This is painful to write. Ideally I would have preferred not to have had to write this post. But I have over 300 messages in my inbox of people commenting over the so-called “Draw Muhammad Day” page on the social networking site Facebook. And now the Lahore High Court’s decision calling for a ban on Facebook has forced the issue to the forefront. And that is what pains me.
I hope that Facebook’s administration will remove the page. Not because of any ‘banning’ movement and not because of the Lahore High Court but just because the page and the idea behind it is inflammatory and offensive. Regardless of what your belief or religion might be, to throw out offensive and hateful vitriolic for the simple and primary purpose of hurting someone else’s feelings is inhuman, cruel and clearly offensive. If Facebook does not recognise that, then it knows nothing about being ‘social’ or about ‘networking’ and certainly not about ‘community’.
But at one level, that matters little now. Whether Facebook removes the offensive page or not, the page and its creators have already fulfilled their purpose and met their goals. But they did not do it alone, we helped them do so. And that is what pains me.
I have not visited the offensive page in question and do not intend to. I had also not intended to help publicising that offensive page but by having to write this post that is exactly what I am doing. And that pains me. I am offended by the idea that page purports and the goals it seeks to achieve. So, why should I dignify it by a visit? Why should I publicise it? Yet, all of us — now me included, which is why writing this is uncomfortable —are doing exactly that. And that is what pains me.
Many of the emails I have received give me the link to that page and invite me to visit it so that ‘I can see for myself how offensive it is’. I do not need to do that. Yet, that is exactly what some of us have been doing by acting exactly as the creators of that page intended us to — acting as the promoters and publicists. And now having turned it into an international legal matter giving the attention seekers behind the page the exact thing they wanted: Attention.
But we have done more than that. With the Lahore High Court decision we have allowed the PTA and authorities another precedent and excuse to aggressively ‘manage’ the internet; something that can and will be misused in the future.
I have not been receiving emails from the proponents of that page. The only ones who seem to be noticing it are, us Muslims — and for some reason Pakistani Muslims more than any other. If we too had ignored the offensive page — as it deserves to be ignored —it would have gone the exact same way to oblivion as thousands of other sophomoric attempts at cheap attention seeking on the internet.
The only people who have turned this from nothingness into a huge issue, is us. I am sure that those who set up the page are jumping up and down and thanking us for making their page such a huge success. And that is what pains me.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 21st, 2010.