Thursday, 19 July 2012

PTA: Censorship, Blasphemy & Keeping Pakistan “Clean”

Dear Citizens! As you already know, the world is divided between the land of the believers and the land of the infidels. Indeed, the infidels will stop at nothing in declaiming against our faith.
But Fear Not! – A perfect remedy has been found.

By mistake or by intention, Never again, shall a single Muslim soul lend them a ear ever again. For your convenience we introduce a complete ban on all blasphemous material online.

As of now, the following message will be displayed on all blocked websites:
Dear Valuable Customer
Your requested site is blocked by PTA. Please consult PTA if you have any query regarding requested site
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) promises internet salvation and a sin free browsing experience for all citizens. We are sincerely committed in securing a lush and blissful heaven for all Pakistanis in the afterlife. The PTA offers the complete solution to all of your Gunnah problems – This message is brought to you by, yours truly, government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Since its inception, the PTA has consistently pestered the entire nation by blocking a number of daily visited websites in response to blasphemous emergencies often oblivious to the average citizen.

The motion for purging the internet of all things un-Islamic began with the publication of a dozen editorial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The Danish cartoon controversy culminated in protests and the conflagration of Danish embassies in Muslim countries worldwide. Adding to the rage was the publication of these cartoons online. In remonstrance the PTA placed a blanket ban on all Blogger-Typepad blogs.

Later in 2008, after the release of the Dutch movie Fitna, the PTA blocked worldwide access to YouTube for almost 24 hours. Likewise, on 19 May 2010, another two day ban was imposed on a number of social networking sites in response to Facebook hosting a global competition called Draw Muhammad Day.

In each of these cases the intent of the offenders was to ridicule and inflame Muslims all across the world and the bans accorded were always temporary in nature, lasting till the resolution of the conflict. Whether you want to justify censorship in the case of such emergencies is mostly a matter opinion and I raise no objection in support or against them; besides, a day off from Facebook isn’t exactly the end of anyone’s world.

Despite the occasional display of tyranny, Wikipedia records:
In late 2010 Pakistanis enjoyed generally unimpeded access to most sexual, political, social, and religious content on the Internet.
However, since then the PTA has been setting the dangerous  trend of permanently censoring material it self-proclaims as blasphemous.

It is one thing to initiate a motion of censorship in response to an immediate situation but it is entirely criminal to go on an escapade of declaring “this” or “that” as anti-Islamic and permanently blocking access to half the websites on the web.

For example, one of the domains that  has been permanently banned by the PTA is  Answering Islam  is actually a Christian counterpart to a host of other Muslim websites like or These websites are essentially a paradigm of the internet religious debate culture – whatever one group posts, the other tries to negate, each one trying to defend their faith and criticize the other.

The groups that run these websites aren’t necessarily scholarly authorities on religion either, it’s not as if academics like Martin Lings or Francisco Ayala would go around posting here. One may think of them as a breed of internet  road warriors, and whenever you have a collection of overly conspiratorial and enthusiastic religious individuals, it doesn’t take too long for the discussions to become of a fiery disposition.

In a formal debate both sides would normally maintain a degree a of subtlety  and refrain from being too contentious – on the internet, all bets are off and everything is game; unlike in a live TV discussion, there is no moderation here. Consequentially, controversial themes like polygamy, sexuality, rights of women, apostasy, crusade, counter-crusade and terrorism are being hurled in either direction and equally true for Muslims and Non-Muslims alike.

The PTA’s ban on websites like Answering Islam is objectionable on a number of grounds:

For one, it stifles the discussion. Websites like Answering Islam maybe anti-Islamic but they are not trying to be inflammatory, as in the case of the Danish cartoons. Engaging in a dialogue in an attempt to disprove another religion and promote your own is standard religious discourse; it is only natural that members of one group must be antithetical to the faith of the other, otherwise there can’t be any debate to begin with.

Secondly, it is somewhat biased and hypocritical. It isn’t always possible to defend your religion every single time; so, often being victorious becomes equivalent to ridiculing the other. Since, the use of strong language on these types of religious websites is equally true for Muslims, Christians e.t.c, an anti-Islamic tone by non-Muslims cannot be made a pretense for censoring them, especially in the light that non-Muslim governments have yet to censor any of our websites.

Thirdly, a thorough inquiry into any religious system should surface its more  questionable aspects – of violence, of wars and murder, of dubious commandments and rituals. The provision of freedom of speech  isn’t here so that we can talk about our favorite ice-cream; it exists, solely to provide a platform for the controversial, offensive and the taboo. A non-Muslim group who is pre-disposed to be anti-Islamic will tend to expose such themes in the Islamic faith, leaving it to the Muslims to dismantle their objections and defend the religion on rational ground. Censoring others and  refusing to answer their questions in this manner is a willful  submission of our own ignorance regarding Islam and our inability to defend it.

Fourthly, on a much more psycho-analytic level, not engaging in this type of dialogue also represents a kind of cowardice – it’s like turning and running away from the contest, as if defeat has already been accepted.

On a final note, not only is this program of censorship an attack on freedom of speech and dialogue, but it is also an infringement  of the people’s right to an interference free browsing experience and an unrestrained internet.

No government should have the power of legislating the personal viewing habits of individuals, unless you fancy reading more of those PTA bulletins and living in an Orwellian nightmare.

In summary, we may say that websites like Answering Islam and their criticisms of Islam deserve a legitimate rebuttal, not a gag order Ninja