THERE has been a lot of noise in recent months about the use of social media platforms and blasphemous material on these platforms. Indeed, over the past decade, this debate has been sparked on several occasions by global events, with damaging consequences at home. On Friday, it was announced that Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan had met the Facebook vice president of global public policy to discuss “various steps and actions being taken to remove blasphemous content”. This may prove a positive step; dialogue is certainly a better strategy than threatening to permanently block all social media platforms, as the interior ministry did in March. To belittle the faith of practitioners of one of the world’s largest religions is hateful and inflammatory, but it would also be helpful to see the ministry apply the same dogged determination to curtailing the online proliferation of hate speech and violent content of banned sectarian and militant groups.

Lacking in the ministry’s approach, thus far, is the circumspection to acknowledge the state’s culpability in cynically stoking religious sentiments and tolerating extremism to wield control over its citizenry — or how much matters have spiralled out of control. What makes this cycle of debate on internet freedom different from previous iterations is that the threat, as perceived by Chaudhry Nisar, stems from within. Recent detentions and campaigns to malign activists and journalists for alleged blasphemy or for expressing points of view critical of the state have conflated the two issues and produced a chilling effect on our ability to express dissent. ‘National security’ has become a rug under which all dissent can be swept, abetted by a murky cybercrime law. In such a climate, it is necessary that any measures to regulate social media have clearly stated and precise parameters, and that these measures are made transparent to the public. The state must unequivocally target the hate speech of extremists, while recognising that the path to mending our fractured polity requires respecting, not fearing, its peaceful citizens’ right to free speech.

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2017

Opinion

Intolerance grows
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Intolerance grows

Failure to pass the bill undermines the writ of the state, highlights its inability to guarantee citizens’ protection and freedom.
Moral panic
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Moral panic

If conflation of culture with religion is taken as true, there is mounting evidence that society has gone closer to such roots.
Challenges amid discord
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Challenges amid discord

Institutional disharmony and polarised politics are impeding efforts to address the country’s challenges.
Climate & youth
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Climate & youth

Disillusionment and anxiety are on the rise among youth as they confront the diminishing prospects of a better tomorrow.

Editorial

Financial troubles
Updated 18 Oct 2021

Financial troubles

Growing trade gap is fuelling the current account deficit and bringing the already meagre foreign exchange reserves under stress.
18 Oct 2021

Complaint portal

IN a ruling on Thursday, the Mingora bench of the Peshawar High Court held that the Prime Minister’s Performance...
18 Oct 2021

Capital’s master plan

IT is encouraging that on Thursday, the restructured commission formed by the federal cabinet to revise ...
Carnage in Kandahar
Updated 17 Oct 2021

Carnage in Kandahar

Pakistan’s anti-extremism policy is in many ways half-baked and inconsistent.
17 Oct 2021

Sanctity of contracts

PAKISTAN is facing yet another international dispute before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment...
17 Oct 2021

New sports policy

THIS week, the Pakistan Football Federation Normalisation Committee chief Haroon Malik was in Zurich to hold ...