Pakistan’s government was trying to prove its commitment to Islamic ideals and sacredness of Islamic faith when it ordered a ban on YouTube in September following the release of the video Innocence of Muslims, which proved blasphemous to Islamic beliefs. The little religious storm in the political cup was soon over and today, hardly anyone seems to be bothered by the memory of that film. It is long out of mind; but YouTube is still banned. Now, international voices are asking Pakistan to remove the ban on the world’s most frequently visited video sharing site.
This isn’t the first time that YouTube was blocked in Pakistan. Whenever media highlights some “blasphemous” video, the government quickly tries to appease the fundamental Islamic segment whose “block it” approach is the only solution available to let the government avoid a possibly massive subversion movement from right-wing elements that already are desperate to throw the existing secular government away. Apparently, this is a smart move on the part of the government to keep democracy and secularism going in the country. The problem that transgresses the spirit of democracy and equal rights is the necessity of imposing what is desirable to one segment of the society but nonsensical to the other. This doesn’t – or shouldn’t – happen in true democracy, since it is a form of dictatorship.
In a democratic state, the government is chosen by the people and it ensures that choices of one group of people don’t mess up with the lives of another group of people who have different values and different levels of tolerance. So a solution acceptable to both sides is the best way to settle an issue. Keeping all satisfied is part of the totalitarian ideal that lies at the heart of democracy. But when the Prime Minister of Pakistan ordered the telecommunication authority to block the website used by millions who have no interest watching the ant-in-the-pants video, he showed disrespect for democracy. When no “good” Muslims and so many secular people, or those of other faith, wouldn’t bother watch the video, there was not even the slightest need to ban the site. The act likely served as another direct promoter of the video which already got over 5 million views in just 3 days after the uproar about it made news worldwide.
Why the government could not order blocking of the specific YouTube pages of the video is not so clear. Certain pages on Wikipedia remain blocked in Pakistan, but the rest of the site is usable. So why not the same treatment for YouTube? Regardless of the reason, blocking a website over offensive content is the open acknowledgment of defeat before the world. Pakistan has proved that it can’t answer an offense, not even in words; it only tries to avoid and hide, and conceal. But that is what democracy has been like in this country – always hiding from the raging pressure groups, be they military, religious, or judicial. It’s a long way to go before Pakistan can be called a truly democratic country.