As you may recall, WordPress, the organization that hosts this site, got complaints from the Pakistani government that some of my posts were offensive because they hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Those posts were were ones showing Jesus and Mo cartoons, which satirize Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike. WordPress decided to cooperate with Pakistan by simply blocking my entire website from being viewed in that country, a move that, in view of WordPress’s avowed commitment to free speech, made me upset and angry.
Now Kenan Malik, a British writer and broadcaster of Indian descent, has experienced the same banning by proxy. As he describes on his own website, Pandaemonium (Malik’s words are indented):
This week WordPress received an email from the ‘Web Analysis Team’ of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ‘The webpages hosted on your platform are extremely Blasphemous and are hurting the sentiments of many Muslims around Pakistan’, it read. What particularly seemed to concern the PTA were my articles about Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine targeted by Islamist gunmen in a machinegun attack that left 12 people dead in January 2015. These articles, and the images from the magazine that I have published (in particular the one above), are, according to the PTA, ‘in violation of Section 37 of Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 and Section 19 of Constitution of Pakistan’. It ordered WordPress to block access to my website in Pakistan in order ‘to contribute towards maintaining peace and harmony in the world’. Which is why readers in Pakistan can no longer access Pandaemonium.
After criticizing those members of the writer’s organization PEN who protested its award “Freedom of Expression Courage Award” to Charlie Hebdo, Malik delves into the larger issue of the Left’s complicity in such censorship. This includes some liberals’ misguided damning of Charlie Hebdo as “racist”:
What the Pakistani action does do is provide a new perspective on the attitudes of many Western liberals towards Charlie Hebdo. When the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked in 2015, many liberals in the West were reluctant to offer their solidarity. As I observed in the immediate aftermath of the attack (in one of the articles that caused offence to the PTA), ‘hardly had news begun filtering out about the Charlie Hebdo shootings, than there were those suggesting that the magazine was a ‘racist institution’ and that the cartoonists, if not deserving what they got, had nevertheless brought it on themselves through their incessant attacks on Islam’. ‘Those who claim that it is ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobic’ to mock the Prophet Muhammad’, I added, ‘appear to imagine, with the racists, that all Muslims are reactionaries. It is here that leftwing ‘anti-racism’ joins hands with rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry.’
. . . In countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, writers and cartoonists constantly risk their lives facing down blasphemy laws, standing up for equal rights and fighting for democratic freedoms. They constantly challenge the kind of censorship imposed by the PTA. They are the people whom many Western liberals betray in their refusal to support free speech and in their insistence that to mock Muhammad or to champion blasphemy is to be ‘racist’.
Such liberal critics would no doubt object to Pakistan’s decision to censor ‘blasphemous’ websites. But it’s worth asking: is there really that great a distance between their refusal to support Charlie Hebdo and the Pakistani authorities’ takedown of websites that do demonstrate solidarity?