Posted in freedom, New Media, reflections

My two cents on Facebook Ban Saga in Pakistan

Disclaimer: To avoid the confusion, I am not interested about terrorists here  because they won’t listen. I am addressing to the larger share who won’t bomb themselves up. I am addressing to everyone else, whatever stereotype you want to give them. I will try to refrain as much as possible to label specifics except for PTA and Judiciary.

Few days ago, when I was sick and tired of saying NO to attending the repeating ‘Boycott Facebook’ invites I decided to put a status of my Facebook profile. Those who still don’t know what about Boycott Facebook, it is a campaign started against a user-posted page/event on ‘Everybody Draw Mohammad Day’. Depictions of the Prophet are forbidden in Islam but the page owners has this stance – “We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Muhammad depictions that we’re not afraid of them.” Very cunning way to get an escape in the name of freedom of expression still my Facebook status read, “Boycott me cause I ain’t boycotting anyone.”

Boycotting Facebook, banning over thousand sites in Pakistan or going gaga over a page is not the main issue let alone the solution. It is the mindset at both ends of the spectrum which is disturbing. One who would go at the limits of using freedom of expression as an excuse to defend their act of hurting feelings of a group which triggers to subsequent hatred. The other who are isolating themselves from the world which is nothing but self-harm. Both are extremists in their own domains.

I would like to highlight my propositions at two levels, first my take why Boycotting Facebook was and is not a good idea and secondly how decision-makers at Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) is making fool of themselves by blocking internet sites.

Why boycotting isn’t a good idea?

What do we want to achieve by boycotting Facebook? Okay Muslim community is aggravated on the Facebook owner’s indifference towards the page (of not removing it) but is boycotting really a solution? The issue is not about economics here. Facebook wouldn’t even care if it gets a little shortage in revenue, they can still ignore it on the name of living for freedom. If it succeeds then it would be more disastrous because people will succumb to such ways which aren’t healthy.

Even if it’s not Facebook then there would be some other place tomorrow. Boycotting a site that too a social-networking one means you don’t have an outlet to express at global level and therefore isolating yourself. I know there are sentiments involved and I respect them but where is wisdom in discourse? God has given you both heart and intellect. How many of us are really addressing the points in a way that others will hear?

Why haven’t we highlighted a fact like this about richness of Islamic Art when we are encountering an issue related to art and freedom of expression? Why haven’t we highlighted the fact that this kind of acts can be coined as racist in nature? Why not softer side of Muslims? Why not a tolerant interpretation of Islam? Why not the fact that Quran is compiled in a chronological manner but it was not how revelation took place? Why not the fact that Quran doesn’t contradict itself in verses but builds on the discourse like any academia would do too? Why not focus our discussions on history and personality rather than a superficial sketch of Prophet as they made in their minds? And why not this verse from Quran,

“Surely those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabians, whoever believes in Allah and the Last day and does good, they shall have their reward from their Lord, and there is no fear for them, nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

How many of us have actually put statements like ‘I won’t draw cartoon of Jesus because He is also my prophet’. Personally I won’t want to draw cartoons of Buddha or even Gandhi, they were honorable personalities, even if they weren’t I won’t. Won’t promote anything derogatory, against my ethics at least.  For me when sensitivity is not PRACTICED & we don’t want to learn about others then the sort of freedom of speech and liberal call also seems very narrow as you are still not informed. Moreover in the name of individuality and expression whether it is a cartoon or a hate-speech or in the name of pseudo-intellectualism, we have forgot to honor emotions of others.

This is true both for majority of Muslims and westerners today, we don’t know about each other and the worse part we don’t want to know. We are also in oblivion when we don’t want to reflect and learn about ourselves in a larger domain by which I mean to say branching out into different disciplines like history, culture, literature, arts and sciences. Because whether we like it or not but some of us if not all are ignorant who like to live in a state of nostalgia and not building much worth of to be remembered when they are gone.

We have lost our intellectual honesty and emotional patience. MMA politician getting constipated by someone’s comment on TV said “but remember in emotions anything can happen” and as a student of Muslim Philosophy I say, cherish your emotions but be patient with others, that’s peace (salamti) of Islam. I prefer Karen Armstrong over him any day.

During an interview with Karen Armstrong:

Q: Do you see the cartoon controversy as an issue of free speech?

A: The cartoon controversy was fueled on both sides by extremists. There were secular fundamentalists, with in-your-face, one-sided, free speech. That same newspaper refused to print a caricature of Jesus. In this climate it is particularly dangerous.

We should be following tradition of leading by action if we ‘boast’ our love. Then why do we always fail only in that sphere, humiliating ourselves and also in others eyes. I am not comparing, the only point is that every one is accountable to his/her own and that’s where the care should go not at pinpointing. Even in marketing, it doesn’t end at saying but actually doing the job. In the end, it comes to both side of the extreme; but you come first, don’t forget, no excuses accepted.

How PTA isn’t acting wise right now?

Now the second part, PTA has become a nuisance and have been subjected to a lot of insult in new media including twitter #fbpkban. I have said so much that I don’t want to write any thing. Still these people should understand that censorship which is just down-right blind doesn’t work. Firstly you are taking away mode of expression and communication from people who use it for networking in personal and business concerns. People are asking why YouTube, Wikipedia etc, I ask why Facebook itself in the first place. Discourse will only create awareness and sadly PTA has snatched this chance from us and people behind the event are gaining popularity –> Following the complete ban of Facebook in Pakistan, the offending page has 80,000 members and growing as of Thursday evening.  Moreover, we do you want to create a day of judgment forced over people. Let the people themselves decide and test their faiths, whether they want to go on such degoratory pages or not and with which intention. It is like generalizing intentions of whole nation or community. Some might go there and start relevant and rational conversation and able to change minds. Oh Pakistani democracy and lawyers doesn’t believe it that?

Thank God there are tolerant people too and for some liberals, I would say when you are talking about freedom of speech, do support it but not the malice. PTA ban the malice and try to get selective while attempting that, if you can’t manage please don’t try. In this case doing nothing is better than propagating insanity.  Ban all those anti-anything and vulgar videos first; having said that it won’t make me happier until you ban starplus because it gives my head and soul some serious ache.

An important after-note

If Facebook didn’t delete the page, I would still not boycott because I don’t think that is a correct way to launch our protest so I can’t understand why they are banning. It appears that this is not out of love for God and his prophet but fear of sin, though I am no one to make a judgment. No wonder why we won’t debate and if we do why can we be civil about it. Seldom we become judge-mental like judges of my country. And for the supporters of Lawyers Movements, the concept looks good in theory but in our country the reality is not so rosy; azaad adilya (free judiciary) I don’t think so. They don’t care about criminals as they are busy either protesting or supporting protests. Our nation isn’t less gullible, they will always prefer rhetoric over reflection whether its governmental authorities. political parties, newsroom hosts or clerics.

My understanding of this issue has been enlightened by this keynote address delivered at commonwealth press union conference in 1996, that is a decade ago.  I wish somebody appreciates the wisdom mentioned in this extract.

“The problem comes, of course, when Freedom of the Press is stretched beyond this meaning and used to shield the press – not just from government interference, but from any sense of social accountability. And that is when press liberty turns into press license. Just as press freedom is a means for holding governments accountable, so must the press itself be held accountable for the way it does its work.

Accountable to whom? To the political leaders of the moment? Never. To the larger community and the cultures that comprise it? Always – provided we see the community not as a mere majority of the moment, but as an organic, pluralistic entity.

…Freedom of the Press does not mean the right of any journalist to write and to publish anything he or she wants to say. It is not acceptable for a reporter to cry “censorship” when an editor or a publisher questions his accuracy or his judgment. Nor is it acceptable for editors, managers and proprietors to slip their solemn responsibilities by invoking the same line of defense. They may sometimes say they don’t want to “meddle” with the contents of their publications. This is a weak and dangerous excuse. And too often that comment really disguises an abdication of moral responsibility.

This abdication is particularly troubling when it is used by proprietors or editors to mask their personal quest for financial gain or political influence – or to sustain divisive sectarian agendas. For in the final analysis, the press and those who manage it must also be held accountable to the collective judgments of the community.

Responsible journalists and managers will not want to shield themselves from such judgments. To the contrary, they will eagerly seek them out. They will want to know what thoughtful readers are saying and how responsible advertisers are thinking. They will talk constantly with scholars and religious leaders, with artists and business leaders, with scientists and labor leaders, with educators and community leaders – and yes, with politicians and diplomats and governmental leaders as well. And through such continuing interaction they will develop and refine their sense of how the larger community can best be served.”

Keynote Address at the Commonwealth Press Union Conference
His Highness the Aga Khan
October 17, 1996 Cape Town, South Africa via

Some rational-emotional posts worth reading:

  • Why I won’t boycott Facebook, Blog post by @Fursid
  • Hypocrisy of PTA, by Huma Imtiaz
  • Pakistan Electronic Purdah / Veil, by @AbidBeli
  • It’s a Good thing Facebook was banned writes Sami Shah, writer and standup comedian
  • Opinion peace from FoxNews by Tommy De Sano
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    a coffee addict/ optimist sun flower/ can't-live-without-50mm photographer/ writing enthusiast/ [an almost inexistent] paper cookie smasher/ orange things collector/ wishes he had two antennas on the head; ps: philosophy-pistachio & educational technologist. to sound little proper: A self-taught, internationally published, photographer who loves to write/blog and read while breathing philosophy in between. Graduate of M.Ed. in Teacher Education with High Honors from Aga Khan University and currently works at the same university as Education Designer for Blended Learning. Candidate for Social Innovation in Digital Context (SIDC) at Lunds Universitet funded by Swedish Institute. Action Partner for Oxfam International Youth Partnership 2010-2013 led by Oxfam Australia. To cut the conversation short, an optimistic realist who believe in designing his life to fulfill dreams while sipping countless cups of coffee! I hope this makes some sense.

    15 thoughts on “My two cents on Facebook Ban Saga in Pakistan

    1. More pertinent Islamic example for this case comes not from the Quran but from Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. himself. His visit to Taif is the brightest light in this darkest hour.

      So if boycotting is not the proper way to protest then what is? There was a rival anti group which has close to 50, 000 people on it. Facebook gives a report button – if 50, 000 people clicked that button why is there no response from Facebook? What other way of protest do you have apart from these conscious choices made by individuals which are not in the least “dumb” as you suggest! The PTA and the LHC along with the religious fundos who have been championing the ban are not supported by me one bit in this endeavour of self preserving hypocrisy.

      You, however seem to be hanging between your emotions of not being able to access Facebook and other sites and that of protesting.

      Not that i want to put you on the spot or anything on this matter – but tell me – can you not follow the Prophet S.A.W’s teachings and be patient for a few days?


      1. Thanks for commenting. It is not about those emotions else I wouldn’t write bad about the page but if you have read properly I have already mentioned which way I consider as proper. Forget the response from Facebook, what have you done to highlight the positive side.. boycotted and banned stuff. Okay so you don’t want to be friends with anyone. Great.

        can you not follow the Prophet S.A.W’s teachings and be patient for a few days? Give me your understanding of patience.

        I guess you didn’t get the point of the post. Accessing or banning Facebook is secondary, it is about how judiciary is taking a civil liberty. Should I be patient against human rights? We should be raising our voices for ‘discourse’. Same is for Facebook.


    2. I’ve been reading about this since yesterday and I’m sooo unable to form my own opinion. Prolly because there are so many dimensions to consider and each side seems to have a little something correct in it.

      I hope sanity prevails, no matter what.


    3. You just don’t seem to get it, do you? We don’t blow ourselves up, but push the right buttons and we will turn into servants of our dear mullahs. Yes, we sometimes do stuff that isn’t exactly Islamic, I mean who can resist a little misuse of other people’s rights or properly. Or ogling at that young lass in skimpy clothing that just passed by. Some of us even enjoy a few drops of liquor once in a while.

      But the fact is, say the name of our beloved Prophet (PBUH) and we’ll flare up without a moment’s hesitation. We’ll harm each other if that’s what must be done. And no, there is no justification for even questioning any motives behind it. You may not use any logic when discussing the Holy Prophet’s life or any of the rules that are currently in place concerning Islam. Certain teachings of his, such as tolerance and compassion were only applicable while he was alive and now we only need follow the ones we think are right.

      Why should we have the right to choose to protest or boycott something offensive? After all, hardly any of us chose to be Muslims. We were blessed to be born that way and that’s how we’ll pass from this world to the next without stopping to think for a bit. Why should we even need to decide what’s wrong and what’s right when the great and intelligent Mullah’s are there to do just that?

      In other words, we’re sheep.


      1. 🙂 and how much are you willing to bet that the SELF SAME people who are supporting the ban on facebook will start using the site again once the ban is lifted? a few years ago people had started to boycott telenor since it was norwegian. all telenor had to do was slash call rates and everyone went right back. this is how we self-professed “lovers of the the prophet” are, and this is what our so-called principles are.


    4. (Edited)

      All the hate-mails go to the trash bin. Disagreements are okay but not hatred. Learn some respect and get your facts right and then come here to talk.
      -Moderation Activated.


    5. I think the first thing here is to develop a clear understanding between the term Protest and ban/boycott. For example if a Union is facing problems with the management in terms of salary/benefits then they will start with the protest and maybe not work for few days in order to set score straight. What Pakistani Gov. along with Pawns like PTA forgot that there is a terminology called “Dialog ” and another terminology called “diplomatic relations” and if used both tactically then results could have quite different.

      The result that we saw was just a mere reaction which does even more harm than because people who didn’t even knew the issue are now trying to access the FB and looking at the page of drawing Mohammad’s days. It’s so ironic that Pakistan itself became a Marketing Agent for this rubbish Facebook Link which is highly unfortunate.

      I am not saying that sentiments of people are wrong in saying that ‘Boycott Facebook’ but is boycotting an real issue? The real issue is how to send message across that we are not going to take this crap from anyone. The message that needs to be communicated is that ‘your freedom of speech ends at my territory’.

      I think there needs to be a Global Protest against ‘Freedom of Hurting Emotion’ but the problem that we face is Muslims as a global community is not a combine force and we can be defined as scatter Islands waiting to be drowned inside the ocean anytime by the Western forces.

      I am not sure how this issue will end up because usually this kind of media hype up’s usually die out with time because after few days or month, people will just say ‘I don’t care’ which anyway defines our today’s youth at large. Well lastly do I have any concrete answer for this problem? Well all I would say is that are we even looking for the answer or we just want to console each other because in the end we all are hurt by this rubbish.


      1. “I think there needs to be a Global Protest against ‘Freedom of Hurting Emotion’ but the problem that we face is Muslims as a global community is not a combine force and we can be defined as scatter Islands waiting to be drowned inside the ocean anytime by the Western forces.”

        Can’t agree more on every point. Moreover there is really a need to put inter-faith into protest that you are suggesting because each religion itself has so many issues within various school of thoughts that one of the few rescues is highlighting the common belief in respecting emotions and compassion which is taught by all religions and can lead some understanding of sorts.


    6. when Face book started Hitler fan club it was at once blocked at the slogan that feeling of Jews are hurt by such an action. Freedom of speech DOWN THE DRAIN. Now the Face book wants to hurt every Muslims feeling and that also for FUN on plea of freedom of speech. This all shows a targeted hypocracy.


    7. well written Raheel… actually well expressed in multi dimensions…
      esp your arguments on tolerant interpretation of Islam and on drawing gadhi/jesus was very rationale and appealing,

      Great Work… keep it up!!!

      Proud of you,



      1. The problem is that I don’t have an ego which might be bothering you. The post itself represents that I do give a crap because I am proposing solutions and want a discourse. Discourse is integral part of Islam, refer Sulah-Hudabiya. Those people who like to insult people on their sects, only give crap about superficial and not the core. Grow up!


    8. So I agree with you, there is no point in bans, or screaming bloody murder over inconsequential junk done in the name of freedom of expression, protests like this always make me wonder, how if we ever did focus our energies as a nation we could really change things up. Things that make one go hmmmmmm……


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