Ideally I would have preferred not to have had to write this post. But I have over 300 messages in my in-box of people fussing over the so-called “Draw Muhammad Day” page on the social networking site Facebook and now the Lahore High Court’s decision calling for a ban on Facebook has forced the issue. And that is what pains me.
I hope that Facebook administration will remove the page. Not because of any “banning” movement and not because of the Lahore High Court. Just because the page and the idea behind the page is inflammatory and offensive. Regardless of what your belief or religion might be, to throw out offensive and hateful vitriolic for the simple and primary purpose of hurting someone else’s feelings – when you know that (a) those feelings will be hurt and (b) when hurting those feelings is really the only purpose of doing what you are doing – is inhuman, cruel, and clearly offensive. If Facebook does not recognize that, then it knows nothing either about “social” or about “networking” and certainly not about “community.”
But at one level, that matters little now. Whether Facebook removes the offensive page or not. The page and its creators have already fulfilled their purpose, met their goals. And it is we ourselves who have helped them do so. And that is what pains me.
I have not visited the offensive page in question and do not intend to. I had also not intended to help publicizing that offensive page, but by having to write this post that is exactly what I am doing. And that pains me. I am offended by the idea that page purports and the goals it seeks to achieve. So, why should I dignify it by a visit? Why should I publicize it? Why should I give it the attention it was created to seek. Yet, all of us (now me included, which is why writing this is uncomfortable) are doing exactly that.And that is what pains me.
Many of the emails I have received give me the link to that page and invite me to visit it so that ‘I can see for myself how offensive it is.’ I do not need to do that. Yet, that is exactly what we have been doing. We have been acting exactly as the creators of that page intended us to. Acting as the promoters and publicists of that page. And now having turned it into an international legal matter giving the attention seekers behind the page the exact thing they wanted: Attention.
But we have done more than that. With the Lahore High Court decision we have allowed the PTA and authorities another precedent and excuse to aggressively “manage” the internet; something that can and will be misused in the future.
I have not been receiving emails from the proponents of that page. The only ones who seem to be noticing us is us Muslims (and for some reason Pakistani Muslims more than any other). If we too had ignored the offensive page – as it deserves to be ignored – it would have gone the exact same way to oblivion as thousands of other sophomoric attempts at cheap attention seeking on the Internet. Instead we have now turned it into an international incident and given it far more limelight than it ever deserved.
Let’s think about it, what did the creators of the offensive page want to do when they set it up? First, they sought attention, and hits, and notoriety in a world where attention is too easily confused with fame. Second, they wanted to ridicule Muslims by the reaction they excepted from this. If you think of it, irrespective of whether Facebook removes the site or keeps it, the organizers of the page have achieved their goal. Well beyond what they expected. Now every other Islamophobic nutcase will get new ideas about how to have his little 10 minutes of fame spewing bigotry and hatred against Muslims.
But more importantly, they simply could not have done this without us. The only people who have turned this from nothingness into a huge issue is us. I am sure that those who set up the page are jumping up and down and thanking us for making their page such a huge success! And that is what pains me.
I am also pained by the sacrilege of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that this entire drama signifies. As pained as anyone else, and as pained as I would have been at the sacrilege of any other Prophet or religion. But unlike for many others, that pain is neither reduced nor resolved by protesting against Facebook. For me, the antidote to that pain is in the teaching of the Prophet (PBUH) themselves. What would the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) have done in such a situation.
The one thing I am absolutely positive of, is that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) would not have done what we are doing now: making an international public spectacle of ourselves. Most likely he would have just walked away and ignored (the ‘look the other way when someone throws garbage at you’ model), he might have negotiated with Facebook on the basis of their own stated rules (the Hudabia model), he might have reasoned with detractors (the discourse and discussion model). Nearly certainly Muhammad (PBUH) would have handled it with grace, with composure, and maybe even with a touch of good humor. Most importantly, the Prophet (PBUH) would have kept focusing on his own actions and proving his point with his own deeds rather than with slogans, banners and naara-baazi.