Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Your Freedom Ends Where My Nose Begins | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Today I will put forward two contradictory positions with regards to the issue of freedom of information on the internet. The first position advocates the forced closure of certain websites, whilst the opposite stance calls for blocked websites to be re-opened.

The British Minister of Security [Pauline Neville-Jones] recently travelled to the United States, in order to convince American authorities to adopt a policy of blocking internet websites that serve and incite terrorism. In her speech at the Brookings Institute, she said that now it is the time to close down websites that promote terrorism and incite murder, and those which convey messages between terrorist groups. She cited the website of Anwar al-Awlaqi, the American of Yemeni descent who counter-terrorism authorities have labelled the new Bin Laden, as an example. According to the British Minister of Security, al-Awlaqi’s website is now blocked in the United Kingdom, and she requested that the US act in a similar manner. She said that giant internet servers in the US currently host numerous terrorist and extremist websites which must be shut down, and she declared that the British police now have the authority to close dangerous websites.

However at the same time the US Congress is debating a draft resolution that is proposing to lift the block on websites in many parts of the world. The draft resolution stresses that freedom of expression and the freedom to exchange information must be maintained re-opening such websites. It is worth noting that this project has already been successful, as revealed in an article published by the Washington: A company specialising in reinstating banned websites has successfully circumvented government laws in Iran, thus enabling nearly 250,000 internet users to visit formerly blocked websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

This draft resolution, put forward by US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, advocates the freedom of the internet, and directly contradicts the proposal put forward by Pauline Neville-Jones, which seeks to close down websites that exploit the internet.

Therefore the following question must be asked: which minister should we side with? De we fear the evil of the internet, or the evil of censorship?

Anyone who truly believes in freedom cannot side with the British Minister of Security, yet anyone who is aware of the amount of destruction threatening the world as a result of extremism and terrorism cannot ignore the danger of the internet being exploited. We live in an age of hard choices, and we are fully aware that there is no clear distinction between right and wrong, because everything is mixed up.

Personally, I am against proposals to ban [freedom of] opinion, including even the radical discourse of extremists. They have the full right to express their opinion and disapprove of our positions as they wish, as long as they do so in a peaceful manner, without incitement, takfirism [labelling others as infidels], calling for murder, or declaring jihad. There is no value in only having one way of thinking and one set of opinions in this vast cyberspace. We do not want everyone to be moderate liberals, westerners, or modernists. Without religious extremists, traditionalists, or radicals, our discussions are of no value, and our societies will not progress. However, at the same time, freedom has its limits. “Your freedom ends where my nose begins” which means that we should neither be aggressive, nor should we incite harm upon others, if they disagree with our opinions. This is a clear principle, and anyone who violates this is liable to be shunned by their society. This is because a website that incites violence is rejected [by society], in the same manner that physically assaulting someone is also rejected, because this contradicts the freedom of expression. Likewise, websites that advocate assassinations, the manufacturing of explosives, and collecting information in order to harm others, are also rejected.

Time will pass before the world is able to handle the internet in an effective manner, as was the case in the past, for example, with the invention of the automobile. Yet these days, cars have their own regulations and specific uses.