What is going on in Pakistan?

First, in 2008 they blocked YouTube in a way that brought down the whole site. They have certainly learnt from this mistake, and have now gone and blocked access to the site completely within the country without being a nuisance for the rest of us. Perhaps they were worried about the rising popularity of Elijah and Milo Peters? But even here, I thought the greatest test of faith would be to confront, and reject, temptation?

More seriously though, as noted by Article 19, previously, Pakistan has banned access to YouTube, Blogspot and Flickr, along with sites relating to corruption by political officials, human rights abuses by the army, nationalist political parties and religious minorities.

And as of today, all Blackberry services have been banned in the country as well. As noted on Crackberry.com,

In addition, some 450 sites including Twitter and other social networks have been banned by the PTA. All cellular companies in Pakistan have been contacted and asked to stop the provisioning of BlackBerry services until the ban is lifted. This means no data, email or BBM for BlackBerry users on any provider included in the ban in an effort to keep users from accessing the banned sites from their devices.

It is frankly quite bizarre and disturbing to boot the ease with which a fringe lunacy can deny a moderate majority the freedom of expression. Pakistan’s actions also raise vital questions over the promise of digital diplomacy, such as Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds by Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts of Dancing Ink Productions. Whereas the emphasis here is on Second Life, the real life examples of manic censorship in Pakistan mark a country unable and unwilling to grasp modernity, leverage digital technologies to strengthen the human potential or realise that it is only through open communications that faith is, if one is so inclined, tested, reformed and revitalised. Given that Rita and Joshua’s report is anchored to freeing the imagination, Pakistan’s on-going censorship of free expression and interactions over the web and Internet raise a number of questions on how effective these over-hyped virtual diplomacy initiatives really are. How can Dancing Ink Productions help strengthen the moderates within Pakistan, or translate their virtual panegyrics of Islam into real world chants for change?

Pakistan’s reputation in the world as a democracy is hugely suspect. Now, more than Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, it is a hotbed of terrorism and seething discontent. Its frontier provinces make democratic governance about as easy as making snowmen in the Sahara. Simply put, this is a country with serious issues. Banning websites carte blanche exacerbates communal and religious tensions, making a closed society even more insular and self-referential.

It is bad news in a country that is the embodiment of bad news.

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