Mark Zuckerberg’s Post Mentioning Pakistan Ignites Fiery Debate On Freedom of Expression

Yesterday, Mark Zuckerberg shared a status update on Facebook condemning the terrorist attack in France. In the post, he mentions an extremist from Pakistan who tried to get him sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban offensive content about the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

As expected, the post ignited a fiery debate on everything from his mention of Pakistan to silence on other atrocities to the Charlie Hebdo attacks themselves. At the time of writing, the post has over 394,000 likes, 40,000 shares and over 32,500 comments. Here is the post.

A few years ago, an extremist in Pakistan fought to have me sentenced to death because Facebook refused to ban content about Mohammed that offended him.

We stood up for this because different voices — even if they’re sometimes offensive — can make the world a better and more interesting place.

Facebook has always been a place where people across the world share their views and ideas. We follow the laws in each country, but we never let one country or group of people dictate what people can share across the world.

Yet as I reflect on yesterday’s attack and my own experience with extremism, this is what we all need to reject — a group of extremists trying to silence the voices and opinions of everyone else around the world.

I won’t let that happen on Facebook. I’m committed to building a service where you can speak freely without fear of violence.

My thoughts are with the victims, their families, the people of France and the people all over the world who choose to share their views and ideas, even when that takes courage. ‪#‎JeSuisCharlie‬

There were plenty of replies to the post and Pakistanis were out in full force. Here are a few notable responses and exchanges.

Umar Khan said,

Mark, being a Pakistani I do appreciate your thoughts but I’d like to clear one thing here, not all the “Pakistani” possess similar mindset & you can’t just blame the whole nation on the basis of one person’s act.

In response, Zuckerberg replied,

You’re right. I am friends with several Pakistanis, and I know most Pakistanis are not like the person who tried to have me sentenced to death!

Warwick Mirzikinian said,

Zuck making fun of peoples religous [sic] beliefs is not content you should not condone or allow it to happen …even if they believe in the magical tea pot …there should be laws protecting religious beliefs this is not freedom of speech issue but an issue of respect for your fellow mans beliefs..what if people drew obscene pictures of jesus ???

A particularly well like post by Aftab Ahmed said,

What about all those people in Palestine , Iraq , Afghanistan , Syria died Never seen you condemned about those barbaric acts talk about standing for right Mr Zuckerberg.
Yet you ban countless pages for posting “offensive” things so how can you say t
hat you refuse to let one group silence everyone when facebook bans pages for posting humor? sounds like playing favorites to me….
Freedom of speech and hate speech is not the same.. Go educate yourself please…

Before we discuss Facebook’s hypocrisy when it comes to freedom of expression, let’s run through the events in France.

So…What Exactly Happened?

Three days ago, the Parisian offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine, were attacked by three gunmen who were armed with kalashiknovs. The attack left 10 staff members including 2 police officers dead.

What is Charlie Hebdo?

Charlie Hebdo is a weekly satirical magazine based out of Paris, France. The magazine has made all religions a frequent target of satire, particularly extremist Islam. Over the years, cartoons and caricatures of holy figures from Jesus to the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) have been published. A lot of their work has been criticized as being too offensive.

Drawn to poke fun at radical Islamists, these cartoons were often offensive to the point of igniting riots across the Muslim world, which is precisely what happened in 2011 after they printed the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) on the cover as a ‘guest editor’. It culminated in their offices being firebombed although there were no injuries.

Double Standards: ‘Freedom of Expression’ or ‘Freedom for Some Expressions’?

With the freedom of expression concept central to the debate, we can’t help but feel that the West has double standards when it comes to Islam.

Before we go any further, we want to state for the record that we completely believe in freedom of speech. It is the bulwark of democracy and the right for any man to say what he wants without fear of retribution is what makes a society great.

Now let’s get started.

Charlie Hebdo’s Cartoons and JeSuisCharlie

There has been a lot of talk about how the cartoonists were heroes, how their work was exercising their right to free speech and how Muslims who ‘truly stand against extremism’ should repost their offensive cartoons. I’m going to argue otherwise but at the same time, I condemn the attack and maintain they didn’t deserve to die for their work. That is not the Islam I believe in.

A lot of the cartoons by the magazine were offensive for the sake of being offensive. That is precisely why they don’t generate any constructive debate.

Liberals and moderates from Muslims will ignore them and extremists will use them. So we must ask. If they aren’t contributing anything to discussion, what is the point of publishing them?

If the same magazine can fire a cartoonist for anti-Semitic cartoons, what gives them the right to denigrate a Holy figure of Islam and call it free speech? There is even a case in French courts right now in which a cartoonist is being charged with anti-Semitism for his work. If free speech exists, make it uniform or else you are just picking and choosing and that defeats the whole purpose and alienates Muslims.

Here is what Mohamed Vall Salem, a reporter for Al-Jazeera had to say:

“What Charlie Hebdo did was not free speech it was an abuse of free speech in my opinion, go back to the cartoons and have a look at them! It’s not about what the drawing said, it was about how they said it. I condemn those heinous killings, but I’M NOT CHARLIE.”

Facebook’s Hypocrisy: Selective Free Speech

Now let’s talk about Facebook. We have already discussed it before but it bears repeating.

We all know there is precedent for some speech to be limited or even banned because of its sensitive nature. For example, you cannot deny the Holocaust happened. Similarly you can’t make pages on Facebook that have Hitler, Nazi and similar words in the title. So clearly, there is precedent for sensitivity when it comes to some matters.

However, why does that sensitivity become freedom of expression when it comes to Muslims? You can ban anyone who is anti-Semitic but you refuse to ban anyone who is anti-Islamic and is promoting hate speech?

If it incites hatred or provokes violence, you don’t get to say it and hide behind the ”free speech’ moniker, as simple as that. There are 1.7 billion of us and our sentiments matter just as much as others.

These dual standards aren’t specific to Facebook only, in fact whole West has to understand that there are people who are using “Free Speech” as a tool to spread hatred, and religious racism.

Just moments ago the news popped in that France has banned any Anti-Israel protests. This pretty much tells everything that how truly the west exercises the freedom of expression.

Muslims Need a Good Reality Check As Well:

This might be a volatile statement but we also need to look at ourselves before we start condemning non-Muslims. Human rights violations in Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, massive human and drug trafficking in our own country are things that are happening in the Islamic world. The impression given is that only Muslims can treat other Muslims like animals.

There is also the fact that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is the not the only one whose depictions are not allowed. Jesus is also a routinely denigrated figure. So are other prophets. Where is our outrage when cartoons depicting them are published?

The Quran teaches us to make no distinctions between prophets [1][2] so are we in fact picking and choosing, the same thing we are accusing non-Muslims of? We cannot decide which parts of the religion we want to follow, in this context. Consistency on our end is also needed.

Guns Against Pencils is WRONG!

What is unambiguous is that killing is wrong and killing in the name of Islam is one of the most horrendous things you can do. I would like to link this excellent piece by Mehdi Hasan in the Huffington Post about an open letter to the jihadists who kill in the name of Islam.

At the end, I would just like to say that talking about these issues is the only way to get past them. I do not understand the hesitation and no-no culture that surrounds topics like these. By shoving them under the rug, we are only promoting ignorance whereas the solution is education.

We need to foster open debate and talk. The world is becoming a darker place with extremist movements and xenophobia on the rise and it becomes the responsibility of each of us to make sure our religion isn’t hijacked by extremists.

In the wake of this terrorist act, it is important to realize that the the issues are far from simple, they are multi-faceted and the only solution is for both parties to look at the sequence of events that have led us here.

Both the Muslims and the West will have to look at their respective share in creating this mess. The time has come that we should understand each-other to get our differences resolved. We can’t simply keep on going like this forever.

Talal is the Editor in Chief at ProPakistani. Reach out at [email protected]