Friday, April 3, 2015

Censorship and Tolerance Notes

This is a repost from my old blog, December 2005.
An arabian blogger's defense of censorship

Now this is an interesting read.

"Nomaadic" writing at a secret blog from arabia  [link no longer active] tells why he doesn't object too much when he runs into blocked internet sites. To those of us for whom a completely unrestricted internet is a model of freedom in the highest form, this is more than alien, it can be downright offensive. But the arguments are pretty straightforward. If they make sense to this writer, they are not too far off the charts for many others who do not express themselves as openly. The comment thread bears out this observation. Those who disagree with the writer do not treat him as anything close to an extremist or a madman.

As I read this post, I couldn't help thinking how many conservative Americans would be able to understand and agree with his thinking -- if only he were advancing their agenda rather than that of a conservative and concerned Muslim.

Most people surfing the web from within the borders of the UAE may have at least once in their travels come across this blue and red proxy banner asking for your apology. The official line being, that the website you had been trying to access is blocked as a result of its content going against the ‘ethical, religious and cultural values’ of this country. While some label this block as an intrusion into the private lives of individuals and a restriction of personal liberty, others view it as an essential instrument to help maintain some kind of social order (or at least the illusion of order) in a country that is still rapidly evolving from traditional Muslim conservatism to Western liberalism. 
Evidently, the camps between being ‘pro-proxy’ and ‘anti proxy’ can be sharply defined along the lines of cultural differences. Typically, those who are against the proxy are Western liberals based here and abroad and who have been witness to a history of fighting for the freedom of speech and the application of universal ‘democratic’ rights. Conversely, those who are pro-proxy are usually Local, Arabs and others from a Muslim background. 
...we should remember that the West has had years to evolve to the level of liberalism and freedom of expression that it practices today. On the other hand, the UAE is still a young country and lifting the block here is the equivalent of placing your child in front of the TV, giving her a remote control and a selection of pornographic DVDs to watch.From an Islamic point of view, the argument against the removal of a proxy is even more potent. As Islam is not a token religion, to block pornographic websites and simular material is viewed as a highly positive thing to do. As the UAE is officially an 'Islamic' country then Etisalat has every right to exercise levels of censorship. 
...I find it ironic that many offensive (and inoffensive websites) are blocked to protect the integrity of this society, but I can still turn on MTV at 1pm in the afternoon and watch two women simulate lesb!an sex in the latest pop video. There should either be censorship of material that is deemed anti-Islamic across all the media or no censorship at all. I prefer the former. What we don’t need is a vague one sided application of censorship that appears to be based on arbitrary reasoning, instead of a genuine concern for the fabric and well being of this society.
It's an eye-opener, folks. This doesn't strike me as any fire-bleathing extremist. Make of it what you will. I think it may be an example of what an ordinary man on the street could be thinking in many parts of the Arab world.

That on phrase, "Islam is not a token religion" jumped off the page at me. I immediately thought of Stephen Carter's book, The Culture of Disbelief, sub-titled How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. In it are page after page of the many ways that what we like to think of as liberal democracy have eaten away at core values of many faiths.
When the Supreme Court of the United States, ostensibly the final refuge of religious freedom, struck down a Connecticut statute requiring employers to make efforts to allow their employees to observe the sabbath, one Justice observed that the sabbath should not be singled out because all employees would like to have "the right to select the day of the week in which to refrain from labor." Sounds good, except that, as one scholar noted, "It would come as some surprise to a devout Jew to find that he has 'selected the day of the week in which to refrain from labor,' since the Jewish people have been under the impression for some 3,000 years that this choice was made by God." If the Sabbath is just another day off, then religious choice is essentially arbitrary and unimportant, so if one sabbath day is inconvenient, the religiously devout employee can just choose another.  [LINK]
In America, of course, where there is a multiplicity of faiths and a long (if blood-stained, bigoted and uneven) history of tolerance, we aim to make space for as many differences of faith as possible, by treating those variations more as differences of opinion than variations on truth. The result is, as Carter points out, that "the religiously devout come to treat their faith communities as simple interest groups, involved in a general competition for secular power [so] it should come as no surprise if everybody else looks at them the same way."

Before we jump to quick judgement of this blogger's point of view, we might reflect on whether the alternative has resulted in unmitigated blessings.

[Footnote: I haven't read a lot of Stephen Carter, but he seems to be well-represented  was once represented by a series of columns in Christianity Today...which I also have not read. I am impressed by what I read in the book cited, as well as another called simply Integrity. Carter is another very smart man. You don't get on staff at Yale by being anything less.]

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