Muhammad and the fundamentalists

The scale of the internet censorship imposed in Pakistan is startling. The supposed sacrilege of depicting Muhammad is once more the trigger. The government there has blocked first Facebook and now YouTube in reaction to the popular “Everybody Draw Muhammad” day that took off on Facebook and then went viral. Other social network sites including Flickr have had restrictions put on them.

The provocative idea was itself a reaction to the recent censorship of a South Park episode that had angered some Muslims because it showed their prophet in a bear outfit. The new protest seems to have achieved its desired effect. Escalation seems inevitable.

The Pakistani government’s solution is foolish, not just because it curbs freedom of speech, but also because it will result in far more images of Muhammad in circulation and far more people looking at them (I’m sure I’m not the only one to have Googled “Everybody Draw Muhammad” this morning). Presumably this is the opposite of what they want to achieve.

It is disconcerting that in yesterday’s Guardian the journalist Declan Walsh wrote

At one level, the controversy pits free speech fundamentalists in the west against religious extremists in Pakistan

The phrase “free speech fundamentalists” here is sloppy rhetoric. Presumably a “free speech fundamentalist” would be someone who believed that total freedom of speech was an absolute right that shouldn’t be compromised under any circumstances. He or she would tolerate direct incitements to violence, disclosure of official secrets, false advertising, and much more. But you don’t have to be a fundamentalist in this or any sense to believe that broad brush internet censorship is morally wrong as well as completely counterproductive.

The Pakistani censorship isn’t just an issue for free speech fundamentalists (if indeed they exist), but one for free speech moderates and advocates of openness everywhere.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Plus
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • Reddit
  • Email
  • RSS


  1. Posted 28May10 at 6:34 am | Permalink

    Politicians everywhere know that in their business, swift decisive action – no matter how ill-conceived or ultimately ineffectual — is always favored over sense.

  2. Posted 28May10 at 4:32 pm | Permalink
    David Evans

    Even a lover of free speech might consider that the Pakistan government’s action, which deprived moderates in Pakistan of much needed information and support, was a foreseeable consequence of “Everybody Draw Muhammad”, and that it might be better to find some less inflammatory way of campaigning. And yes, I know it’s a response to Muslim threats, but in the real world “He started it” is not always the best argument.