Among the usual slogans raised by the Pakistani demonstrators in protest against the “Everybody Draw Mohammad” online campaign that was launched by an American cartoonist, what grabbed my attention was a sign that read “death to Facebook.” The slogan seemed to be out of context with the crowds of angry demonstrators who waved their fists threateningly to intimidate and warn those who they considered guilty of insulting their creed.
Perhaps we have gotten used to the death threats, from “death to America” to “death to the enemies” and death to a never-ending chain of other adversaries. But death to a website is definitely the clearest sign of a paradox between what should exist and what really does exist in our state of affairs, crises and our approach in dealing with the communications revolution.
The Pakistani government rushed to block YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter along with nearly 1000 other sites. This step was meant to hit back at the new campaign but instead it was a bid to suppress something that cannot be suppressed and is largely uncontrollable. It won’t take long before modern technology manages to bypass all attempts to block [websites] if it has not done so already.
The technical and practical aspect of the issue is ineffective and futile. What remains is the significance of the incident and what it symbolizes. The so-called campaign that was launched under the pretext of protecting freedom of speech led to death threats being issued, protests being staged and to those who began the vulgar campaign disassociating themselves from it. But the worst thing is that the fuse might blow at any minute causing more crises that would add to an already extensive record of tense relations between Muslim communities and the West.
Scores of observers, including Western intellectuals of high standing in the media and cultural circles, wrote articles against the latest cartoon campaign. Their criticism did not stem from being less keen about glorifying the freedom of speech or being less eager to promote democracy; rather, it stemmed from this awareness that a more rational and less provocative approach to the established norms in Muslim communities would bring about better results.
It is true that the person who launched the “Everybody Draw Mohammad” campaign on Facebook has apologized, withdrawn her call and has rejected abusing the freedom of speech in order to insult Islam. It is also true that Facebook put a stop to the campaign. However, there has been another setback.
In order for the protests in Pakistan to have real value and effect, demonstrators should have chosen a slogan other than “Death to Facebook,” as it cannot die and it is not an entity that can be sentenced to death. Just as Facebook gave the creator of the campaign the opportunity to make such a call, it also provided others with the chance to respond to it. Thousands of Facebook fans spearheaded a campaign to hit back at it and confront it.
Freedom of speech cannot be celebrated by launching such campaigns on Facebook. In the same way, Muslims will not gain respect by making death threats against certain countries or websites.