Updates to this story
The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has issued a block on Facebook until the 31st of May, following controversy over a page which featured depictions of the Prophet Mohammed.
A petition was filed by the Islamic Lawyers Forum, which was looking for an outright ban on the social networking website. The Facebook fan page which caused such a stir was a group called "Draw Mohammed Day," which asked users to post caricatures. The aim of the site, it says on its info page, is not to slander the average Muslim.
"It's not a Muslim/Islam hatepage, we simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammed depictions, that we're not afraid of them - that they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us to silence."
Despite the page's supposed good intentions, Justice Ijaz Chaudhry of the Lahore High Court issued an order for the temporary block on the site. While the censorship may be hard to understand for many in the West, it is not surprising that there has been outrage directed at websites that directly offend the doctrine of Islam. The page itself says it is showing solidarity against 'extremism,' but the fact is that depictions of prophets are blasphemous in Islam anyway - regardless of how a Muslim chooses to respond to it.
The Information Technology Ministry got in touch with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on court orders to put a block on Facebook and all other sites that displayed "sacrilegious caricatures" of the Prophet Mohammed.
However, the Internet is a difficult thing to ban, and avid users will often find a way around it. The PTA in the mean time has been directed to "remain alert and watchful and block all such links displaying the profane caricatures immediately." It also asks users to get in touch if they find such content.
Again, while we can understand that this group could upset Muslims you can find anti-religious sentiment all over the web, directed to, and from, all creeds and races.
We talked to Tamir Ali, founder of the anti-draw Mohammed day Facebook group. He said to TechEye:
"Before becoming entangled in the freedom of speech debate I refer you to the page 'draw mohammed day'. If this is freedom of speech I would much rather be part of a communist society. The problem with any entity being undefined, in this case speech, means it will inevitably fall into the hands of tyrants and ill minded people who will exploit it to their benefit. These people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use. There is a boundary to everything. This boundary is created by the government or the people and protects those that need protecting. Freedom is 2 way; it stops becoming freedom when it infringes the views and incites hatred amongst 1.7 billion of the worlds population.
"The creator of all this, Molly Norris, said that if millions of people draw pictures of Muhammad, Islamist terrorists would not be able to murder them all. What logic?! If I gather millions of Islamist terrorists to incite hatred around the world is my reasoning logical seeing as they won't be able to arrest us all! Not to mention it would contravene The Public Order Act '86 and Racial & Religious Hatred Act '06.
"I am not overly religious and yet I find myself outraged beyond belief that Facebook has allowed this to continue. Whether it be a publicity stunt just to spark controversy is irrelevant; there are hundreds of anti-Islamic groups on facebook so I suspect a more sinister motive on Facebook's part. That's a story for another day.
"This is all irrelevant though unless you understand the meaning of the word 'Ummah' in Islam. A community, a consensus, a body. Every torment suffered by a fellow human being, we should feel equally pained and strive to better their situation. And the head of that body is the beloved Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). This whole argument cannot be contextualised unless you understand the importance of this great man in the religion of Islam. Only then can you form a justified argument. In regards to Pakistan banning Facebook I completely agree and applaud them for this act of defiance. For tyranny to get a foothold, all it takes is men of good conscience to remain silent."