Just one day after blocking access to Facebook, the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority on Thursday ordered that country’s Internet Service Providers to also block YouTube. The PTA says it has blocked the Google-owned video upload site for “growing sacrilegious content,” according to the BBC.
The move to block YouTube appears to be part of a larger crackdown against online content the Pakistani government finds objectionable. In addition to YouTube, there are reports that Wikipedia and Yahoo-owned Flickr have also been blocked.
The move to block YouTube and other sites follows Wednesday’s decision by the PTA to have Pakistani ISP’s block Facebook until “further orders,” in compliance with a court order. The Facebook block was in reaction to a page on the social network called “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!” The page encourages people across the world to create an image of the Prophet Muhammad on Thursday, May 20 as a stand against censorship and threats from Muslim extremists.
The Facebook page was created by Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris, who was upset over Comedy Central’s decision to censor an episode of the animated series South Park that depicted Muhammad dressed in a bear costume. According to the tenets of Islam, it is forbidden to create images of Muhammad, the religion’s founder, and South Park’s creators were recently threatened by Muslim extremists over the episode.
Culture Clash or Politics as usual?
While it’s tempting to ask whether the decision to block Facebook and YouTube is some kind of culture clash between Islam and the West, it’s important to keep Pakistan’s politics in mind. The country’s government must walk a fine line between the country’s moderate members of society and the more conservative Islamic segments of the public. As The New York Times reported in April, Pakistan’s essential problem is its continuing struggle between “those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam” versus Pakistan’s “beleaguered, outward-looking, educated class.”
The Facebook anti-censorship page sparked outrage and protests among some members of Pakistani society, and ultimately resulted in a court decision to block the social network. But not all members of Pakistani society are happy with Pakistan’s Internet crackdown. On Twitter, for example, one user based in Islamabad said, “Welcome to Pakistan… The only place where you can no longer access YouTube either but YouPorn is still available.” You can find many similar comments on a variety of message boards and social networks online, as well as reports of protests against the more fundamentalist elements within Pakistan.
While I’m no expert in Pakistani society, it’s pretty clear from news reports that the country is undergoing an internal struggle between those who support more conservative religious views and others with a more liberal outlook. So before we start talking about a culture clash, let’s remember the Pakistani government’s decision to extend its censorship may be more about internal politics and keeping certain segments of its society quiet, and less about religious outrage against Western ideologies.