On June 16th the Lahore high court in Pakistan ruled that PTA (Pakistan Telecommunications Authority) should ban nine websites for hosting blasphemous contents. However the government changed this decision later to avoid international condemnation and promised to keep a close eye on popular websites including Google, Youtube, Facebook, Hotmail which could be posting blasphemous content objectionable to Muslims. This has come in the wake of the same high court ordering a complete ban of Facebook in the month of May and then its follow-up ruling (under immense public pressure) to take back the ban on the wildly popular social networking site as it was restricting access to positive communication.
The whole flare up in this issue is rooted to the “Draw Muhammad Day” group on Facebook which caused huge uproar in nearly all Muslim dominated countries of the world and the network was condemned with some viciousness. Rallies were carried out in protest by right wing groups in Pakistan and it was totally blocked in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well. As it stands now right or wrong is not a question any longer, pandora's censure box is open and all sorts of ugly demons are coming out to restrict new media and monitor online traffic and queries.
The blog Pak Point reports:
Any web-site at URL or IP level would be blocked after proper investigation by inter-ministerial committee for the valuation of web-sites at the receipt of information or complaint from any source, as soon as information is received by the IT ministry.
Jenkin's ear points out that this is the start of something bad:
Unfortunately, this is likely to lead to more problems than it solves. After all, the Vatican's web site is probably contrary to Islam, but it is probably not blocked. Another issue is that the teachings of Islam on the subject of what is and is not acceptable in a web site are probably unclear.
Sana Saleem at Mystified Justice says:
Do we, as citizens of this country, have the right to even hold an opinion? Will we have the opportunity to engage with people without being scrutinised? Will we ever be able to truly respect the right to self-regulation as a nation? The crackdown on the internet appears to be more of a political ploy than a religious one. But like all other things, we love using the religion card to strengthen our stance and to silence opposition.
For all those bent on moral-policing the internet in the name of religion, please pay some heed to the thousands of child porn websites that are still accessible in Pakistan, none of which have been mentioned in 10,428 sites to be banned. When will we learn to prioritize?
It actually seems as if the educated of Pakistan realize that we cannot as a country really communicate and function with the outside world if we isolate ourselves from services like Hotmail, Google etc. However the masses and the leaders sought to please them do not seem to realize what and how much of an impact such a widespread censure could lead to.
In a guest post at Teeth Maestro's blog, Shaista Kazmi and Azhar Aslam writes:
As an ordinary Muslim, I may not be an authority to speak on Islam, (although Islam never limited or restricted opinion formation , to any ‘authority’), still the concept of blasphemy, as it is practiced in Pakistan at least, seems skewed, lacking commonsense and dare I say quite the opposite to what we learn as Muslims were the teachings of the prophet whose very honour we are trying to protect. Doesn’t that sound how we define the word ‘hypocrisy’?
Asif Shehzad at Taragana states that some observers noted that Pakistan had gone further than several other Muslim countries by banning Facebook, and said it showed the rise of conservative Islam in the country. Created in 1947 as a homeland for Muslims, Pakistan has swung away from moderate Sufi Islamic influences common to South Asia toward the more rigid version of the faith found in the Arab world.
To me sitting here writing this piece in Shanghai, it is already obvious what would happen if a blanket ban on Youtube, Google, Hotmail, Facebook and others is imposed just as China indulged in many such censures with horrible effect. Even though these actions may be disastrous for the foreign image there are still many ways around these bans and blocks and as we saw in May, Facebook usage did not drop too much from Pakistan in spite of the ban. This is a day and age when the flow of information has become more of a weapon then the flow of arms and I doubt if anyone can stop it totally.
The only way for Pakistan to move forward and steer towards the path of progress will be our ability to allow free speech and debate, which is mostly carried out online. Stopping that will just be a final nail in the coffin, something which we citizens cannot allow.