Censorship can never be a solution
By: Yasser Latif Hamdani
Imagine 30 million internet users of Pakistan united in countering propaganda and Islamophobia online and on YouTube especially. That has the potential of a lot of noise
One must ask those who champion the YouTube ban to please explain at least how it has served the cause of Islam? Has YouTube been shut down? Have people stopped watching YouTube in Pakistan? The truth of the matter is that the YouTube ban has deprived the people of Pakistan of putting their point of view across forcefully through the website.
Imagine if instead of spending millions of dollars buying filtering software that would become obsolete in a matter of months, thereby engaging in a losing battle against the collective march of humanity in cyber space, the government of Pakistan had spent a fraction of that on producing a world class documentary on the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in all major languages of the world and then allowed Pakistan’s YouTubers to post links to that documentary. Would that not be a service to Islam? What has our great Islamic Republic done positively in the service of Islam, because banning stuff is self-evidently a disservice to this great belief system? On the internet you cannot shut people up, but you can shout louder than them. Imagine 30 million internet users of Pakistan united in countering propaganda and Islamophobia online and on YouTube especially. That has the potential of a lot of noise.
Unfortunately, yellow journalists and ancient bureaucrats who champion the ban do not care about Pakistan or Pakistanis. They care even less about Islam, no matter how piously religious they appear to be on the face of it. It is important that the government investigates this matter thoroughly. Who gains from the YouTube ban? Are there other competitors of the video sharing website who might be paying off certain officials? Is the Islam argument only to fool the people, a section of people that has been kept ignorant of the real facts? These questions need to be answered. Answering them may reveal the true nature of this ban, which is invidious and self-serving for a small section. It is this same section that is known to claim that the internet is used only for leisure and entertainment in Pakistan. But are we to be dragged down by this section in the march of progress? The answer on that count has to be an overwhelming no.
The internet has no borders, only interests. It is the one unifying whole of humanity. If someone in our halls of government feels that we can be isolated from the rest of the world, then they should know that in the final assessment they are only undermining the interests of the people of Pakistan, a great majority of whom are Muslims, in the cyber realm and it is this cyber realm that is the wave of the future. The world will leave us behind. Ultimately, our virtual extinction will lay the foundations for our physical extinction.
As a nation state Pakistan has international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it has signed and ratified. Putting up banners behind rickshaws proclaiming that ‘freedom of expression’ is the religion of ‘kuffar’ is a poor representation for a faith that promises that there is no compulsion in religion. Muslims need to reject such erroneous arguments about their faith. Saying that some third rate film designed to provoke a reaction from Muslims can somehow shake the faith of millions of Pakistani Muslims in Islam amounts to a censure on every Pakistani Muslim. It betrays an insecurity that most Muslims in Pakistan do not have. Those who say that censorship is an obligation placed upon the government of this state given its status as an Islamic Republic are making a mockery of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s constitution bestows upon every citizen “the right to freedom of speech and expression”, and “there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defence of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, [commission of] or incitement to an offence.” All restrictions under this Article 19 have to be reasonable. Blanket bans on websites that carry in proportion far more good than bad can never be a reasonable restriction for any reason whatsoever. Similarly Clause 6 of the Objectives Resolution, which is considered the ‘grundnorm’ of our constitution and which the Islamic-minded take particular pride in says, “Wherein there should be guaranteed fundamental rights including equality of status of opportunity before law, social, economic and political justice and freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith, worship and association subject to law and public morality.” Read together it is hard to argue that any blanket ban, such as the arbitrary and illegal ban on YouTube, can be condoned under the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Therefore, those who argue that it is a constitutional obligation for the state have either not read the constitution or if they have, they are deliberately distorting its meaning.
Whatever the case in 21st century Pakistan, censorship can never be a solution. The sooner we realise this the better it will be for us. Or else we might soon face the kind of dystopia Ghulam Abbas predicted in his famous short story, Hotel Mohenjodaro. We are well on our way there.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality. He can be contacted via twitter @therealylh and through his email address firstname.lastname@example.org