Sunday, February 24, 2008

Pakistani Censorship Downs YouTube--Globally!

In my last post, I mentioned the then breaking story that the Pakistan Telecomm Authority was in the process of blocking YouTube from the country. The "reason" given a video that was disrespectful to "An Hazrat, Maulana Mohammad, Rasul Allah", as we are wont to say in Pakistan, or "The Gentleman, Our Lord, Mohammad, Prophet of God". Of course, amongst our wonderful, patriotic Pakistanis, there were the immediate questions about whether that in itself was a rumour or documented. Well, please do take a look at one of the documents that went out from the Pakistan Telecomm Authority to the ISP's on Siliconstani's blog.

The suspicions on the part of the grapevine is that this blocking/censorship happened when it happened because of videos that were ending up on YouTube of vote rigging--both in Karachi and Lahore and elsewhere. Though the brunt of the suspicion is about videos of rigging in Karachi, and pro- the MQM.

But, wait! There's more!!! Breaking news right now is that the way the regulatory organizations for the Internet in Pakistan went about blocking YouTube has caused an outage/inaccessibility of the site globally! Check out the BBC report here:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7262071.stm

The first thing that went through my head when I saw that story was that people like me often hear from fellow Pakistani expats that we should not discuss our home country's dirty laundry in public--you know, like raising Internet censorship at meetings where Pakistan's technology industry is being discussed. I wonder what they think of sweeping our issue under the rug till a SNAFU like this happens does for the much-maligned Image of Pakistan that our PUPPIES (Pakistani Yuppies) keep talking about.

Interesting thing is, as I was saying earlier to someone, this case illustrates beautifully the issues related to censorship. If you accept that censorship is okay in some circumstances (the one that the British set the precedent for in South Asia just happens to be hurting the sensibilities of major communities--today's Shining India also continues to ban stuff on that basis, from Rushdie to blogs), then governments will inevitably use the power either ineptly, or maliciously.

Now, I am not one to buy into American exceptionalism, and am often the one in a discussion amongst immigrants to challenge the "Milk and Honey" view of our lives in this country, but the First Amendment to the US Constitution is written the way it is for a reason: "Congress shall make NO law restricting the freedom of speech". No if's, and's and but's; it's something even the US Supreme Court has never really lived up to. There is no such thing, as someone once said, as "being a little bit pregnant". Either you're okay with censorship, or you aren't.

The right way to control harmful speech, or offensive speech is NOT governmental control. It is in society; if you're offended, use the avenues reserved for that offense. If you harmed, use the methods for restitution of that harm. In some societies, it is law suits and other legal action (used to be that was what Muslims believed in, too); in others it is duels with a choice of weapon at dawn.

I am sorry, but I have paid a personal price in my life because I refused to live in the Gulf. Both my dear mother and my father-in-law would have loved it for me to take a job there and be nearer to them. And as for Pakistan, I cannot with a straight face keep on complaining about a "Show Cause Notice" from the Zia Regime for a small, very small Christmas message I put on the Contents page of a youth magazine in 1987 and yet say it is okay to block YouTube or Facebook. My conscience won't let me. If I am okay with the latter, then I should be okay with the former.

Censorship is censorship. If you're okay with censorship, please say so. I am not.



Cross-posted on the iFaqeer, Wadiblog, ProgressiveIslam.org, Pak Tea House, blogs.
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