By: Zaair Hussain
I had been considering writing on this topic for a while, but I foolishly believed it to be ‘trivial’ or ‘unimportant’, or even ‘so incredibly stupid that my brain hurt to dwell on it for more than a moment’. But our elected leadership and our guardians of justice have managed to open my stubborn eyes. If they apparently believe it to be the most important stand they will ever take, how can I ignore it?
I commend the powers that be, from all branches of the government. Our detractors may insist that our government has all the efficacy of a wet paper bag at a pillow fight but we have proved them wrong. We have proved that when it matters, when we come down to it, when our future is on the line we do not infight, we do not waver. We are coming up to a year since we have patriotically held firm and held together in that most important of issues: YouTube.
This was a necessary step, of course, in showing western powers that we will not be bullied from without, that we will fight tooth and nail for our people. Yes, we kidnapped and detained people within our borders without due process at the behest of other governments. Yes, we allow drones to bombard civilian areas. Yes, we are constantly being dictated terms due to our coffers being so perennially depleted that we envy countries with a cash flow problem (because it implies that they, in fact, have a cash flow).
But one video among millions (available on many other websites) that can only offend someone if they search for it, view it and keep watching till the end? Now they have pushed us too far.
Showing our defiance, showing we are not ones to shy away from an international tussle, our newly appointed Minister for Information Anusha Rehman said we would unblock YouTube once every website, as in the entire internet, was free from objectionable content and presumably once the Sahara Desert was free from grains of sand. Neither criticism, nor mockery, nor our own staggering ignorance about the way the internet works has stopped our relentless defence.
Such is commitment, in the face of critics like Mina Muhibullah Kakakhel, who insist that students are suffering from missing the literally millions of educational and research oriented videos available on YouTube. If she truly cared about students, she would have realised long ago that no education is worth the risk that some evildoer will come into our schools, hold the children hostage, and force them to search for, open and watch the offending video.
We are a proud nation. We may negotiate with and harbour terrorists, we may have reduced our largest city to a nightmarish perpetual gangland through inaction, we may react to our annual floods with the foresight and reflexes of a man in a coma but by all that is holier than thou, we will not give in on this.
The Ostrich Defence is a time-honoured technique that we have perfected over time. Our ban of YouTube has not removed the videos because if we had the power to impose censorship worldwide I shudder (with delight of course!) to imagine what we’d do. But, like the magnificent ostrich (the most elegant and intelligent of all birds) we drive our heads into the sand with the comfortable knowledge that if we can’t see it, it can’t exist.
We occasionally couple this with our elegant Entitled Auntie Haggling Over Fish defence. Now, we claim with a straight face that would make the most consummate poker player blush, YouTube will suffer the loss of our custom. No more shall the completely free service profit from pious Pakistanis who never buy anything in their targeted ads. Like a shopkeeper who forgets his place, Google (YouTube’s parent company and almost certainly the 2030 owners of the world) will come back to the offended Auntie and grovel until she magnanimously restores them to her good graces.
And they certainly must. Without Pakistan, people will soon ask “Google who?” but will of course be unable to find the answer because no one remembers how to find things out without Google.
There is also a perfectly plausible security-based reason for this ban that can be understood via sufficient wringing of the brain (if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not wringing hard enough). By appeasing those who would have turned violent had YouTube not been banned – by definition, criminals and terrorists – we are embarking on a bold new strategy of pre-emptively surrendering, like a lifelong urban veteran wearily taking out his wallet at every traffic light whether anyone has asked him for it or not.
A more naïve leadership may have considered defending liberties and freedom to information, while punishing violent criminals. But so sagacious have we become that we have skipped over the formalities of attempting to control the situation, pretending the writ of the state can overrule rabble rousers, fighting, losing and negotiating. Indeed, we have skipped all that unnecessary hassle and moved straight to wringing our hands and asking whether aforementioned violent criminals would like some tea while they think of the next ridiculous demand, and the one after that, forever.
A point that has been brought up by weak-willed and unpatriotic Pakistanis is that we should be more thick-skinned, and ignore pathetic attempts at crude mockery by small and hateful people. The very idea! If our eyes offend us, we will cast them out. YouTube is a good start – but only a start.
We will ban every other video service that hosts a video uploaded by anyone, anywhere, that offends any Pakistani. We will ban search engines that return blasphemous insults if you search ‘blasphemous insults’. We will ban pens if a pen anywhere has been used to write offensive things because what other choice do we have? To not seek out, acquire and consume these rage-inducing pieces of media that literally anyone anywhere can create at any time? Ridiculous.
We must show we are ready to go back to the Stone Age, and even that only if those cave paintings are pre-approved. If not, back to living in trees, all the better to have a moral high ground while we become a frightening but fascinating spectacle for National Geographic.
We must show we are prepared to riot and murder a score of our own people (that’ll show those filthy westerners) every time an acne-riddled teenager anywhere decides he wants attention. Surely, allowing under-20 trolls the world over a chance to shut down our entire society every time they feel like it cannot possibly backfire.
So next time you feel depressed at the sheer scope of our unaddressed problems, next time you wonder what our government and judiciary – elected and supported by the mandate of the people in a heady rush of democracy – plan to do about extremism, power shortages, natural disasters and education, take heart: at least we’ve banned YouTube.
Zaair Hussain…The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org