05/19/2010 03:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Caricatures, Facebook Double Standards and the Bigotry of Pakistani Internet Watchdogs

Lahore High Court has ordered the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to block all links on Facebook that lead to the controversial "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day." PTA has yet to comply with this order as the link is viewable in Pakistan as I am writing these lines. Nevertheless, another controversy has been generated and it is not going to die down very soon.

Being a mildly observant Muslim, I am against this contest; but unlike others, I do not condone any extreme measures. Banning Facebook will be an extreme measure and would not do any good. PTA, which acts as the internet watchdog in Pakistan, regularly bans websites that it thinks are against the national security. Baloch nationalist websites remain banned in Pakistan and so are the Taliban propaganda websites. While one can debate the pros and cons of these bans and whether PTA crossed the line, banning of Facebook is a highly controversial issue.

The agency also bans websites and blogs that post anything against the ruling junta. There were massive blockages of political blogs and websites during the 2007 emergency along with the TV channels. They failed to stop the Pakistani people from visiting those websites or watching those channels as the internet has many crevices and loopholes that help defying bans and blockages.

Pakistan has the 36th highest number of Facebook users in the world, around 2,359,620 to be precise, or almost 1.42% of the total population. While the penetration remains low, it is still an encouraging figure for a country like Pakistan.

And these 2.4 million users are angry with both the PTA and the Facebook administration. They are against any restrictions by the PTA because it will virtually put an end to their window to the world, their social universe. They are also against the Facebook bigwigs because they think that they have embarked on the path of bigotry.

Awab Alvi, a popular blogger from Pakistan, raised an interesting point in his post about the issue while pointing to clause 3.7 of Facebook terms of service.

I believe this might be a good case study on how tolerant Facebook administration might actually be. On one hand they are quick to delete the facebook page of a civil activist group [Peoples Resistance] which was organizing street protests in Karachi on the mere whim that we might be promoting hatred and violence, while in reality we were peacefully protesting against a military dictatorship, our democratic right - that group was deleted quickly and the administrators were issued warnings, this group continues to reign supreme raking over 34,400 fans since April 25th.

The contest clearly is 100,000 times more prone to creating hatred and violence than a small protest group from Pakistan. But, if Facebook is intent on keeping the group then it needs to change its terms of service. Let it be a free-for-all social network where everyone has the liberty to express one's ideology and beliefs whatsoever maybe its repercussions.

Coming back to the ban, I would still oppose it. The violent protests against the Jyllands-Posten caricatures in 2006 claimed dozens of lives, all in Muslim countries and all the dead were Muslims. This did not stop the publishing of caricatures and instead encouraged more people to hit the religious nerves of Muslims.

Internet bans do not work anymore and violent protests do not do any good. Perhaps it is the best time for Muslims to adopt civil, non-violent ways of protest. Facebook, if it is continuing with its recently modified 'Laissez-Faire' terms of service, provides an equal opportunity for the Muslims to lodge their protest and launch counter contests. As for the Pakistani moral police, they do not have any moral standing left to ban the internet. Excessive use of censorship and political maneuvering has smacked enough dirt on their face and there are 1,001 ways of defying bans that they could not do anything about.

P.S: I can't open Facebook now, ban is in effect. But I can do that by using IP-masking websites. See, it is so easy to defy bans.