and Wikipedia – even if on a permanent bases, which I personally doubt will be the case – does not take away from the fact that liberalized media represented by such notable analysts and commentators as Najam Sethi, Hasan Nisar, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Nazir Naji and Javed Chaudhry will continue to play an important role in identifying core national issues, increasing government accountability, and making policy recommendations.

These are welcome developments of historical importance in my opinion and are further guaranteed to have a positive impact on the psyche and awareness of urban youth and middle-classes. Even in case of religion, sections of Pak media are talking about the need for religious tolerance and inter-faith co-existence, by itself a sea change from General Zia’s state enforced Islamization of the 1980s. It does not matter that much at this stage if Pak media cannot adopt the position of its Western counterparts and treat religious desecration as non-events. Hopefully, that time will come in future, if for no other reason than for the serious nature of economic, social, political, administrative, educational, and infrastructure problems besetting the country.

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Posted below are excerpts from some American and Pakistani newspapers on the recent well publicized banning of YouTube (a ban that has now been lifted). These excerpts are instructive in highlighting the political, social, business, religious, and ideological dimensions of the ban. They also highlight the dismay of Pakistan’s liberal intelligentsia, the conspiratorial mindset of its self-anointed guardians of morality, the misguided priorities of Pak state, and the futility of trying to restrict consumer choice with such sweeping bans.

[Swift Rage in Pakistan Over Facebook and Its Ban; New York Times; Salman Masood; May 24, 2010; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

[Throw the book & face the consequences; DAWN; Mahir Ali; 26 May, 2010; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

  1. Politican Motivations: But why such drastic measures? The weak political government of President Asif Ali Zardari is under pressure from an assertive judiciary. Discontent among the public is also on the rise because of frequent power failures and steep price hikes. The hasty decision of the government to impose such a wide ban on Web sites was perhaps an effort to thwart any possibility of public anger snowballing over the volatile religious issue. Blasphemy and alleged cases of blasphemy have often resulted in violent riots in the country. Minority Christians have long maintained that blasphemy laws in Pakistan are used to settle personal scores and vendettas. In 2006 violent protests broke out in the country over the publication of Danish cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.
  2. Conspiratorial Mindset: In some cases, this anger has strayed into the unlikely. Aamir Liaqut Hussain, a televangelist and famous anchor of a religious program on the Geo television network, suggested in a newspaper column on Friday that the “f” on Facebook’s Web site is lower-cased to make it resemble a Christian cross. Perhaps Mr. Hussain isn’t aware that the founder of Facebook has a Jewish background – although that, too, would be an issue for hard-liners and extremists like Mr. Hussain.
  3. Social Impact: Still, the ban has surprised and dismayed those who oppose censorship. Social networking sites have become popular in Pakistan and have become essential ingredients of a modern lifestyle. Ahmad Rafay Alam, a lawyer and activist based in Lahore, lamented the ban in his column in The News, a leading English-language daily. Mr. Alam says that he has used Facebook to promote a cycling initiative aimed at raising awareness of sustainable urban planning, public transport and the importance of public space. Because of the ban, he and many activists like him cannot communicate with others. Small businesses that use Facebook as a marketing tool have also suffered.
  4. Clerical Power: Farukh Khan Pitafi, a columnist for the Daily Times, a newspaper based in Lahore, told me that he was angry at the Facebook ban. “It was imposed arbitrarily and without any consultation,” Mr. Pitafi said. “If it was meant to register protest against the content insensitive to the Islamic ethos, the better way was to encourage people to voluntarily withdraw rather than imposing a dictatorial blanket ban.” He added: “Also it shows that the extremists, already too powerful, are afraid of the wisdom of the common man. It reflects on the weakness of our judicial system where a judge ignorant of the new media and technologies can make such arbitrary decisions without giving any thought to the consequences.”
  5. Ban Futiltiy: Café Pyala, a popular blog known for its sarcastic commentary, asked, “How cretinous can we be? Why, oh why, does everything in Pakistan boil down to banning this or that? Will we ever realize that ‘banning’ things does not really make them go away? Remember, Indian films were banned in Pakistan in the early 1960s and alcohol was prohibited for the country’s Muslims in 1979….”
  6. Power of Knowledge: But why stop there? Why not outlaw the Internet altogether? That may not save much electricity, but it will surely help to keep the nation shrouded in ignorance; it could serve as a virtual burka without so much as a slit for sore eyes. As anyone even vaguely familiar with the Internet knows, no user is obliged to visit any given page. In other countries, efforts to block websites pandering to paedophiles or disseminating racist or obscurantist venom have generally been less than completely successful. The Internet’s incredible usefulness as a tool easily overrides its potential as a repository for all manner of nonsense. Censorship, broadly, has thus far proved futile.
  7. Fundamentalism & Ignorance: The fact that the provocation primarily elicited a response only from sections of Pakistani society could be misconstrued as substantiation of their self-ordained status as outstanding defenders of the faith. In fact it only serves as evidence of dense narrow-mindedness.
  8. Pak Identity Crisis: In Pakistan today, there is no dearth of issues about which citizens ought to get worked up. But there really should be no place on the list for a solitary Facebook page. In this context at least, there’s considerably greater common sense in the rest of the Muslim world’s relative indifference to an irrelevant provocation. The Islamophobic intent of some of the contributors to the Facebook event is unlikely, in the final analysis, to stir half as much prejudice as the fanatical Pakistani reaction.

The full NYT article is available at: http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/swift-rage-in-pakistan-over-facebook-and-its-ban/

The full Dawn article is available at: http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/columnists/mahir-ali-throw-the-book-face-the-consequences-650

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I think the government of Pakistan has done great disservice to itself, the country’s image, as well as the nation’s middle-class by allowing a ban to be imposed on popular social media sites on account of “blasphemous content.” Such a ban will have absolutely no impact on Western thinking, values, culture, and policies – as they are too firmly rooted in the struggles of Reformation and Enlightenment to be dislodged by protestations of a quasi failed state – but it will further reinforce radicalization in Muslim societies, increase the Islamic-Western world divide, and paid put to the non-Taliban image being projected by Pakistan on the world stage.

Below are a sampling of readers’ comments posted at the New York Times site regarding the sweeping ban. They paint a very sorry picture of Muslims and Pakistan.

[Pakistan Widens Online Ban to Include YouTube; New York Times; May 20, 2010; Readers’ Comments; Excerpts; Copy and Paste]

  1. Fine. No real discourse or open information. Fine. Let’s let this stone age culture fight it out. And be left behind.
  2. How about banning access to jihadist websites? Wouldn’t that be more constructive?
  3. And they wonder why their religion and culture are punch lines throughout the west and by young people in Pakistan. So they ban facebook or any number of other sites. Does this stop people from thinking, drawing, writing and producing videos about Muhammad? Obviously not. And they never will!
  4. The United States is certainly not perfect, but at least we have the basic freedom to write to and read from social networking sites as we choose. What happened in Pakistan (and China) can serve as an example of why it is important to maintain a clear separation of church and state and, at the least, not allow religious/spiritual views to influence national laws, policies or the courts.
  5. So narrow minded. So childish. So immature. Does the sun say “today I think I’ll shine only on…ummm…Buddhists and Jews”? We’re all just human creatures sharing this planet for a short time each. Why not get along for goodness sake!! Mohammed was wise and did bring some peace and cohesion to people in his time, in his region. But so did others in other parts of the world and at other times, before and after Mohammed. To each his own. Live and let live.
  6. Those who are offended need to understand that censorship just brings more attention to an issue. Its simple human psychology. Additionally, is your faith in Islam strong? Yes? Ok, then weak pathetic attacks on your faith should mean nothing to you. Finally, non Muslims can drink alcohol. Because they aren’t Muslim, right? Therefore, they should be able to draw anything they want. Unless it is your assertion that the edicts of Islam must also apply to non Muslims? Then that reveals your real motivation for being so offended, and therefore why you are the threat to peace, not silly drawings.
  7. I try to treat all cultures with respect, but i believe the leaders in some of the mid east states use religion for their own purpose. And this may be one of these cases. What they really fear is information and knowledge.
  8. The stark contrast between the ‘offensive’ materials on YouTube, and the ‘offensive’ content of the dozens of body bags collected daily off of the streets of lahore, peshawar and hyderbad is worth pondering, how can such ‘devout’ people of such a ‘peaceable’ religion “square the circle” by, on the one hand, censoring non-violent internet content and, on the other, disseminating technology required by other rogue nations to build nuclear weapons? With allies in the struggle against terrorism like these, who needs enemies? ,,, or free speech?,,, or women’s rights?,,, or global literacy?,,,or religious tolerance?
  9. God save this country!! They have so many bigger issues to take care of…why would they even waste their time on such things?? I agree with few people over here that most people who are protesting don’t even know how to start a computer..what’s the point then??
  10. Muslims cannot get upset with the Westerners who draw Muhammad if they are going to ban free speech in their own countries. If they allowed free speech – which won’t happen for at least 50-100 years, being overly optimistic – then maybe they could argue that another who has free speech should refrain out of courtesy. But don’t try to tell me what to do if you prohibit my ideas from entering your country!!!! You can’t have it both ways. May peace and freedom – of all kinds: speech, sexuality, sexual, religious – reign over ALL!!!
  11. I actually wrote a thesis on this very subject. The blocking of social media websites by “less-free” regimes is very often done under the guise of protecting morals, cultural, and religion. However, these states are actually reacting to domestic political challenges as internet social media is a great place for dissidents to organize and form political coalitions. By stating that the websites were blocked because of offensive material, the regime gains credibility over the population. As such, any group that challenges the internet block can be played off as supporters of offensive material (when in fact the group was merely challenging hegemony). So basically the regimes neutralize a useful grassroots tool that can be used by the opposition. At the same time, they come off as defenders of public morality.
  12. I’ve been to the countries mentioned in the articles about upset protesters ans. The real crime is you see thousands upon thousands of unemployed men pacing the streets waiting to erupt. The culprit is a failure of leadership in those countries to furnish education, jobs and a future for their people. Instead they use the yoke of religion like an opiate to quiet or enrage the masses of unemployed people. When no one takes responsibility for their personal actions it is easy to blame others. They are an immature people held down by their corrupt leaders. Revolt yes but against your own system and join us in the new century.
  13. This is a prime example of the power of religious conservatives. To get their way imposed on others, they just drop the ‘you are an unbeliever’ on government reps, and everyone shudders and does what they say. This is how “GOD” got on our money, this is how “UNDER GOD” got on our pledge of allegiance. Religious Conservatives, dangerous to your freedom, at any time and at any distance.
  14. Freedom of information and speech aside, the reason this story is deeply concerning is the fact that Pakistan has a nuclear bomb. If a government can be coerced by a small group of religious zealots to legislate things of this nature, it does not have the stability required to be custodian of such weapons. Am i alone in fearing Pakistan more than either Iraq or Afghanistan, particularly with its growing problems with producing terrorists, the surging Taliban movement and unstable governing leaders?
  15. We Westerners are ‘instigating’? I beg to differ. If people who disagree with me make fun of my beliefs, my first instinct isn’t to kill them or blow them up. Everyone has different views and that’s life. We can’t kill everyone with whom we disagree. What separates us from animals is our reasoning abilities. We can reason that disagreement over religion is not a life-or-death situation and therefore killing someone because they disagree with your views isn’t a rational response. This isn’t a particularly Western way of thinking, either.
  16. Mao Tse-Tung alluded to allowing a thousand flowers to bloom, where the best ideas will flourish. A vital amendment to that is being able to flourish means that these ideas are tested in the real world. This is what most religions cannot tolerate, their response being totalitarian suppression. (Such also applies to any rigid ideologies.) On the other hand, if one wants to live in the 12th century, ignoring the rapid pace of the 21st, ultimately, their religionist views will pass away, even though they may do so violently. Be it, Islam, Xianity, Hinduism, or whatever, the same principle applies to all.
  17. It is distressing to note that although extremist Islam doesn’t represent the majority of Pakistanis, it seems to have won the day in this ban. Minority rule of religious extremist there, however, is little different from how the Bible thumpers in the US have dominated affairs, such as by forcing their reactionary politics, religious icons (such as the cross), and slogans (such as “In God We Trust”) on others. Only an educated population will overcome totalitarianism of all stripes. I suspect this is why there is such a rush by the religionists to shut women out of schools (as in the case of the Taliban and related reactionary Muslim sects) or control them via Xian schools in the West. It is time for the educated people to rise up and take control of the affairs of state, lest we succumb to the gradualism and desensitization so elequently written about by Robert J. Lifton in The Nazi Doctors.
  18. Being a shrink, i get to see a lot of things an average Pakistani can ever imagine. But this act of lunacy, that is a ban on face book is one of the craziest thing ever done . We in Pakistan have innumerable issues to handle. There is no food, water, electricity and safety. Ambulances are stranded when there is a so called VIP Movement, that is a higher official is going across town. It does not matter if 20 people die in a single day but what matters is banning facebook. How petty can we get.when people would ask me as to why am i residing in this country i used to defend this soil, since yesterday 17 people have asked me this question and i have no answer and have a blank look.

Original comments are posted at the link below:
http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2010/05/21/world/asia/21pstan.html?sort=recommended

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The recent banning of Facebook and YouTube is a major setback to the educated middle-class of Pakistan but is entirely consistent with the schizophrenic personality of Pakistani state as well as fully representative of the “problems” being created by globalization and technology for conservative Muslim ideology.

Consider the Pakistani state. On one hand, it wants to present itself on the international stage as an enlightened and liberal Muslim country – at war with and opposed to Taliban puritanism – while on the other hand it has no choice but to give in to right-wing religious extremism via blanket bans on the most popular social media sites on account of its religiously inspired and state sanctioned ideology.

Similarly, communications revolution and rapid globalization are not only shrinking geographic distances and increasing individual awareness, they are also ending the historical cultural, religious, and ideological isolation of Muslim societies. It is the proverbial “world being brought to your living room” syndrome…. but in an unfiltered, unadulterated manner. Tensions are bound to arise as well as increase on account of the fundamental religious-secular (ie, church-state) conflict at the heart of Muslim societies.

The positive news is that such unavoidable conflict in the age of globalization and communications is bound to result in gradual re-examination of core Muslim values and greater accommodation by Muslims of world (read, “secular”) opinion. That being said, such reformation process will necessarily be slow and bloody.

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