Pakistan’s Social Media Ban Endangers Economic Growth

The Lahore High Court’s ban on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and some other social media sites was supported on Friday in Pakistan by rallies of students, attorneys and fundamentalists. Blackberry services have also been banned by the Pakistani telecom authority. But these knowledge workers are unwittingly shooting themselves in the foot and raising the question of whether highly religious societies are capable of economic development.

The Pakistani Urdu newspaper Jasarat, as translated by the USG Open Source Center, reported on May 21, 2010 that there were student protests against Facebook throughout Pakistan on Friday and that:

‘students from different educational institutions in Islamabad declared to stage a protest march toward the US Embassy on May 20 and said that the students were awake and those who insulted the prophet would face serious consequences. . .

These views were expressed by speakers at the protest rally, which was held in Federal Urdu University Islamabad Campus on May 18 and was organized by Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba to protest against the publication of defamatory caricatures. Students of Federal Urdu University staged a protest rally. The students chanted slogans saying; “We are slaves of the prophet; we are ready to die in prophet’s slavery; life is worthless without love for the prophet; our leader and guide is the prophet; our last prophet is Prophet (Muhammad); boycott of Facebook.” The students carried placards, which carried slogans that they would sacrifice their lives for the sake of honor of the prophet . . .”

The rallies were called for and planned by the fundamentalist Jama’at-i Islami and its student wing. One such demonstration, in Peshawar, called for a Pakistani boycott of all ‘countries’ where the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad existed, suggesting that he thought of a Facebook page as sort of like a newspaper with a physical edition.

The bans of entire sites, services and devices raises many questions about the future of Pakistan. The Pakistani government professed itself dismayed by the breadth of the ban, but said it had no choice but to comply with the court order.

The Lahore High Court seems clearly to have been behaving high-handedly in legislating from the bench this wideranging ban. After decades of kowtowing to governments, the judiciary is now asserting its independence. But there is a danger of a sort of judicial dictatorship if the current trend lines are maintained.

In some ways, the great Facebook affair in Pakistan echoes earlier controversies in China that led to the departure of google from that country.

In turn, the controversies raise the question of whether there are limits to economic and social development in ideological states. Ironically, Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy but its judiciary, earlier a champion of democracy, is in this instance behaving like the authoritarian Communist Party of China.

Facebook, Twitter and Blackberries are not just for fun after all. They are used by businesses and NGOs. The Internet is a distributed information system dependent on interaction and innovation.

Pakistan may be consigning itself to second class citizenship in the world information community with these bans. And, in its competition with India, it may be profoundly handicapping itself. India after all has a robust internet-based business sector. It is not clear that companies such as Infosys could function and survive in a hostile enviornment in which major internet vehicles were routinely banned.

The stakes are enormous. Some 42% of jobs in Washington State in the US are now estimated to be technology-based.

Pakistan, isolating itself from the world with these measures, may be positioning itself to lose out in the race for a better economic future.

Aljazeera English has video:

Posted in Pakistan | 18 Responses | Print |

18 Responses

  1. The rallies were called for and planned by the fundamentalist Jama’at-i Islami and its student wing.

    I figured these guys would be protesting.

    The Pakistani Court’s reaction to the “Draw Mohammed Day” has been totally moronic. The best way to make stunts like the above go away is to ignore them, but they’ve done the exact opposite, and practically guaranteed that there will be another such day in the future.

  2. Students of Federal Urdu University staged a protest rally. The students chanted slogans saying; “We are slaves of the prophet; we are ready to die in prophet’s slavery…”
    Pakistan might not have a “better economic future,” but they have their ‘slavery’.

  3. Let me preface this by saying that I was at one time a Lutheran minister, highly educated and trained in a prestigious seminary. I served a congregation for 12 years and gained insight in the nature of religious institutions.

    To put it simply “religion” is a human construction, an institution of social control designed to control human behavior. Human social values are projected into a “sacred canopy” (see the writings of Peter Berger, a Lutheran sociologist) to convince people that the values have authority because the come from a divine source. “Religion” comes from the Latin “religio”, which means “to tie up”. The nice interpretation of the word is that “values are tied up together”, but I think it just means “to tie people up and control their behavior”.

    In any event “religion” wants to control every aspect of life, and claims divine direction and divine sanction to do it. It will always be threatened by innovations like communication that loosen its control, also innovations like democracy and the concept of human rights.

    Religion is often justified by its effect of stabilizing society and enforcing moral standards, but my experience has been that the worst, nastiest, most selfish people I have ever run into were in the church, in fact leaders of the church both lay and clergy.

    It is well known that Jesus preferred the company of prostitutes and sinners to that of the religious leaders of his time. And he said that, “There is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

    • been sayin’ this for years (i’m 78) how can we get other humans to see how miserable they are making themselves and others? ok, rhetorical……………

    • I think that the controlling and ultimately corrupt nature of organized religion is based in the fact that reality (the world we experience and interact with) strongly suggests that there is no active god involved. Believers have to deny this painful reality and paper it over. The paper is organized religion and its countless books of theology.

      I studied to be a catholic priest for two years during which I evolved from being a devout student who had dreams of being a monk to a total non believer. Then I discovered evangelical christianity for five more years and studied to be a missionary minister. But this experience led to the same conclusion. If god is out there, he’s not involved in any measurable way. God’s presence is simply the projection of the beliefs of those who will him to be more than anything else. How can one dedicate their professional lives to serving an elusive, inconsistent, and unmeasurable god. It eventually distorts the thinking of even the most clearheaded professional. It borders on insanity.

      I am fine with religion until religious movements become political which they are doing all over the world. The move to religion directed governments is being spearheaded by islam but christianity is following close behind in the United States and elsewhere. Religious thinking is hindering progress on serious problems ranging from population control to climate change. I am so frustrated with people who believe that scientific experts know less than the unskilled local preacher.


  4. I suppose one could make a counter argument by presenting a graph with two lines. One line shows the per-capita bandwidth in the US over the past thirty years, and the second shows percentage of total financial wealth (net worth minus real estate holdings) owned by the lower 80% of the population. Of course the bandwidth line will streak upward at an astounding rate, but wealth curve will show a decline from about 9% to 7%. Its not clear that our TTT (text, twitter, talk) revolution has had an impact on other aspects of our community – certainly the intellectual content of our political discourse has not been elevated.

    I think the “draw Mohamed” reaction should be seen in the context that we are bringing, or have brought, substantial lethal harm to Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. And a significant, powerful, political element in the US would like to add Iran to the list. Maybe its not easy to take a joke the same time you are taking incoming fire from the same source.

  5. This is such a fascinating way to look at the whole issue. Another ideology that is constraining Pakistan is its India obsession which allowed the dominance of the military. This in turn has crippled both it’s democracy and economy.

  6. As in the growth in demand for Western marketed iPods manufactured by indentured, abused labor in (insert third world sweatshop nation name here)?

    THAT kind of (consumer capitalist) economic growth?

    More power to them.

  7. Christian belief “Christ died for our sins.” There is nowhere in the Bible that Christ said, please kill me I want to die for your sins.

    It does not give you liberty to mock other Prophets or religions.

  8. “But these knowledge workers are unwittingly shooting themselves in the foot and raising the question of whether highly religious societies are capable of economic development.”

    I think the question is misleading: It shifts focus away from the perpetrators of hate-speech and their supporters to those that were offended.

    The label of “highly religious societies” itself needs close scrutiny. Who is defining it? Based on what criteria? Is Pakistani society really that ‘highly religious’, any more than the US society? How has the rise of religious conservatism affected the economic growth in the US in the last few decades? Before all that, how is religious inclination exactly connected to economic development, in general, and in particular cases like Pakistan?

    I smell traces of old “modernization” and “secularization” theses in the above remark.

  9. It is really an interesting to look at the whole issue. other factor which has been limiting the Pakistanis is the India’s military Power. The rise of new terrorist groups and the sheltering Taliban made the economy go down the drain.

  10. Just a thought, could the powers that be in Pakistan see all this technology as a sort of western styled “Tokyo Rose”?

  11. Sherm, Auntie:

    You are right that the American model of capitalism will always turn any new technology into greater inequality. All that we’ve recently experienced parallels the 1920s, which was a dry run for modern consumerism. However, the New Deal showed that an active vision of how social improvement would work with technological improvement could prevail for a while. 1950s America was not the Tea Party fantasy (which really is based on 1850), but a society with a 91% top tax rate, high corporate taxes, burgeoning public university attendance, powerful unions, and the world’s best artists, writers, architects, scientists, and engineers. World War II did not produce all that; the political interpretation of the War in the light of the sufferings of the Depression produced it.

    This was all suffocated in its sleep by the corporations, who would side with “ex”-segregationists, religious fanatics, and John Birchers to reclaim their monopoly on power so that they would not have to share any profits from the next technological revolution. But Europe and Asia are at least trying to avoid our extremes. For them the new communications and media fit with their high-density urbanized populations, their lack of a car-centric culture, their need to hold down oil consumption, and quite possibly a more fundamental commitment to social interaction than America has really possessed.

    The hopelessness of the Islamist goal of autarky lies in the fact that more than half the world’s population is now urban. Cities change people. I think part of the big divergence between postwar Europe and America is that when Americans moved back out of cities into the new suburbs, their brains went into reverse too. The Islamic world has cities teeming with first-generation rural refugees, and they aren’t any happier than the immigrants living in NYC’s hell-ghettoes in the 1800s. The first response of a colonized or expelled people in ghettoes is to rile up their oppressor by falling back on their own traditions and insularity, to treat assimilation as a form of defeat. But the kids who grow up under these conditions will explore ideological options one after another until they find the politics that work, usually in concert with other groups trapped in those same slums. That’s adaptation, not assimilation. I can’t imagine that Hezbollah has been unchanged by so much of its base moving to cities and having contact with Lebanon’s other factions. Muqtada al-Sadr’s movement will be very different 20 years from now, but the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad will hamper that evolution. Bolivia has gone from the rural, xenophobic country where Che died from lack of support to the leading edge of modern radicalism – not Evo Morales, but the broad-based anarchist Indian movement that arose in the slums that considers Evo to be an Uncle Tom.

    Somewhere in the cauldron of urbanization and technology will come movements that will be judged on their ability to bring objective improvement in living conditions. They will certainly not look anything like American corporate capitalism, nor like the Taliban. Those are already both religions, hiding from a present that they do not understand.

  12. “the question of whether highly religious societies are capable of economic development”

    This made me smile, considering the crazed bunch of Christianist whack-jobs holed up in the rapidly collapsing U.S.

  13. Dear professor, if any one cited the comments to this posting before a Pakistani Court, you are most likely to be banned as well!.

    Bringing discussion back to Pakistan from the on-going comments upon the nature/necessity of religion, I had apprehensions earlier when you were praising Pakistan Courts for revival of democracy & fight against Musharraf. It was not much more than the media hype. The courts’ standard is at the lowest right now.

    If you observe closely, the courts, esp. the Supreme Court of Pakistan is acting more & more like a political party which has to go by the “will of the people”. Any issue having public interest taken up before the court is bound to be decided in the favour of “masses” irrespective of the justice requirements.

    Further, in good old times, a judge wouldn’t have even thought to keep his seat if there comes a corruption charge against him, irrespective of the decision about any such charge. But now, the “respected” Chief Justice who was dismissed on “documented” corruption charges is at his seat & and interfering in every issue that will earn him fame without fulfilling the needs of justice.

    Sorry for not been able to provide citations in support of my comments, but please be skeptic while observing Pakistan’s Courts’ actions.

    Azeem Abbas

  14. Personally I think sites like Facebook and Twitter are a big waste of time. Twitter especially contributes to the dumbing down of discussion whereby issues are not articulated well but rather packaged in neat 10 second bites.

    Blackberry on the other hand is immensely valuble.

  15. “The multiple attacks orchestrated by the CIA in the non-Persian provinces of Iran failed to trigger separatist revolts. While the colour revolution, organized by the CIA and MI6 during the presidential election, was drowned out by a human tidal wave. To the tens of thousands of protesters in the northern neighbourhoods of Tehran, the rest of the country responded with a massive demonstration of 5 million people.”

    The Twitter Revolution is not just “used by businesses and NGOs”, it is used by foreign intelligence agencies to foment phony revolutions and maintain social control and in cases like Pakistan, that is about all they are used for. I think everyone on the “repressed side” either have that one figured out or are getting close to figuring it out.

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