Banning websites: reign of the Iron Curtain

Salman Latif June 23, 2010
When the decision to ban Facebook was revoked by the high court, I felt relieved like most of us that finally reason had reigned supreme over religious sentimentalism. However, little did I know that this was a brief respite because yet another petition filed in the Lahore High Court may completely negate it.

Banning a score of sites, including Hotmail, Yahoo, Google, Bing, YouTube and Amazon, the moral axe has yet again grinded on the pretext of blasphemous content. Without a doubt, such a ban is bound to impact millions of users across the country, positively inhibiting their online activity.

It sure is a grim state of affairs. The impact of such moves have proved futile in the FB ban episode. The world didn’t really give a damn and after disrupting our own digital communication for a few days, we quietly resumed it. It’s a rather poor way to argue our case and by doing so again, we will inevitably lose the little prestige we still have in the online world.

Let’s move to the root cause of such instances in our society. The fact is that in Pakistan, emotional rhetoric has become the sole premise to argue anything and everything that’s linked to religion. Naturally, this leaves little room for rational reasoning and results in rash acts and decision, often manifest in our social nomenclature. This has also led to a perception that even in the matter of national importance a mere word from those at the helm of religious affairs suffices as an authority on all moral issues. And the recent cyber-censorship move by the court only affirms this.

Such a move has also raised a number of questions about the judiciary. Pakistan still lacks a firm base of cyber laws and whether the absence of proper cyber regulation grants courts the authority to make run-time laws on cyber issues is a question that needs to be answered. The concern is further underlined by the fact that most government personnel, including judicial officials, are largely unacquainted with the domain of internet. And this has a direct bearing on their understanding of the relevant issues, and the consequent verdicts.

The upcoming court hearing and the potential ban of major websites has triggered an aggressive backlash among Pakistan’s web-populace. Whereas internet has come to bear considerably on the national economy, apparently it remains at the whim of courts’ moral alienations. Decisions like these mean that websites could be made available or unavailable any time at the tiniest proof of questionable content on their pages. Questionable content, again, is a highly subjective term and a court may interpret it differently at different times. This only means one thing: uncertainty. And in a country where freelancing is becoming a dominant trend among technical professionals, this uncertainty melts down to professional and monetary losses.

This critique of the possible ban may seem a bit too harsh but it’s only true enough. One is reminded of the Iron Curtain from Soviet days at having witnessed this. There can be no end to such measures until and unless a proper regulatory body, technically eligible and qualified to understand the digital web realm, is promulgated.

In its absence, the court can rule whatsoever they feel fit and it wouldn’t come as a surprise if some day, internet is altogether banned in Pakistan on the grounds of it containing ‘immoral content’ – ‘Technical Dajjal’ as some mullahs like to put it.
Salman Latif A blogger who blogs at and tweets @salmanlateef
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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