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Prophets and prohibitions [Ban on Facebook in Pakistan]

by Reem Wasay, 25 May 2010

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(From: The Daily Times, 24 May 2010)

This just in: the PTA has blocked all links to the Merriam Webster online dictionary. Turns out English is also being restricted lest it enables us the godless ability to actually be able to read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Chasing the chaste has always been a favoured occupation, but with the furore of the Facebook fiasco in full swing, it looks like the Pakistani Muslim and the Lahore High Court have saved their face, instead of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH). Lightning fast blanket bans by the thou-shalt-nots in society are not befitting the spirit of Islam. However, the usual breast-beating and chest-thumping lot of sacerdotal in-breeds who have been bequeathed with safeguarding our collective Muslim need to cling firmly to religion would much rather see us run for the hills than actually ascend them.

In an Orwellian move aimed at the orthodox cleansing of society’s eyes and ears against the much-jingled evils of freedom of expression and caricature, the LHC has approved a temporary ban on the demigod of social networking, Facebook. This has been followed by a shutout swoop on YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia and Blackberry mobile services. The whole affair reeks of social retardation as it points to the desire of our paternalist set-up to bridle the passions of the people who do not know any better instead of the people controlling the passions of those in power. Seized by the moral brigade as an affront to religious sentiments due to a degenerate Facebook competition where cartoonish hoardings of the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam were to be parodied, it has been seen fit to completely ban the site till, for now, May 31st. My inner voice of devotional reason however, feels that our ministers of moral methodology may have gotten it all wrong.

Is faith not about making reasonable choices in the face of liberation and selection between what is regarded as right or wrong by he who is subjected to it? If we are to be socially conditioned to accept and be disclosed only that which is morally upright and ‘safe’, what effort are we putting into the whole shebang anyway? How am I supposed to feel as though I have dug a welcome six-feet under for myself when I am forbidden to distinguish between good and bad, ethical and offensive? If the mother-ship on all that is morally uplifting will dictate what is befitting viewing and approved of reading, I am not really earning the brownie points I could be piling up in the case of seeing to believe and then bolstering something constructive about it.

Islam itself has taught its true followers to reverse any such provocation with an exemplary head-on approach befitting that time. It is actually quite the holy sin to turn a blind eye and a much larger, more damnable offence to make the whole community grope the alleyways of darkness with you. And in times such as these, intelligent, thought provoking and enlightened manoeuvres aimed at academically amplifying the Muslim intention ought to have taken the front row in this deliberate farce. Provocation has endured and we, the sullied Muslims catered to by the mullahs who are forever appeased, have just given the entire world another reason to scoff at our intolerance for just about anything.

Yes, they were drawing the Prophet (PBUH) and yes, they were provoking the primitive Muslim psyche, and we have just done them a great service of negative attestation. Instead of reaching out and using our mouths to deliver highbrowed campaigns — instead of spewing our usual hate-filled rants — to acutely define the fine line between offence and expression, debate and profanity, discourse and dissent, we have clamped down on our dotard selves once again. It has always been Muslim against Muslim and seems destined to stay that way.

By banning Facebook, even temporarily, we have not succeeded in stopping the rest of the world from participating in the caricature competition, we have not stopped everyone on earth from viewing the said material and we have not received kudo notes from up above for ushering in the cerebral antithesis of the Facebook movement. In effect, our bastions of morality have just lampooned themselves as denying no one else but themselves access to rectifying an integral part of the digital age. It really is funny how the mindsets of those running the show have indulged in the arrested development of the masses at large.

The Pakistani Muslim has got to be the laziest and least innovative in the cosmos. Because ideas of reformation and progress elude him, he has taken up a victim cry resounding like an African chant whenever something displeases him, and images of the Prophet (PBUH) have given him a reason to scream once again. Sad then that this is where the buck stops.

Our free judiciary, by curbing our freedom has policed us into an embargo on truly following religious injunctions. This verdict has taken away the Muslim responsibility of saving the Prophet (PBUH) from humiliation and chagrin. When the “Draw Muhammad” page is still accessible to the whole world, how has our ban helped? This decision has painted the Muslim voice as a stereotypically redundant rant and has rendered it powerless to actually change what Facebook has allowed. How can the millions of Pakistani Facebook users actually participate in stopping this insult on a wider spectrum now that an embargo has been imposed on liberal dissent and more civilised discussions spread out over the international forum? The same extremists we are battling in boots have suppressed our ideas and have whip-lashed our ability to change the status quo. Whilst the many antagonists will hold their competitions and will continue to make merry, we will pat ourselves on the backs for our monosyllabic and imaginary defeat of those who malign he who is dearest to us.