Why is YouTube still in chains?

The internet has given people a new level of freedom and a higher degree of access to information. YouTube is not just a video sharing website, it is a platform

There are two sides to every picture: the sentence is simple, declarative and apparently does not seem to have hidden meanings. The problem is that the devil is in the details. An examination of the affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan leads us to two possibilities: either we have started believing that the practice of using religion for personal, financial and political gains is in fact the most sacred religious duty conferred upon us, or we believe that we are the only Islamic state in the world. People living in other Islamic states are just pretending. Though the government of Turkey, our brother Islamic country, seems to follow in our footsteps, it is miles away from being a ‘pure’ Islamic nation, like us. Since 2012, the government of a nuclear Islamic nation is afraid of a website. Official reasons in Pakistan, we all know, are never the actual reasons. Our previous government told the nation that Youtube hosts blasphemous videos and proudly announced that the site is restricted in our pure country. Indeed, the government thought it was not the video rather Youtube itself that hurt the sacred feelings of pure Muslims. So it kicked the hornet’s nest and the PPP government became certain of its place in the VIP quarters of paradise. Once in opposition, however, it found another way to serve the nation as a humble student of reality. Shazia Marri, PPP parliamentarian, submitted a resolution to lift the ban on Youtube immediately saying that since the people were using the website through proxies there is no point in a ban. Here we see that her demand to remove the ban on Youtube was not based on principle, rather on the absurdity of the ban itself. Proxy websites are not an invention of today and information technology is developing at a faster rate than that of our politicians’ capacity to process the ongoing changes in internet life.

Had the PPP government realised this fact, it would not have banned the video sharing website but would have tried to find another solution to block access to the blasphemous video. Even if a ban was necessary, it should have been temporary, to cool down flared sentiments. The current government indeed could find other solutions to block access to the allegedly ‘blasphemous’ movie, but since taking power it has been operating on punishment mode. To make people believe that the government exists, something needed to be done, so it decided to continue the ban and establish its writ. The Taliban might issue a certificate saying that the PML-N leadership shall get the same VIP treatment in paradise as the PPP. Maybe the Sharif-led government thought that lifting the ban would make religious extremists furious and bring them out on the streets. They may have forgotten that once our pure Muslims brothers are on the roads and streets, they consider it their religious duty to loot shops. Any property that cannot be looted, they set on fire. It should have refused to be blackmailed and talked directly to their mysterious masters.

Banning Youtube in the name of Islam is no different from the practices of the Taliban, who mask their criminal activities with sharia. The ban on Youtube is, in fact, only to deprive people of their constitutional right to access information and express their opinion freely and independently. Mr Sharif has a proven tendency towards civil dictatorship and wishes to keep media and state institutions under his thumb. In his last tenure he unsuccessfully tried to crush a media group and the Supreme Court (SC) was attacked by his party’s hoodlums. After passing the so-called Protection of Pakistan bill in the National Assembly, he once again proves that everything changes except the nature of man. To keep the media on his side, he continues to reward journalists with offices and ambassadorships.

YouTube, on the other hand, is difficult to control but easy to block. Even if we believe just for a moment that the site is restricted due to a specific blasphemous video, if it was not in the interest of the government to chain Youtube, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) could block the video links. Now, assume again that the PTA technicians were not able to block the links and to completely chain the site was the only option. Even in this case, the government should have lifted the ban when Google removed the video under the orders of a US court. Or, at least when Shazia Marri submitted the resolution to lift the ban, the matter should not have been delayed. So we are left with nothing else to believe except that for some unknown reason our democratic governments feel threatened by the exercise of free expression in the country, as it is by the establishment of local government institutions. The local government system plays a vital role in strengthening democratic norms among people. It allows people to set their agenda and decide how to distribute economic resources. It empowers the masses. However, it also means that in the presence of local government institutions, politicians in Lahore and Islamabad will not receive development funds and new leadership will emerge from these institutions. Hence there are unlimited hurdles in the way of local government.

The internet has given people a new level of freedom and a higher degree of access to information. YouTube is not just a video sharing website, it is a platform. In addition to entertainment, it also offers a great deal of knowledge. If you wish to enhance your computer knowledge, it is there to help. If you wish to listen to Islamic scholars, you can do so. It is not just a website but a multimedia library. It has a great number of videos about computer programming, software development, current affairs, technology and other topics. Therefore, the ban is as illogical as Ishaq Dar’s statement that the mysterious arrival of $ 1.5 billion in the national treasury was a gift with no strings attached.

Realistically speaking, it is nonsense to ban any website. There are proxy websites that are specially developed for people living in countries where the internet is censored. Smartphones are full of free applications that help unblock sites. Some are specially programmed for YouTube. Our government can learn from the example of Turkey where the government blocked Twitter and by the evening of the same day people found ways to continue tweeting. If a government cannot implement a decision, there is no point issuing the orders and becoming a laughing stock. However, even if our politicians and religious scholars are really concerned about the presence of blasphemous material in cyberspace, banning the sites and chaining the internet is illogical. Instead, with logic and argument, our scholars should talk and convince the global community, representatives of our government should raise the issue at the international forums like the United Nations and work with the world to discourage and control blasphemous material. However, since that requires lots of hard work and does not offer material gain neither our government nor our scholars will do anything in this regard. Let us hope that soon the day will come when the internet will truly be free and YouTube unchained.

Daily Times

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