Deja Vu! Saudi Arabia's top cleric, Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, says that Twitter is a platform for "promoting lies." Two years ago, Al-Azhar's Abd Al-Hamid Al-Atrash reportedly said that Facebook "breaks up families."
Social media doesn't lure a person to flirt with someone, spread a lie about someone, or harness envy, jealousy and hate (read my article "The Accessibility of Envy on Social Media").
Though it is a grandiose statement, it is fair to say that we human beings have been lying since time immemorial. Infidelity is nothing new either. And if I were to ask my father how he flirted back in his heyday, I am sure he would have a few interesting stories to tell me.
Perhaps it is easier to issue a fatwa (religious edict) against an inanimate websites than to tell people to their faces, "you're promoting lies," "you're luring women on Facebook" or "you're enviously staring at pictures of people in your network."
The Egyptian cleric, who later denied having issued a fatwa against Facebook, had allegedly blamed the site for the increasing divorce rate. I spoke to my Egyptian friends about the rumors of such a fatwa for an article (which you can read here) and I remember one of them saying that "they [clerics] would have to ban the Internet, cell phones, e-mail and landline phones."
The crux of the matter is that people who have the urge to lie or gossip or flirt will find a way to do it.
I am not saying that people will do what they want to do, right or wrong, and hence we should give up on them. I am merely suggesting that we strive to find the most effective solution rather than searching for the most convenient target. This is what needs to be done: a) identify the root of the problem, and b) act wisely when you're counseling others. Grandiose statements against this or that website or technology are counterproductive when they merely address a symptom of a problem and not its cause.
The old man within me agrees that you will find little of substance in social media.
Perhaps I am only saying that because Noam Chomsky has made similar statements. He said in an interview: "[I] think it erodes normal human relations. It makes them more superficial, shallow, evanescent."
Just for the record, there is a kid in me as well who spends way too much time, more than I am ready to confess in writing, on Facebook and Twitter. But I do agree with Professor Chomsky.
Coming back to the point, the clerics probably mean well, but the strategy that they have adopted will never bear the intended fruits. There seems to be a gulf between the clerics and their audience; the one factor that I feel is constantly missing is goodwill between the two.
As a teacher, I'm only successful in guiding my students when they know that I want them to be better human beings and that I wish for them to excel in life. And it takes time to build that trust and rapport.
The reasons for accusing social networking sites epitomize deep ethical and moral flaws that cannot be easily amended through a fatwa or a Friday sermon.
Follow Fahad Faruqui on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fahadfaruqui