Original Articles

Internet blockade and urban middle class youth – by Ahmed Nadeem Gehla

On Wednesday 19th May 2010, the Lahore High Court, famous for acting as a “moral brigade” rather than judiciary, once again passed a strange order to ban Facebook across Pakistan on a petition of Muslim Lawyers Forum. The demand for blocking of the social media site came after it refused to remove certain pages displaying Prophet Muhammad’s cartoons.

This order was passed against the request of the government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority that controversial pages of Facebook were already being blocked and there was no reason to block entire social media website which has over 2 million Pakistani users.

Few months back Lahore High Court took suo-moto notice of album of a popular female singer and declared her songs to be ‘vulgar’. This was followed by Chief Justice Lahore High Court’s remarks that Hindus were financing the terrorism in Pakistan which attracted protests from Hindu minority of Pakistan. This mixing of religion in to matters of state is opposite to the judgment of the Bangladesh’s Supreme Court which imposed ban on religious parties to take part in politics.

The court order to ban entire social media site is not only unreasonable but amounts to restrict the freedom of expression of which judiciary is a guardian. It also reflects the mindset and strong inclination of present superior judiciary towards right wing religious fundamentalist groups which can easily get ‘desired justice’.

JI, a religious fanatic group which is strong supporter of present judiciary and was successful to get its members recruited in superior judiciary after restoration of Chief Justice is organizing the protests to ban all ‘Western Infidel’ websites including Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter etc. The wish for a ‘stone age’ as termed by Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, a youth leader. The Islamic Lawyer forum which filed the petition to block Facebook itself is a lawyers wing of JI fanatics.

The most interesting fall out of the court order is the strong reaction of Pakistani urban middle class youth, which widely uses Facebook for social interaction. The same youth was the most active supporter of movement for restoration of present judiciary. They are demanding from the government to immediately lift the blockage of Facebook website.

One of the protesters and an active blogger/civil society activist Dr. Awab Alvi writes ; “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”.

But if government does lifts the ban on this demands, it will be disobeying the court orders.

Should not it be a protest against judiciary instead which has allied itself with religious fanatics and is acting as ‘Moral Brigade’ rather than an institution to dispense justice?

Historically religious groups in Pakistan have been providing support to military dictators and been associated with intelligence agencies to bring down the elected governments. After removal of Pervez Musharaf, the military establishment decided not to interfere directly in political issues. Certain sections of establishment and religious groups which are eager to remove present regime have associated themselves with judiciary.

Many critics blame that Lawyers movement which was initiated by lawyers and civil society was later hijacked by PMLN, PTI and JI and judiciary is under strong influence of right wing fundamentalist groups. The recent recruitments in superior judiciary are also being criticized as being from a certain ‘mind set’ and comprise of judges from certain political and religious parties.

As the conflict between PPP government and Judiciary is becoming intense, the judiciary is gathering the support of religious groups. Recently Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the former head of JI announced to get SC judgments implemented through ‘street power’. Yeah, now judiciary needs religious goons to get its orders implemented – though no suo-moto by good Chief Justice asking Mr. Qazi that who appointed him the ‘bailiff’ of SC!

In order to retain the support of religious fundamentalist groups, judiciary would have to deliver more judgments like ban on Facebook as per fanatics demands. This seems to be just the beaning as the demands of religious fanatics would not anything less than turning Pakistani society in to Taliban style Emirates.

As Supreme Court declared in its recent judgment to be custodian of imaginary ‘basic features’ of constitution of Pakistan and judging the righteousness of elected representatives, closer cooperation between fundamentalist and judiciary is inevitable. The top leaders of lawyer’s movement like Ali Ahmad Kurd are openly confessing that this is not the judiciary for what we struggled.

But where do the Urban middle class youth, which worked tirelessly for restoration of judiciary fits in this whole set up? Would they be able to digest the fanatic’s demands? They do not want to loose the freedom of expression and reject the ban on Facebook. They do not want court of Qazi to ban their favorite singer but they are demanding from government to lift the blockage of social media site.

Protesting against government while the ban is ordered by a ‘holly lordship’ of Lahore High Court is sign of their confusion.

In fact they are still unable to accept the fact that Lawyers movement was hijacked by right wing fundamentalist groups and present judiciary is composed of and an ally of religious fanatics. The fact they should have been realized when Supreme Court slept over the so called ‘Missing Persons’ issue, 12th May probe and countless other slogans raised during lawyers movements.

The only hope which still keeps them away from straight away protesting against ‘moral policing’ of judiciary and its partial judgments and instead make the government a scapegoat is that one day judiciary will boot “evil” Zardari out from his office. But what they are unable to understand is that it wont be possible unless a strong alliance of religious fanatics is there to support judiciary. As has been a custom when we underwent the military dictatorship – judicial dictatorship wont work differently.

What will be the cost of that alliance doesn’t need Einstein to figure out – and that is civil society itself. More influence of religious fanatics will hurt these urban middle class youth, who are not willing to compromise on their liberties but confused and unable to face the reality.

Can the civil society and urban middle class youth be part of the Mullah-Judiciary alliance against PPP government? They must ask themselves. It is up to them to decide whether they want an other repeat of notorious Ziaist era when general associated religious fanatics in power game. The Mullah-Judiciary alliance is going to be much more disastrous for civil society than what we have experienced in past.

About the author

Farhad Jarral

18 Comments

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  • Right Extremist or Left extremist ,I think we should be in the middle ,Banning these sites is public demand and its part of the democracy ,Those people who do not like secular parties because they have the fear that secular parties would make Pakistani society just like the west ,Some people support extremist groups because they think that religious fanatics can save the moral value of the society .Respect of religion and keeping moral values in the media and internet will give more confidence to the people on the government .
    People of Pakistan are not very pious but they do want some moral values implemented by the government and people of Pakistan do not want the society like west . calling every restriction as “Talibani ” would strengthened fanatics and Jamatis

  • muslim league law makers in punjab assembly demanded banned on sms service in the country and now they are using sms service to promote facebook ban campaign .

  • Democracy requires that the government not be able to ban anything regarding communications between people. Otherwise the government can ban the spread of information that people need in order to hold their elected representatives accountable.

    What Farhan Q is suggesting is that the people will have confidence in the government only if the government restricts information.

    Please notice that Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube are not displayed in public newsstands nor are they broadcast media, or billboards and so the user of information has to go seeking the information rather than the information being shoved into their face. There can be a reasonable expectation that nothing that is offensive should be displayed in public; but Facebook, etc., do not fall into this class.

    Well, this is one of the tensions between the public belief of what Islam says and public belief of what is required for representative democracy to work that Pakistan will have to work out. The historical experience of the rest of the world is that this kind of censorship is detrimental to democracy. Maybe Pakistan can come up with a new model.

  • Arun :
    Democracy requires that the government not be able to ban anything regarding communications between people. Otherwise the government can ban the spread of information that people need in order to hold their elected representatives accountable.
    What Farhan Q is suggesting is that the people will have confidence in the government only if the government restricts information. the sad part about this whole episode is that media is taking it as first genuine positive step taken by this government .
    Please notice that Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube are not displayed in public newsstands nor are they broadcast media, or billboards and so the user of information has to go seeking the information rather than the information being shoved into their face. There can be a reasonable expectation that nothing that is offensive should be displayed in public; but Facebook, etc., do not fall into this class.
    Well, this is one of the tensions between the public belief of what Islam says and public belief of what is required for representative democracy to work that Pakistan will have to work out. The historical experience of the rest of the world is that this kind of censorship is detrimental to democracy. Maybe Pakistan can come up with a new model.

  • Many web sites are banned in china ,are they extremist islamist ? .
    Many non Muslim countries have internet censorship ,Its all about the values and standards are accepted in the society ,in the west pornography is open but child pornography is banned ,which is good but can this be called “zaist ”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship

    n 2006, Reporters without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF, a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press) published a list of the 13 “enemies of the Internet”:[10] The organization classifies a country as an enemy of the internet because “all of these countries mark themselves out not just for their capacity to censor news and information online but also for their almost systematic repression of Internet users.” [11] The list is updated annually and now includes 12 countries in 2009:

    * Burma
    * China
    * Cuba
    * Egypt
    * Iran
    * North Korea
    * Saudi Arabia
    * Syria
    * Tunisia
    * Turkmenistan
    * Uzbekistan
    * Vietnam

    Australia
    Main article: Internet censorship in Australia

    Australia is in ONI’s nominal category as of 2008. It does not allow content that would be classified “RC” (Refused Classification or banned) or “X18+” (hardcore non-violent pornography) to be hosted within Australia and considers such content “prohibited”/”potentially prohibited” outside Australia; it also requires most other age-restricted content sites to verify a user’s age before allowing access. Since January 2008 material that would be likely to be classified “R18+” or “MA15+” and which is not behind such an age verification service (and, for MA15+, which also meets other criteria such as provided for profit, or contains certain media types) also fits the category of “prohibited” or “potentially prohibited”. The regulator ACMA can order local sites which do not comply taken down, and overseas sites added to a blacklist provided to makers of PC-based filtering software. The list itself and associated documentation was specially exempted from Freedom of Information laws under the previous Howard government.

    Identification of these “prohibited” or “potentially prohibited” items appears to be done mainly as a response to individual complaints rather than by any attempt to pre-emptively classify sites or pages. In addition, certain addresses (mostly of child porn) also come from international and local law enforcement and related sources. The number of items on the prohibited blacklist was in the range of 1,000 to 1,300 in late 2008 and early 2009, with roughly 32% classified as “child abuse material and child sexual abuse material”[31].

    Both major Australian political parties have shown support for the policy of mandatory blocking at the ISP level, of material on the ACMA blacklist, as well as providing a second level of opt-out “clean feed” which would also block adult content and an unknown number of other categories.[32] As of 2008 this policy has been outlined, but not implemented, and there has been significant opposition to it.[33] In March 2009, the ACMA “blacklist” was leaked, revealing several innocent sites which were included in error.

    In December 2009, the federal Labor government released results of its censorship technical trial and based on its interpretation of those results released a new internet censorship policy.[

  • @Farhan Q

    You may have noticed that
    1. the Australian government slipped in banned sights that went beyond this mandate.
    2. Wikileaks exposed this (wikileaks is a worldwide forum for exposing corruption).
    3. the Australian government impounded the passport of the main Wikileaks’ person and also is trying to ban wikileaks.

    This Australian model is leading exactly to the behavior where the government tries to prevent its citizens from coming to know things that are embarrassing to the government.

    You can find out more about this here:
    http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/05/19/wikileaks/index.html

    China is not extremist Islamist, but is not a democracy either. I thought the context of this discussion was democracy and censorship. Sure, if you want some kind of dictatorship, then its an entirely different matter.

  • sites, not sights above.

    A quote from the article cited:

    ” Last year Wikileaks published a confidential list of websites that the Australian government is preparing to ban under a proposed internet filter — which in turn caused the whistleblower site to be placed on that list.

    The Australian document was so damaging because the Australian government claimed that the to-be-banned websites were all associated with child pornography, but the list of the targeted sites including many which had nothing to do with pornography. That WikiLeaks was then added to the list underscores the intended abuse.”

    There is no way to square censorship and freedom. What you can do is just as you have Islamic banks that operate under different rules, do not have interest, you can have Islamic ISPs *AND* you choose to subscribe to them or to regular ISPs.
    i.e., you can censor yourself not everyone.

  • @arun
    the sad part of this whole episode is that media is considering ban on facebook as the only positive step of this government.

  • When I was a young boy, I remember there was the mother of a friend of mine who did not go to the market. I asked my mother about this, and she explained that uncle did not allow her to go because he did not want her exposed to things that went on there. I asked my father why he allowed my mother to go to the market and he smiled and said, “Your mother is a strong and intelligent woman. Why would I tell her what she can do?” I mentioned that there are some goods and conversations in the market that are not proper and he nodded his head and replied, “Your mother has a strong faith in Allah. She can walk through a pit of snakes and will not be shaken.”

    My mother went to the market. My mother went wherever she wanted. Nobody dared to question her, either. At least not openly. I can’t imagine anyone telling her where she could and could not go without receiving a rebuke like you would not believe. I saw the women wearing burqas and felt sad for them. Not because they were hidden, but because I thought that it must be because they were not strong enough to face the world with only their faith in Allah. That they needed some extra security from that piece of black cloth.

    Today, though, the judiciary and the PTA seems to think that all Pakistanis are too weak to go to the new electronic market without wearing an electronic burqa. First it was Facebook and today it is YouTube. Tomorrow it will be Twitter, then Google. Soon perhaps they will order that the whole nation be covered in a giant piece of black cloth.

    Could these justices really have only now learned that there is some offensive materials on the Internet? What will happen if they find out about the stall at the village market with the certain DVDs and VCDs behind the counter? What if they take a look behind the curtains covering tea stalls during Ramadan? What if their drivers get lost and they end up in some slums at night? Surely their weak faith will be harmed when they see what goes on not on the Internet but in their own city!

    The Internet is like a giant market. Facebook has popular groups for anti-Islamic things, but also there is a group for ‘I Love Islam’ that has over 900,000 members! YouTube surely has some offensive material, but has many beautiful videos about Prophet Muhammad and Islam also. Now we have banned these pro-Islam also? Users of YouTube can report offensive material and anything that is deemed offensive is available only to registered users over age 18 years. So why do we need these judges who are also self-appointed mullahs to tell us where we can’t go?

    If JI and these judge-mullahs have such a weak faith that they cannot go to Facebook without being influenced against Islam, perhaps they should not go to Facebook. Actually, perhaps they should just stay indoors at all times and not bother those of us who are able to go to the market without being tempted to buy obscene materials or engage in improper gossips. I don’t need someone else to tell me what is right and what is wrong. My faith is strong enough that I am not tempted to go to some stupid ‘draw Muhammad’ page on the Internet. I feel sorry for these others who are so tempted.
    http://new-pakistan.com/2010/5/20/electronic-purdah

  • Porn Sites are still working because all the Judicial Mullahs visit these sites on daily basis 😛 Khwaja Porn Sharif is the new name of CJ LHC .. Between who is getting benefit of all this banning scene??

  • Facebook working for an agenda,,, facebook working for agencies, data provision, if u read facebook terms and condition, you will know, your all data, you deleted or present is facebook property and they can use it,, facebook support the fake groups to support ideas,, I hate it,, shame on facebook team for support the ideas which hurts billion of people, shame facebook team shame

  • The YOUtube ban pushes Pakistanis to less desirable sites (from the government’s perspective) like mine, to see videos such as this one. Since the ban I have had about 1400 Pakistani visitors to hear the tape that is the talk of the country.

  • kya hamari azadi ka faisla yeh mardood ppp aur mullah karain gay,is kaum ki ghairat tum kahan mar jaati hai jab yeh apni maun behnoun ko amrika ke hawalay karte hain,jab bharat se hamari laashain aati hain,tub inhe aman ki asha sujhti hai,in kii ghairat tub bhi nahi jaagti jab gaza aur labnaan mein log katal houn,aik fazool kaam se poora maashra suffer karta hai,kya ab hamari yehi civil society reh gyii hain,ke ab maulviun ke neeche bhi lage,yeh beghairat mulleh aik vote nahi le sakte ,aur internet ki baat karte hain,upar say pta kab se hamre zindagi ke faisley krne lagi,yeh sab isliye o rha hai,takih ppp keh khilaaf mawaad naa likha jaye,like i said who will decide,how far who goes,aap sub ensas e kamtari ka shikaar, hain,is kaum ki batain sunain,bohat acha hua,khairaaat mangne main sab say aage hote hain,yeh woh log hain jinse mushriq bhi sharmayain!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • great article… you know at first I was thinking that all these otherwise conservative facebook users (many of whom were calling for the DMD page to be removed from facebook) are big hypocrites for objecting when their facebook is banned since they don’t believe in free speech for others but get upset when their own is curbed. But I realized that it’s actually a good development that people are speaking out for their own free speech. Maybe one day they’ll realize that other people deserve free speech as well, even if it offends them.

  • Facebook and Youtube is being banned for a very short time by PTA, to let pass the time and when the sea calms, the sites will be opened again with all the past recordings and history. Any body needing to watch what was on 20th May can access at later stage. Banning the sites will never help in current era and baseless effort to protest. It is just like closing the ears and shutting up the eyes tightly in a crowdy and noisy area. Messages of great losses suffered by face book and You tube due to banning, only in Pakistan, is again a futile news.