There is a fine line between what constitutes Freedom of Expression and what is Hate Speech.
Many times, under the garb of free expression, malicious acts are carried out with the intent to harm sentiments and enrage others. Earlier, caricatures and now the movie, The Innocence of Muslims, has caused a furore among Muslims globally, who view this as a deliberate attempt on part of the filmmakers to disrespect the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
The preferred mode of protest in Pakistan, to date has been of two kinds. One, to hold mass protest rallies and burn flags of US and Israel, and march towards the US embassy for a sit-in. Two, block URLs in addition to writing to YouTube, Facebook or Twitter for the removal of blasphemous content and, in the event of non-compliance, block the domain.
The first kind of protest results in vandalism, arson, stone-pelting and people being killed. The second kind of protest results in a temporary ban of domains – which can last from half a day to a full month.
Over the last few years there have been several incidents of this nature and this cycle of protest has been repeated each time. Yet, what has this mode of protesting achieved other than it being a means for protestors to vent and channel their outrage outwards?
Have these protests stopped people from producing and spreading blasphemous content?
Has blocking URLs and domains ensured such content will never again be available?
If the recent incidents are anything to go by, the answer to the above questions is no. None of these short-term, temporary, over broad and violent measures have resulted in anything concrete. In doing all this, we cause no one harm but ourselves.
We burn our own, kill our own, for the acts of others. We impose restrictions on ourselves and block access to content in Pakistan when nobody in their right mind would even try and access such material sitting here. And, above all, our acts provide unnecessary publicity to the makers and proliferators of such content.
Just like at the time of the competition on Facebook in 2010, yet again we have brought so much attention to this movie that those who would not have known about it, now know about it too. Why?
Surely there must be better ways of registering our protest that actually count for something, and make a difference. Do you have suggestions? How can we counter such instigation peacefully and effectively?
Leave a comment below and tell us how you think instances like these can be handled differently by the government and the masses.