I have to say that ever since I decided that I agreed with David Hume that moral principles are by and large expressions of emotive positions that precede the moral justification for them, I’ve lost interest in discussing issues like free speech.

Now, while I don’t believe that there is a very good rational argument to be made for the morality of absolute free speech, I really like it (as prescribed in the US first amendment) as a working principle. By that I mean I strongly prefer living in societies which adhere to the principle of absolute free speech as far as is possible and which uphold the idea of absolute free speech as an ideal worth striving for even if certain exceptions have to be made for Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes’ “Shouting fire in a crowded theatre”. My personal opinion is that free speech is the single most important value to look for in a society (I agree generally with Orwell sahib who said “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”) Therefore to me, a society like the US which has the closest approximation to absolute free speech in the world is preferable to a society like Western Europe where a combination of historical baggage and a lack of written constitutional principles has compromised free speech somewhat. Both these societies are VASTLY preferable to a society like Pakistan where restriction on free speech based on religious principles is an established norm.

Now this is my personal preference. I am sure that there are some people who value other things more than they value the principle of free speech. For example, there are those who seem to value their right to outrage and irritation at the perpetrators of Draw Muhammad Day more than they value the principle of free speech. To them, it’s more important in a situation like this to express their irritation at the hypocrisy and islamophobia of those involved in this activity. That’s fair enough. An example seems to be Dr. Awab Alvi who, for the last few weeks, seems to have been involved in a campaign to request facebook to ban the “everybody draw muhammad day” page. Dr. Alvi’s argument essentially is that facebook is not a venue for absolute free speech – facebook has shut down pages about holocaust denial and pornography in the past and so for it to not shut down the “Everybody Draw Muhammad Page” is a sign of its hypocrisy.

By making this argument Dr. Alvi is essentially breaking down the argument for free speech as a principle. According to him, since facebook has already displayed a tendency to ignore the principles of free speech, it should make another exception in the case of DMD in order to assuage his offended sensibilities.

Fair enough. Dr. Alvi does not seem like an advocate of free speech. Plenty of people in the world aren’t. Dr. Alvi clearly values his love for Islam and his desire not to be offended more than he values some unattainable ideal of free speech.

But imagine my surprise today when I loaded his blog today only to see that Dr. Alvi was now organizing a protest against the facebook ban by the LHC. It seems like Dr. Alvi was a passionate advocate of a certain limited restriction of free speech but when the LHC built on his arguments and prescribed a solution (based on limiting free speech, a principle that Dr. Alvi surely agrees with), the LHC went too far for him by banning facebook completely.

What are we to take away from this? The Lahore High Court could argue that there is no absolute free speech – just as Dr. Alvi argued when he advocated a campaign to shut down the facebook page for DMD. Now one can criticize the LHC’s ban for being too broad and heavy-handed, but surely that’s a subjective assessment isn’t it? Many people would consider Dr. Alvi’s solution to be too heavy-handed as well. Having chipped away at the principle of free speech and passionately argued that free speech is an illusion and that it’s hypocritical of westerners to value it as an absolute principle, Dr. Alvi has absolutely no leg to stand on when protesting the Lahore High Court’s ban of Facebook. The Lahore High Court ban is simply a larger-scale expression of a million intolerant Dr. Alvi’s self-righteously chipping away at the concept of free speech. The Lahore High Court judgment is the realization of a societal attitude exemplified by Dr. Alvi.

I don’t really believe in morals for the sake of themselves or the value of taking a moral position in isolation from its larger impact on society. To me, individual positions are simply components of larger societal trends. By that, I mean that if you want a particular outcome, you should take a position that makes that outcome more likely to happen, nuances be damned. A country of 170 million individuals each with the attitude towards free speech possessed by Dr. Alvi is exactly the country which makes likely the existence of a set of laws making blasphemy punishable by death. Individual opinions are simply part of a larger collective and the general direction of individual opinions determines the nature of societies that they are a part of. So to me it’s absolutely meaningless when someone supporting the A, closure of the DMD facebook page argues that he never wanted B. facebook to be banned, or that he never wanted C. Pakistani Christians to be victimized for blasphemy. A tiny bit of thought should have shown him that his position on the relatively trivial issue of A contributed to a society that collectively created B and, yes, C. It simply doesn’t matter that he didn’t support B. or C. They were simply the consequence of his choice to support A.

So to Pakistanis who are upset about the facebook ban but preferred to express their outrage at Draw Muhammad Day rather than affirm their support for free speech (even if it offended their religious sensibilities) I have only two words: you’re retarded.

BTW, didn’t mean to single out Teeth Maestro – this article on Dawn blog is pretty much interchangable with Teeth Maestro’s posts.

19 responses to “facebook

  1. takhalus

    I don’t agree that freedom of speech is an absolute..one persons freedom ends where anothers begins. If you can say what you want, you should also be expected to live with the consequences.

    The European example is varied, but unfettered media also smears people and sours the mood towards people. Fox news or the UK right wing press are examples.

  2. Rabia

    fair enough. the issue is, though, that if you argue for restrictions on free speech in a particular direction (in this case in order to protect your religious sensibilities) you should not be surprised when the society you live in restricts free speech in that direction more than you individually consider to be appropriate.

  3. Interesting thoughts. A few reactions:

    1. I’m with you connecting A to B, but not to C. The blasphemy laws are not about freedom of speech, but freedom of religion (reversed). Those two freedoms are not parallel, indeed they are even opposed at times (as in this case — certain Muslims may believe that they are not being allowed to practice their religion by being subjected to images of Muhammad). An interesting question would be: how different are Muslims asking for Facebook to be shut down vs. French govt banning the burqa?

    2. Being against something, but only up to a point, is not hypocritical or even logically problematic (though it might be in certain cases). Imagine if Imran Khan said the following: “those who support military action in Waziristan have no right to criticize or complain about civilian casualties, because the former implies the latter almost necessarily. Therefore, if you are against civilian casualties, you must be against military action in any form.” What would you think about that argument?

  4. Rabia

    1. well basically blasphemy laws take away free speech rights at the expense of religious ones so in that sense they are about restricting the individual’s right to free speech sort of like libel laws. What I meant by that argument was that if everyone (even liberals!) take such an offended attitude to draw muhammad day (like they refuse to consider the rationale behind it as anything but pure hatred against Muslims) then that will lead to a society in which religious ‘rights’ are always preferred over individual ones, and therefore legitimize the blasphemy laws that we have.

    2. Yeah, I agree. I think it depends on the situation. In the specific case of blasphemy, I think that liberal Pakistanis should take a more critical approach than they currently are, the reason being that there are plenty of horrible cases of people being given draconian punishments for blasphemy every year. So if you’re liberal and would like to see the blasphemy laws repealed, it would be nice if you could moderate your kneejerk reaction to Draw Muhammad Day so as not to strengthen the hands of the rightwing nutcases. But in the example you gave above, I agree that neither extreme position (pacificism or support for brutal military action) is the correct one and the nuanced one is the best. But I would say that’s because the nuanced position is the desired outcome in that case, whereas in the case of blasphemy, the extreme position – i.e. the complete eradication of legal restrictions on ‘blasphemous’ speech – is the desired outcome.

  5. ahmad

    I support Dr Awab’s position – I don’t think it’s retarded.
    Absolute free speech is a silly goal. Sellers of pornography also take protection under free speech .
    Under absolute free speech you would’nt mind something like slogans Death to the jews or ahmadis or any other hate speech in Pakistan would you ?
    The speaker can always claim protection under free speech and claim he is not (morally) responsible if someone actually goes on to do something stupid.
    Your agenda is clear:
    You do not care about the Prophet (SAW) and want to remove the love of the Prophet (SAW) from people’s hearts . You want to people to think of the Prophet (SAW) in some detached ‘rational” way and not passionately emotional way.
    ‘As a muslim I am supposed to love the Prophet (SAW) even more than my parents.

  6. takhalus

    the key Rabia is not one or the other freedom versus no freedom, even in the US there are serious consequences to saying certain things in public.

    It’s about balance, in a progressive society you need freedom of speech to a point and the freedom to oppose any restrictions on speech .

  7. Rabia

    ahmad, there are a couple of issues
    1. how much free speech should be allowed on a social networking site like facebook. Here, obviously it’s a gray area since pornography and other things are banned in order to create a certain environment. You and Dr. Awab also want to ban disrespect to the Prophet. Fair enough.

    2. how much free speech should be legally allowed in society. As I said, again, it’s totally based on your preference. Some people would prefer that hate speech be allowed in exchange for the right to say what they want. BTW it’s funny you bring up death to the ahmadis or jews since those are pretty commonly accepted slogans in Pakistani society.

    3. Yes, you’re right – I suspect that a lot of the over-reaction to depictins of the Prophet are about proving the extent of ones emotional response to blasphemy. Have you seen this video for example? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2IHnWY-i6Y

    from your comments I gather you would like fox news to be regulated? how would that work?

  8. Rabia

    here’s someone explaining why he prefers a boycott to a ban… not a bad explanation:


    Now i’m sure many will instantly assume that i am against the boycott of facebook. I am actually not.

    I am personally of the opinion that the muslim world ought to know what type of misconceptions and prejudices the west hold about the Prophet (pbuh) and thus ought to be able to see these drawings if they so wish.

    Yet if somebody does not wish to be faced with such material, the boycott is the most amazing solution.

    The facebook boycott actually got a lot of support. Most of the people in my office for instance had decided to join the boycott.

    However by banning facebook PTA has pretty much nullified the effect of the boycott.

    Had PTA not banned facebook, and the boycott gone through as planned, the effect would have been far reaching.

    Firstly the rest of the world would have gotten a true picture of muslim unity instead of the unity imposed by a government through banning it.

    Secondly, facebook generates its revenues from advertising, which is directly linked to the number of people using the service. If they were faced with a huge number of people voluntarily boycotting the service and thus reducing the number of active members, they would be faced with true and honest statistics from their servers mamking it clear that they did something stupid.

    The biggest damage to the boycott has not come from FB or any western group, but rather from PTA. THis boycott could have been a huge story. It was a peaceful expression of dissatisfaction by muslims. Too bad the west will never get to learn about it. Instead all they will know now is that Pakistan is turning into a theocratic police state that denies its citizens the basic right to access the internet.

    Thankyou PTA for screwing things up yet again..

    oh and btw let’s not forget that all the pornography and other dubikous material on the internet is STILL AVAILABLE.
    Posted 11 minutes ago on 20 May 2010


  9. Genghis

    Re: David Hume. Research by social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt has also shown that moral justifications are post hoc rationalizations of emotive responses. His incest hypothetical arguments are good examples of this phenomenon. It’s pretty well empirically established now that people are skilled at finding reasons to support their gut feelings.

    Anyway, coming back to the cartoon/Facebook controversy, Comedy Central over-reacted by restricting the South Park depiction of Muhammad.

    – Let’s get real. Hell, we live in a country where you can’t turn on the radio without some patriot telling us that Muhammad was a demon possessed child molester. Syndicated cartoonists in the United States have been drawing cartoons lampooning Muhammad pretty regularly since 9-11, for example, a syndicated columnist drew a crazed Muhammad driving a nuke truck a few years back. There have been numerous best selling books which have attached Muhammad, National evangelical leaders have called him a pedophile, great Americans have debated on both Fox and other cable networks about whether Muhammad was a terrorist etc. etc. (If you are bored, go check Press Releases by CAIR since 9-11). Of course, nobody suffers from any negative consequences of saying anything against Big Mo (no matter how outlandish) in the US and the evidence is the sheer banality and frequency with which it keeps happening.

    – However, there is a counter-narrative in this greatest Nation of Liberty. Some great Americans believe that criticizing Islam/Muslims is a great taboo in the US and are completely oblivious to what should be clearly in front of their eyes as I laid out in the preceding paragraph. In this counter-narrative no one can dare draw Muhammad or criticize Islam in the US because of violent Moozlems and lily-livered lamestream media. The Comedy Central execs who blocked the depiction of Big Mo bought this narrative completely. They were afraid of the phantom violent Muslims in the US who behead when Islam/Muhammad are ridiculed. It should be noted that South Park itself has already depicted Muhammad in cartoons, at least twice in previous South Park shows since 9-11. Who really criticized the latest show anyway? 6 losers from a bunker in NYC who are widely alleged to be agent-provocateurs anyway. Nobody else protested. CAIR, MPAC, MAS all ignored the cartoon. No one rallied against it. No protests of any kind, whatsoever. Unfortunately, the Comedy Central execs were more afraid of the narrative of violent Muslims in the US who can’t stand to see Islam/Muhammad ridiculed than to see what should really be obvious to anybody with half a brain.

    Also color me unconvinced about joining these these brave men and women who want to have a draw Muhammad cartoon day at Facebook. Memo to them: You are not standing at the gates of Vienna. There is no great taboo about ridiculing any aspect of Islam/Muslims in the US. It’s not brave to draw cartoons of Muhammad in the US (already have been drawn in the US newspapers, repeatedly) In fact, there is nothing brave about taking on the Moozlems in the US, period. Free speech in the United States is not under assault by this scared and servile minority of Muslims.

  10. Genghis

    I think another issue which some critics keep hammering on is the alleged double standard of the liberals in US/Europe in their responses to defending the free speech of the critics of Christians versus defending the free speech of critics of Muslims.

    There is a qualitative difference between free speech while attacks a besieged minority like the Muslims in the West and free speech which attacks the Christians in the West. Should Saudi liberals write editorials about defending the right of a Saudi man to attack the Shia or the Jews in a public forum in Jeddah. I am not that excited by defending the rights of a majority to attack an unpopular minority. Baaji Hirsi Ali does not need my defense while she sits in her barracks at AEI defending the US against the might of the Muslim immigrants in the US. I would rather spend my time defending Taslima Nasreen who spoke up on the plight of the Bangladeshi Hindus while in Bangladesh.

  11. Rabia

    Genghis, a couple of things:

    1. I think you’re absolutely correct in pointing out that drawing muhammad has become a tool in a tribal confrontation (one could almost call it war). I doubt (apart from a minority of militant classical liberals or something) many of the people enthusiastic about the DMD would as enthusiastically protest the banning of minarets or headscarf.

    2. People all over the world have a tendency to appeal to universal principles like ‘free speech’ when they are justifying their own tribal behaviour. It’s just a natural tendency because it makes tribal behaviour look less tribal and more justifiable. You see the same tendency in Muslims who oppose the headscarf ban – they’ll appeal to concepts of individual freedom. Do those people feel as strongly about individual freedom when it comes to Draw Muhammad Day? Of course not.

    3. I think you’re generalizing your experience in the US to the rest of the Western world. Did you take a look at that video I posted of that Lars Vilks speech and its aftermath? I thought that was scary as hell, I don’t know about you. Do you think it’s possible for people in the US to watch that kind of stuff coming out of Sweden and not feel a little worried? Like muslims, they too have a sense of ‘ummah’ with their brethren across the border, so I think it’s natural that they should feel some solidarity (not that they like the Swedes too much, otherwise, hehe). Also, stuff like DMD can be considered an act of pre-emption to prevent a Sweden or Netherlands like situation from arising in the US. Again, of course that’s confrontational. Is that kind of confrontation unjustified? I’m not sure.

    4. Also, you can’t ignore recent high profile terror cases in the US like “Jihadi Jane” who was apparently plotting to go and kill Lars Vilks. It’s not like this anger at Muslim reactions to blasphemy by non Muslims is totally spontaneous or coming out of nowhere.

    5. Regarding your point about Ayaan Hirsi Ali vs. Taslima Nasreen. I think you’re right but it works both ways. One of the things that’s really upset me about this whole brouhaha over the facebook ban in Pakistan is how much outrage there can be among the Pakistani urban class about free speech when it’s something that affects them, the majority. Imagine if there had been this much constant outrage against the blasphemy laws. Instead, with the blasphemy laws there’s an assumption that going against the dominant right wing discourse is a waste of time.

    • Genghis

      (1) I admit to unwisely extrapolating my American experience to Western Europe.

      (2) I did see the Lars Vilks video. I agree it’s scary. However, I don’t believe that the antics of the American right wing are borne by a desire to prevent a Larks Vilks kind of a scenario in the United States. Some have suggested that the facebook drawing and other similar stunts is also a way to ‘spread the risk’. Again, color me skeptic. What lies at the heart of the American right wing is a quest for a cataclysmic war of civilizations. Yes, there is some principled opposition by folks like Nick Gillespie of Reason.com etc. but your usual suspects of Limbaugh, Stern, Michelle Malkin, Red State have motives which have little to do with defense of free speech.

      (3) There is something I find personally distasteful about going after the deeply revered iconography of powerless Muslims in Western Europe. Muslims are not exactly the dominant force, the ‘man’ if you will in Holland or Sweden, so going after them seems more like ‘piling on’ than marching on as the vanguards of freedom. Muslims are publicly attacked by virulently Anti-Muslim groups who now sit in Parliaments of those countries. Hirsi Ali likes invoking Voltaire and his attacks on the Catholic Church. But that’s learning the wrong lesson from Voltaire’s blasphemy. We (the liberal minded) idolize Voltaire for attacking the Catholic Church, a very powerful institution, while living in France. Would we also idolize Voltaire for taking on the small and unpopular Jewish minority in France? I sure hope not. I would rather applaud the ACLU which lost 1/3rd of its donors when it protected the speech of Nazis in Skokie. There is a fine line between defending free speech and using free speech for opportunistic airing out of racial unease. I don’t know what lies in the heart of Christopher Hitchens when he passionately defends free speech and even more passionately defends the banning of burqas, and I wonder if even Hitches fully understands why he opposes.

      (4) You are of course right about the Muslim hypocrisy. The Pakistani urban class is mostly ‘nuts’ and as an Indian, I say that with sadness and not glee. I have Pakistani friends studying Phds in Political Science (not Ahsan from 5Rs!) who have argued with me that RAW was behind the attacks in Mumbai and my Pakistani aunt just informed me yesterday that she believes that Faisal Shahzad was set up by the US government. To your point about the Pakistani urban class not clamoring for the overturn of blasphemy laws because they don’t think they will ever be overturned, I will be surprised if the Pakistani urban class actually supports the overturning of all blasphemy laws even if they were convinced that they could be overturned. I have members of my own family (both Indian and Pakistani) who will readily come down to blows if you were to insult the Prophet to their faces. I have serious doubts about the liberal (in the classical sense) credentials of both urban, outwardly liberal Muslims. The Muslim intelligentsia lacks the ability to engage in serious introspection. Introspection of course is a voluntary self medication which doesn’t work when you have a siege mentality. The siege mentality of Muslims will of course be exacerbated when more Muslims try to blow up the US and the response by the US to those attacks.

      (5) I have to confess about harboring at some level the same tribal motivations I attribute to the right wing. As a completely non-religious person of Muslim origin, I sometimes wonder why I care. That’s of course best explained by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, who stated….‘I have none of the hallmarks of a Muslim; why is it that every humiliation that the Muslims suffer pains and grieves me so much?’

  12. takhalus

    I support a media code of conduct ideally self regulated..it wouldn’t be fox specific.

  13. Rabia

    genghis: regarding what you said about christopher hitchens, just saw a quote by someone on twitter that I thought was pretty funny:

    “Facebook-Pakistan talks successful, to be renamed ‘Burqabook’. EU is now mulling a ban”

  14. humza ikram

    muslim league lawnmakers in punjab assembly demanded ban on sms service of mobile phone operator because they feel it is corrupting youth. and now same muslim leaguer friend are sending me are texting me to send forward there msg of facebook boycott to atleast 10 people if I love our prophet.

  15. kabulipulao

    This is definitely one of the most retarded argument I have ever read, and that too in near perfect English! All I can say is, what a waste!

    So what you are saying is that it is an “all or nothing” approach when it comes to that promised land of “absolute freedom”. In other words, by your logic, a father no longer has the right to discipline his child (for that child’s freedom of expression in cussing at the cat) because disciplining could inevitably lead to beatings.

    The Dr. Sahib you have slandered in your blog comes across as the epitome of a noble man. He took a stance against facebook’s caving into Islamophobia. Yet, when he saw that the machinery of government was now weighing in, he criticized the government. Because, like any tolerant man, he believed that while he had the right to opine, it was not the place for the government to butt in. This is similar to the case of Ahmedis getting declared as non-muslims. While muslims have the right to discuss and debate and do head butting on who is muslim and who is not, it wasnt the place of the government do come to the side of one.

    And by the way, how can you say from one side of your mouth that this “chipping away on freedom” in Pakistan leads to persecution of chrisitians, but you have no qualms about the “chipping away of freedom” of muslims in America / West when anti-muslim cartoons are drawn? Have you seen the cartoons on that facebook page? They are not just about Muhammad, they are about muslims, who are fast on their way to becoming jews of early 20th century.

    With all due respect to your hatred for Muslims and Muhammad, you are speaking from all two sides of your mouth, if not all three. Take a dose of your own advice, and get some perspective on tolerance.

  16. Rabia

    “And by the way, how can you say from one side of your mouth that this “chipping away on freedom” in Pakistan leads to persecution of chrisitians, but you have no qualms about the “chipping away of freedom” of muslims in America / West when anti-muslim cartoons are drawn?”

    Let’s contrast the two situations.

    In the case of Pakistan:
    a ban on blasphemous websites is a precursor on a ban on blasphemous speech which in turn lends support to the criminalization of blasphemous speech and which then lends support to harsh penalties for blasphemers which are then used to victimize minorities in Pakistan.

    In the US:
    No ban on blasphemous websites, no criminalization of blasphemous speech for ANY religion. What does that lead to, exactly? What freedoms are “chipped away” by someone’s right to their opinion about Islam?
    I also have another question for you. Since you and I are both from Pakistan we know the kind of anti-semitic, anti-hindu, anti-christian, anti-Ahmadi propaganda that is completely permissible in Pakistan. Correct? Do you think that that should be banned as well? Or is it just “Islamophobia” (that you define as anything that pisses you off as a Muslim) that should be banned in order to protect the feelings of Muslims. If so, why do you think non-Muslims should respect this one-sided free speech argument? I don’t want to get into Dr. Awab too much again, but he quite clearly represents this hypocritical attitude. On the one hand he has a group called “Defence of Internet Freedom” and what they are doing is no doubt quite commendable. On the other hand, you can see here that he is happy that the draw Muhammad Day website was taken down by its web hosting provider. Do you not see this as hypocrisy? To me this looks like he wants free speech for himself and no limitations on his own internet usage. But for other people, he wants to restrict them and shut them down. All of this is justified by hysterical assertions like your own that Muslims have become the new Jews.

  17. Rabia

    oh and by the way, your analogy with the Ahmadi situation is incorrect.

    People like Dr. Awab and a million other muslims are working to privately pressure web hosting providers of Draw Muhammad day website to shut down the website. In the Ahmadi analogy that would be similar to private individuals in Pakistan pressuring the owner of a plot of land on which an Ahmadi mosque was built to force the closure of the Mosque.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: