In­no­cence of a People

The people of Pak­istan have been ex­cluded from the global YouTube com­mu­nity for some time now and there are no signs of the ban be­ing lifted in the near fu­ture.

Southasia - - EXPRESSION PAKISTAN - By Maria Ka­mal

YouTube is no stranger to bans and Pak­istan is not the only coun­try in the world to have pulled the plug on this pop­u­lar video-shar­ing web­site. In Turkey, the web­site was banned on ac­count of a video that al­legedly in­sulted Mustafa Ke­mal Ataturk, the founder of mod­ern Turkey. The ban lasted for two years be­fore it was lifted in Oc­to­ber 2010.. Afghanistan, Ar­me­nia, Bangladesh, China, the UAE, Malaysia and In­done­sia are some of the other coun­tries that have banned YouTube at one point or the other.

In Pak­istan, YouTube has been blocked since Septem­ber 2012. The ban came about in re­sponse to a video that was of­fen­sive to the Mus­lim faith, specif­i­cally to Prophet Muham­mad (PBUH).

In­fu­ri­ated by the dis­re­spect shown to the Prophet in clips cap­tured from an ob­scure film, In­no­cence of

Mus­lims (which is it­self sur­rounded in con­tro­versy and spec­u­la­tion), pro­tes­tors took to the streets in Is­lam­abad and other parts of Pak­istan. When the video was not re­moved from the site, Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties blocked YouTube it­self.

What’s more, Ghu­lam Ah­mad Bilour, a federal min­is­ter at that time, an­nounced a $100,000 bounty on the film­maker’s head!

En­forc­ing the ban meant that Pak­istan lost ac­cess to YouTube. How­ever, des­per­a­tion gave way to in­no­va­tion; many a de­ter­mined user found loop­holes that ex­ist in the form of prox­ies and vir­tual pri­vate net­works to get around the ban. Nev­er­the­less, those who are not so tech-savvy have had to do with­out the web­site for over a year now.

Letters have been writ­ten by ag­grieved mu­si­cians be­seech­ing the pow­ers that be to re­voke the ban. Letters from irate YouTube buffs have been car­ried by many news­pa­pers. Or­ga­ni­za­tions that up­hold in­ter­net free­dom have also chimed in. An ad­vo­cacy group, Bytes for All has even filed a law­suit against the ban.

A num­ber of people have begged and pleaded with the Pak­istan govern­ment to re­store YouTube. They have also ranted and railed against govern­ment of­fi­cials for turn­ing a deaf ear to their re­quests.

The fact re­mains that Pak­ista­nis have been ex­cluded from the larger YouTube com­mu­nity for some time now and there are no signs of the ban be­ing lifted in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture.

The ban has led to some ben­e­fi­cial side-ef­fects. In the ab­sence of YouTube, other pre­vi­ously lit­tle known web­sites have gen­er­ated more traf­fic and gar­nered in­ter­est among Pak­istani users. This is, any­way, small con­so­la­tion com­pared to the vast dam­age done by the per­sis­tent in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity of YouTube.

YouTube is an in­ter­na­tional phe­nom­e­non for users around the globe. Don’t know how to do some­thing? Need a quick tu­to­rial to help you set up a new gad­get? Look­ing for an old movie trailer? Want to watch your fa­vorite mu­sic video? Search­ing for tips from a pro? YouTube it, dic­tates mod­ern wis­dom.

Up­loaded in 2005 and pro­cured by Gog­gle shortly af­ter, the videoshar­ing web­site has since be­come ubiq­ui­tous in the dig­i­tal world. An es­ti­mated one bil­lion users visit YouTube ev­ery month. Ad­di­tion­ally, data sug­gests that more than six bil­lion hours of videos are watched on this web­site each month.

It is easy to see why YouTube is as big as it is. The web­site is de­signed to en­able users to post, share and view videos on a range of sub­jects. Users can kill many idle hours watch­ing the an­tics of pets, in­fants, celebri­ties and or­di­nary people as cap­tured on cam­era and up­loaded to the site by any­one from any­where in the world.

But YouTube is more than a cat­a­logue of cute cat and baby videos. It is an ed­u­ca­tional tool that con­tains tu­to­ri­als on sub­jects rang­ing from video-edit­ing tech­niques to piano and math lessons. Bod­ies of re­search sup­port the claim that YouTube has es­tab­lished it­self as a valu­able learn­ing tool that has been in­te­grated into the class­room ex­pe­ri­ence by teach­ers around the world. Fur­ther­more, the web­site cov­ers a wide gamut of howto videos per­tain­ing to culi­nary skills, per­form­ing art, sci­en­tific ex­per­i­ments and house­hold tasks.

You can also watch pop­u­lar TV shows, mu­sic videos and trail­ers on the web­site. Sig­nif­i­cantly, YouTube has launched ca­reers in mu­sic. It has helped strug­gling artists go from rel­a­tive anonymity to gen­er­at­ing thou­sands of clicks, com­ments and

a solid fan base. Other video-shar­ing sites such as Vimeo, which have sprung up since, have yet to reach the level of pop­u­lar­ity YouTube en­joys.

Users may also com­ment on YouTube posts. It fol­lows that YouTube

Ban­ning a web­site or a ser­vice de­prives mil­lions of users of the op­por­tu­nity to make per­fectly rea­son­able, morally ac­cept­able and ab­so­lutely in­of­fen­sive use of it.

com­ments have long ranged from the inane to the out­ra­geously un­kind and a fair share of the bil­lion vis­i­tors who fre­quent the site each month are likely to end up of­fended. Oc­ca­sion­ally, a video ig­nites mass cen­sure and upsets enough people to get the en­tire web­site blocked in a part of the world. In each case, such bans have been an­nounced in re­sponse to con­tent on the site that of­fends po­lit­i­cal or re­li­gious sen­si­bil­i­ties of a par­tic­u­lar people.

In part, squab­bles about what con­sti­tutes ap­pro­pri­ate web con­tent go with the ter­ri­tory. The web pits to­gether cul­tures, ideas, sen­si­tiv­i­ties, be­lief sys­tems and moral frame­works from across the globe. Demon­stra­tions of cel­e­brated free­doms in one part of the world are ad­mon­ished as bla­tant dis­re­spect and provo­ca­tion in an­other part of the world. Pak­istan has re­sponded to this clash of per­spec­tives with a one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion: the dreaded ban.

Ban­ning a web­site or a ser­vice de­prives mil­lions of users of the op­por­tu­nity to make per­fectly rea­son­able, morally ac­cept­able and ab­so­lutely in­of­fen­sive use of it. It bars mil­lions of stu­dents and teach­ers from ac­cess­ing lessons on a myr­iad of sub­jects. It makes the Pak­istani people pay the price for the un­for­tu­nate ac­tions com­mit­ted by an­other.

Based on re­views of In­no­cence of Mus­lims from crit­ics around the world, it ap­pears to be a lousy ex­cuse for a film with lit­tle to rec­om­mend it­self. In­deed, the film’s great­est achieve­ment could ques­tion­ably be that it has suc­ceeded in de­priv­ing the world’s sixth most pop­u­lous coun­try of a vi­tal learn­ing and shar­ing re­source.

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