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What is Blasphemy?

Blasphemy, in its literal meanings, is defined as a behaviour or language expressing disrespect for God or for something sacred

The issue of blasphemy, highlighted again by the recent banning of certain websites in Pakistan, has caught the attention of everyone again, through debates on media. I also read and heard different versions of thought on the issues of blasphemy. While due to the rapid transmission of the message throughout the country, and due to pressure generated by the  perceived angry reaction( read road demonstrations resulting in injuries, burning , destruction and looting) of the people, authorities were keen to ban the sites within a few hours.

On the other side, it also gave birth to a serious question in my mind that ‘what the hell is blasphemy’ indeed?

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 ‘hypocricy’?

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Faceblockistan

Rebecca McKinson writes a blog post More problems in Facebookistan, here last paragraph quite aptly sums up the frustrations of the Muslim community as a whole – she says

This larger context also helps explain the extent to which moderate and cosmopolitan Muslim Facebook users who believe in free speech against censorship were so alienated and upset by the fact that Facebook allowed the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” page – which on the several occasions when I looked at it was full of obscene and gratuitous anti-Muslim hate speech – to stay up for more than a week. It’s well known that Facebook quickly takes down other racist and anti-semitic pages. Yet they allowed a page full of nastiness and hate against the Muslim faith to stay up.

Personally, I too cant stomach the fact that the Facebook administrators continue to deliberately allow such uncontrolled hatred to continue on their websites which is a direct violation of their terms of service, it seems they are keen to prove a point, push the limits of decency and be responsible to engage the world in a deliberate religious war. I continue to condemn the blasphemous cartoons and the hypocrisy of the Mark Zuckerberg but at the same time am fully against a blind outright censorship enforced by the government of Pakistan on the entire domain, if such images are not acceptable under the Constitution of Pakistan then a mere block on the particular pages and other subsequent pages should have been enough.
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Pink Hitler irks Sicilians

A series of billboards have been placed across the city of Palermo in Sicily with the image of Adolf Hitler dressed in Pink with the caption “Change your style. Don’t follow your leader” while the swastika on Hitler’s armband has been replaced by a heart. It seems this has sparked a row across Italy many and a local association of wartime resistance fighters were offended by this billboard asking for an immediate withdrawl.

The leader of the World War II veterans association said “We do not understand how the city authorities could have allowed such a billboard to be installed, and we demand its immediate withdrawal, the posters were a “serious” offense against all those who fought fascism, and violate our democratic and constitutional principles.”

The advertising agency behind the posters told Italian media the aim was to ridicule Hitler, not minimize his crimes. It is a very interesting way to rebuke a concept touching a sensitive nerve within the Muslim community, most Muslims will give a knowing smile to say “Back at ya” in light of the controversial facebook Draw Mohammed Day cartoon issue.

Maybe instead of banning the entire facebook and 600 more websites in Pakistan, the Muslim community could have engaged in such forms of counter intelligence where funny posters of the swastika could have been place around the world showing that its not funny to make fun of sensitive issue, even at the cost of freedom of expression, one cannot blatantly ridicule the sentiments of people


Death of Collective Wisdom

Is there a competition going on in Pakistan between institution to earn shame and notoriety for their nation?” my colleague asked me casually while we were having some drinks and watching a news television. “We are on that path for last 40years”, I answered stubbornly. Can there anything such shameful to force you behave that stubborn over your national pride? There is, hold your breath, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, the top body of media and custodian of ‘freedom of speech and civil liberties’, in a press release issued by its Secretary General, Mr Shamsul Islam Naz, has “officially’ appreciated the blocking of the Facebook Website.

This was followed by the Lahore High Court orders of a blanket ban on entire social media website depriving 2.5 million Pakistani’s an access to major internet services. Just because there was ‘one page’ out of millions, set by a silly American kid to make cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The same could have been blocked instead, but things work differently in Pakistan. A decision has to be popular rather than sane, the illiterate bearded men on streets with sticks and guns ought to be satisfied.
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One Facebook, Two Faces: A Piece by a Virtually Dead Man

I had been banned from Facebook and my account had been disabled a night before Facebook was banned in Pakistan. Before all this happened, I visited the blasphemous page “Draw Muhammad Day” and the content on the page hurt me badly. Once again a certain group of westerners called it the “freedom of expression” and went on to show extremism – something they always verbally disassociate themselves from. As a response to this lunacy, I thought it best to find out how they respond to others’ right of freedom of expression – I created an Adolf Hitler page right away and it read, “To all those who think they can ridicule Islam in the name of freedom of expression and yet punish those who speak of the genius of Hitler”. The comment on the wall read, “Let’s hit them where it hurts them the most”. Further I added some photos of the Fuhrer, Nazi Party and the Italian Footballer Paolo Di Canio who was banned and fined by FIFA two years ago for performing the “controversial” Roman Salute which according to him gave him a sense of belonging to his people. Within an hour tens of people joined the Hitler page which was named “H | T L E R”. The very next time I tried to log in I found out that my profile had been disabled for ‘violation of Facebook Regulations’.

Despite the fact that there exists no proof of the holocaust and no evidence that six million Jews died in concentration camps during WWII, let’s just imagine that it did happen. Now how is it that Hitler is termed as the most evil person in the history of mankind while those that bomb Muslims, commit heinous crimes in their countries, ridicule their Prophet and Quran and as a result hurt the sentiments of 1.2 billion Muslims are hailed as heroes? And I wonder why the victims of Holocaust are more important than victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
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Facebook Censorship Press Conference, My Position

I think a clarification is needed regarding my Press Conference on the Facebook issue on 20th May in Karachi.

My position at the Press Conference was to vehemently condemn the blasphemous cartoons. There is absolutely no compromise on this issue.

What was being argued by us and is open for debate was to question the effectiveness of a full ban. When PTA decides to throw 2 million Pakistanis all out by blocking the entire platform of facebook.com it has in turn left it open for non-Muslims to do as they please. We 2 million Pakistanis would have found ways to handle and protest from inside and cripple Facebook through our protests.

During the press conference I said that by banning the entire Facebook you have blown a small issue out of proportion and it has become a bigger public issue with Facebook gaining much more popularity. The word ‘small’ was immediately mistaken by one journalist and he responded “How could you suggest that these cartoons are small, they are a big issue concerning our Prophet”, that very moment I told him to not mistake the context of the word, my point was not to belittle the issue but the fact that small technical measures could have nipped it in the bud. Now Facebook is getting undeserved attention throughout the world which defeats our purpose. The person was still furious and felt offended. I continuously clarified the issue that the cartoons were a big issue but the problem if we could have handled it would have remained small. Banning has been counter productive.

Some mischievous people stated that I was supporting Facebook which was totally against what I had said. But emotions in Pakistan see no reason. The police was there to avoid any untoward incident in the area and after a little while I left the Press Club quietly to avoid any confrontation.

Lessons learnt: We could not communicate this scientific issue clearly, and emotions took better of the discussion

I assure you we are an equal part of the same battle, lets focus our efforts on how to stop this cartoon menace now and also in the future but as civilized, technically savvy people working in the world of technology, not by old world methods of court orders.


Prophets, protests and holocaust

Anyone who’s been on Youtube or Facebook or Blogs in general knows that no intelligent conversation can take place between two Internet-commenters. It’s like the paralympics being hosted on the Interwebs. Even if you win, you’re still retarded. During the last fortnight, ever since this unfortunate drawing contest issue caught fire.

I’ve been reading countless accounts of Pakistani Internet users in a variety of rhetoric styles which all sum up to this one thing: ‘they’ are out to get ‘us’ and they have COOKIES! Ok, I’m just joking about the cookies but I can practically hear Mr. Zaid Hamid saying in the most Dumbledore-esque voice: ‘I will only truly have left the Pakistani minds when none here are loyal to me’. Most of the Pakistanis today are channeling the same spirit which can only be likened to a mental patient caught between acute psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia. The bottomline is, had we paid any attention to the course ‘Introduction to Logic-374’ in college, we would perhaps be aware of how absurd all our comments and arguments are. I will try to counter some in this post:

1. Blasphemy is a BIG deal:
Yes it is a big deal but so is tolerance. You are claiming to be the followers of a Prophet who preached that conquering wrath and anger is perhaps the bravest thing a man could do. I’m not a religious scholar but I’m quite sure that the Prophet who himself went to visit an old woman who used to throw garbage at him, the Prophet who only had well wishes for a city which reduced him to blood and tears when Angel Gabrielle stood at his command to just say the word and Taif would be history -that Prophet would not condone such inflammatory reactions in his name.
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PRESS CONFERENCE: Protest Against Nationwide Government Ban of Facebook

For Immediate Release

Defenders of Internet Freedom Protest Against Nationwide Government Ban of Facebook

On Wednesday 19th May 2010, the Lahore High Court ordered the banning of Facebook across Pakistan. Facebook is the world’s most popular social media network and is used by over 400 million globally. In Pakistan, over 2 million people use Facebook to stay in touch with their friends and family, conduct business, manage events, and share photos, news, and other content. A few days ago, a page called “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” was created on Facebook asking users to submit drawings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on 20th May 2010. This page, interpreted as blasphemous, has triggered a nationwide ban on the entire Facebook domain.

While we recognize that sites on the Internet are used to spew hatred and incite violence, we steadfastly believe that governments have no right to control access to information. We believe that every citizen has an inalienable right to freely access information and by censoring Facebook, the Government of Pakistan has taken away that right. This action will have a very negative impact on Pakistan, especially considering that countless small businesses, nonprofit organizations, restaurants, art galleries, magazines, and media outlets use Facebook to conduct day-to-day business and share information with their stakeholders.

In 2006, the Supreme Court of Pakistan banned the entire blogspot.com domain for over 18 months over a similar incident where only one blog carried blasphemous cartoons. Thousands of Pakistani bloggers were deprived of the freedom to express themselves and interact with others. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority now has the ability to block specific pages on the Internet and could have banned just the single blasphemous page. As members of civil society and professionals who depend on social media networks for our daily communications, we demand the immediate restoration of Facebook and an end to Internet censorship by the Government of Pakistan.

We would like to invite you to a press conference to discuss the worrying trend of Internet censorship and the resulting impact on civil liberties and the free and unfettered exchange of ideas and information.

Date: 20th May 2010
Time: 5:00 pm
Venue: Karachi Press Club

PS attempts are being made to live stream the event from the Press Club, follow this space for updates, if we are able to pull this off


Lahore High Court orders Facebook blocked till the 31st of May

Following hot in the footsteps of the controversial Draw Mohammed Day, Lahore High Court has issued orders to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block facebook up till the 31st of May on an petition lodged by Islamic Lawyers Movement on Tuesday

Daily Times: Justice Ijaz Ahmad Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority secretary to reply until Wednesday (today), on a petition seeking a ban on Facebook, which is holding a competition of caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Islamic Lawyers Movement filed the petition through Chaudhry Zulfiqar advocate, who stated that a competition was announced on Facebook on April 20 which would continue until May 20, asking all the members of the website to create their caricatures to participate in the competition

Tribune reports that PTA urged the court to only ban those particular pages showing the offensive drawings. It is said PTA still awaits the orders when they will be handed down from the Ministry of IT, after which a nationwide ban will go into effect on facebook.com
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