Censoring the internet for the interests of the few

Censoring the internet for the interests of the few

Malaysian Insider
November 16, 2013

Of late, the calls for internet censorship in Malaysia has gone louder and the latest is from the Federal Department of Islamic Development (Jakim) which urged Putrajaya yesterday to consider taking such action to stop attacks against Islam.

Four years ago, Putrajaya was looking into an internet filtering system akin to the Green Dam that China was mulling, ostensibly to control pornography but it is actually the start of the slippery slope towards censorship.

The irony is, of course, Malaysia had launched the Multimedia Super Corridor in 1990s with great fanfare and a 10-point Bill of Guarantees that include the guarantee of no censorship. But now, talk of censoring the internet is common place.

It comes at the heels of insisting that only Muslims can use the word Allah to describe God in Malaysia and restrictions on other Arabic terms, for fear that it will confuse and weaken the faith of Muslims in the Muslim-majority nation.

This pre-supposes that most Muslim Malaysians are brittle in their faith and are sheep that can easily be confused by any Arabic word used by anyone else apart from Muslim scholars.

In any other setting, this would be an insult to the intelligence of the average Muslim. But in Malaysia, this is taken as status quo without a whimper from Muslims that they are smarter than what the Islamic authorities think they are.

In many ways, the latest call by Jakim is reminiscent of what happened in Germany 80 years ago when the Nazis encouraged German students to burn some 25,000 volumes of "un-German" books, such as Jewish or American novels, presaging an era of state censorship and control of culture.

According to a Wikipedia stub on the issue, on the night of May 10, 1933, in most university towns, nationalist students marched in torchlight parades "against the un-German spirit".

"The scripted rituals called for high Nazi officials, professors, rectors, and student leaders to address the participants and spectators. At the meeting places, students threw the pillaged and unwanted books into the bonfires with great joyous ceremony, band-playing, songs, "fire oaths", and incantations.

"In Berlin, some 40,000 people gathered in the Opernplatz to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: 'No to decadence and moral corruption!' Goebbels enjoined the crowd. 'Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner," said the Wikipedia posting.

Just like in Germany, and now in Malaysia, curbing the flow of information and alternative thought is the refuge of crooks and scoundrels.

it is fine for Jakim to use a sermon to say that given the challenges posed by anti-Islam groups through information technology, it was important that the Muslim community used whatever reasonable strategy available, including social media, to counter, answer and ward off the propaganda of the enemies of Islam.

But to censor the internet? Or to say the use of websites is to weaken the faith of Muslims and that it is the cunning strategy of the enemies of Islam that had succeeded in bringing down a few countries in the Middle East?

One must look into the history of the Middle East nations before blaming the internet and saying that it is the strategy of the enemies of Islam. If anything, what happened in Egypt was an Islamic government that fell because it had angered the people.

It is always easy to blame the messenger rather than look into the reasons why people do what they do. Malaysia must learn well from history that there is nothing that can stop ideas and information from flowing like water.

Censoring the internet will only reveal the lack of intelligence to argue in a marketplace of ideas. - November 16, 2013.