It’s OurTube: Religion-based censorship will only fuel hate speech

Islamabad, September 18, 2012: Following the release of an anti-Islam movie “Innocence of Muslims” on YouTube, the Islamic world has been ablaze with protesters making a range of demands, from the prohibition of the movie and all websites hosting it, to the murder of all those associated with its production.

Popular international opinion has found the movie baseless, crude, malicious, and unworthy of the publicity it has ended up receiving. Moreover, the movie is only an insignificant addition to a huge amount of online hate content and critiques of every religion, including Islam. This content includes films, drawings, articles, verbal narratives and so on, and has, in most cases, been condemned through non-violent expression, or simply ignored.

The Government of Pakistan has responded to the film by carelessly and hurriedly declaring a blanket ban on Youtube for reasons of protecting Muslim sentiments.

Bytes for All, Pakistan, strongly condemns hate speech on the Internet. We believe the film 'Innocence of Muslims' is a grotesque act, the worst example of intolerance and malice designed to create unrest and violence among peaceful communities all over the world. However, we firmly believe that banning channels of communication, limiting access to information platforms, and steps to curtail free expression only serve to pave the way for politics-based control systems that curb the voices of individuals. It is important to realize that this film should not be allowed to form the basis of systematic censorship and filtering of Internet in the country. Time and time again, we have witnessed in the past how censorship and filtering backed by religious reasons has eventually served political interests only.

This blanket ban is uncalled for, restricting the rights of Pakistani citizens, who wish to use the platform for counter-argument, expression and other educational and developmental purposes. This extreme step ignores the alternative, more conservative actions that were available to the Government, including the issuing of a take-down notice to Youtube for the removal of specific content in Pakistan.

We implore the Government and regulatory bodies to adopt a mature stance on this issue, without falling prey to traps of emotional decision-making. The Government must take steps to educate people to be more tolerant towards criticism, instead of indulging in violence.

The Government of Pakistan should encourage thoughtful, informed responses to hate speech. For example, British Muslims have responded to the derogatory movie by distributing the biography of the Prophet, in an attempt to dispel the myths that the movie tried to propagate. The Government of Pakistan can support similar responses by, for example, funding local filmmakers to produce rational content aimed at countering hate attacks by spreading the message of love, tolerance and peace. In order to achieve this, however, we will need open and accessible online platforms to spread the message of Almighty and the Prophet (peace be upon him).

'Innocence of Muslims' is not the first example of anti-Islam or anti-religious online content, and it won’t be the last. It is impossible to filter and censor out millions of such opinions that may eventually result in banning of all communication technologies and/or cripple critical infrastructure. In addition, such desperate attempts to ban disagreeable content only serves to draw attention towards it.

We urge the Government of Pakistan to change its modus operandi and play a part in condemning the film, educating the citizens, control the violence and promote peace and harmony among all segments of society in the country including minorities.

Censorship measures only help add to the international publicity of the content that it does not deserve!

 

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About Bytes for All, Pakistan

Bytes for All (B4A), Pakistan is a human rights organization and a network of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) professionals and practitioners. It experiments and organizes debate on the relevance of ICTs for sustainable development and strengthening social justice movements in the country. Its mission is “ICTs for development, democracy and social justice”. www.bytesforall.pk
 
For more information:

Shahzad Ahmad
Cell. +92 333 5236060
info@bytesforall.pk and www.bytesforall.pk