By S. M. Hali
Social media website You Tube was banned in Pakistan in September 2012 after a blasphemous video titled “Innocence of Muslims” was uploaded on it which caused mass scale protests/riots leading to loss of life/property across the Muslim world and the operator of the popular webpage Google, refused to remove it. This was not the first offense of the website, which in 2008 had also hurt the sensitivities of Muslims across the globe by uploading a short film by Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, which explored links between Islam and terrorism. Then too Pakistan had blocked YouTube in response to street-wide demonstrations, but later lifted the ban. A couple of years earlier, the same social media website had organized a competition on the social media desecrating the respected persona of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (MPBUH). This activity had cause great mental agony to millions of Muslims all over the globe.
A year on, there have been mixed reaction to the ban. Most Pakistanis initially agreed with the ban as the blasphemous content was offensive and insensitive. However, as the ban persisted, some groups have voiced concern over the continued ban. With the change in government this June, petitions were made to the new Prime Minister to lift the ban. Student bodies and some members of the academia have lobbied that countries like Pakistan who straddle in the lower echelons of education empowerment of its citizens have everything to gain from massive free online education. They have pleaded that the present moribund state of education can be partly alleviated if online education is utilized effectively and intelligently. Their logic is that at present, Pakistan cannot do so because of a state sponsored ban on sites like You Tube, which are at the helm of distributing this material online. The reasoning is sound but the government has to see the broader picture.
Last week, the State Minister for Information Technology, Anusha Rehman, announced that the ban on YouTube would be removed in the coming few days after the sitting of Inter-Ministerial Committee. She disclosed that Pakistan is testing URL filters, which will enable it to selectively block controversial content instead of banning the entire service.
The technology is reportedly provided by Pakistan Telecommunication Company, which will offer the services to the government for a year and will charge for the service after this duration. The URL filters are also said to have been tested, blocking a list of 4,000 objectionable URLs. Clarifying that the decision could not be made by her Ministry alone, she declared that the final decision to lift the ban would be made by the Inter-Ministerial Committee, which will also be responsible for preparing the list of blocked URLs, which will be handed over to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
The new government, which is still less than ninety days old and under normal circumstances, would have been enjoying the honeymoon period, where the opposition and media give them a fair chance before criticizing them harshly. Unfortunately, from day one, there has been an onslaught of terror attacks and numerous other developments, which have left the new incumbents in the corridors of power shell shocked. Running helter-skelter to find solutions, the government of Mian Nawaz Sharif has been forced to make judgmental errors by acting in haste. The crucial decision of lifting the ban on You Tube must also be thought through, lest a hurriedly taken pronouncement may cause more damage and regret.
The decision of blocking YouTube was also in line with the Honorable Supreme Court directives/observations, orders of the Prime Minister and in the larger national interest.
This scribe recommends that if at all the ban is to be lifted, Google must first apologize to the Muslims for causing them mental anguish. It should remove all clippings of the movie “Innocence of Muslims” and “The Innocent Prophet” from YouTube and promise to respect the emotions of the Muslim Ummah.
Essentially, Google, and YouTube should get registered with PTA for being available in Pakistan and it should pay taxes. It has been observed that social media websites are earning tremendous revenue from Pakistan thus Federal Board of Revenue should take action against those search engines/ social media websites who are earning from Pakistan but evading local taxes.
It is also important that Google should respect the legal clauses of Pakistan and before being permitted to operate in Pakistan, it should enter into formal agreements with the relevant Ministry for legalizing its services. Respecting the need of research scholars, the academia and student body, favorable agreements may be signed with Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media Networking Sites but these must include Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) and automatic filtering software.
In order to safeguard the mental health of Pakistan by discouraging pornography and block anti state content, especially those that incite separatism, hatred against specific sects/minorities or the armed forces of Pakistan, the Government should implement physical/electronic filtering of internet data like that adopted by a number of other countries, which the State Minister for I/T was alluding to.
Simultaneously, OIC should take up a case with UN for drafting a resolution not allowing any person to misuse the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) name and make movies / caricatures on him, Umhat-ul-Momineen RA, Khulfa-e-Rashideen RA and Sahaba. Necessary legislation as was carried out by Jews on laws related to denial of Holocaust should be adopted. The OIC should setup central or regional hubs of filtering units. OIC and Pakistan should ensure that evil attacks on Islam do not occur both internally and externally.
It would also be prudent to develop Pakistan based equivalent of YouTube to benefit the public. Own versions of Search engines, Video sharing platforms and Networking sites be designed like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter etc.
In light of the above suggestions, perhaps further anguish to the faithful can be avoided by the machination of Islam bashers and those suffering from Islamophobia while enemies of the state can be kept at bay from misusing the social media for their nefarious designs.