Rainer Ebert and Tibor R. Machan

The YouTube ban and the right road to development

November 1, 2012

YouTube-Blocked-01The 14-minute trailer of the movie titled “Innocence of Muslims,” a movie that may or may not exist, is poorly made and outright stupid. Anyone of even modest intelligence, Muslim or not, will find it painful to watch. The trailer, produced by Egyptian-born U.S. resident Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was initially uploaded to YouTube in July 2012. From that time until September it got the attention it deserves: none. Then, on September 8, Egyptian television host Khaled Abdallah reported on the film and showed excerpts of an Arabic version of the trailer. We all know what happened next.

The YouTube clip – with the help of hate-mongers of both the Islamophobic and the Islamic kind – went viral and sparked outrage across the globe. Tens of thousands of Muslims peacefully expressed their anger at a film that depicts their Prophet Muhammad as a buffoon who endorses extramarital sex and pedophilia. A relatively small number of idiots, fundamentalists, and fundamentalist idiots resorted to violence, and angry mobs attacked diplomatic facilities of the United States and other Western countries. The result: about 75 people died, most of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and hundreds were injured. No need to say that there is no justification for this barbarism.

In Bangladesh, we have seen a nationwide strike as well as major protests in Dhaka and Chittagong. Members of Bangladesh Khilafat Andolan, a notorious political party aiming to replace the country’s secular judicial system with Sharia law, attempted to march on the U.S. embassy in Dhaka, but were stopped by police. While there were no reports of violence in Dhaka, protesters set a bus on fire and damaged a police van in the southeastern port city.

The government of Sheikh Hasina condemned the movie and requested YouTube to remove it from their servers. Defying several such removal requests, including one by the White House, Google issued a statement saying that the clip “is clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.” On September 17, the government blocked access to YouTube, and YouTube has been blocked in Bangladesh ever since. Furthermore, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) requested people in Bangladesh not to post any kind of controversial religious content on social media, and asked Facebook to remove offensive cartoons and comments. Facebook complied.

Internet traffic ranking site Alexa lists YouTube as the fourth most popular website in Bangladesh (after Google, Facebook and Yahoo). It is hence no surprise that scores of users in Bangladesh protest the ban. While tech-savvy Bangladeshis use proxy addresses and other tools to bypass the government block, a mother complained in an online comment that her four-year-old daughter can no longer watch the YouTube clips through which she used to learn alphabets, the number system and rhymes. Others complain about technical difficulties that occur on other Google websites, such as Google Mail or Google News, as a result of the YouTube ban. Businesses, in particular those involved in internet technology, have suffered and continue to suffer as well. Yet, according to recent reports by several local news outlets, sources inside the Ministry of Information indicated that the YouTube ban will continue indefinitely.

Isn’t it time that Bangladesh joined those societies in which people enjoy the exercise of their right to freedom of thought and speech? A sign of a mature country is that its government provides protection of the people’s right to freedom of expression, not hamper it for reasons that only fit politics of paternalism where the government does not work for the people but treats them as children. Such treatment is wrong. After all, those who impose the bans are citizens of the country no different from those on whom the ban is imposed. The citizens of Bangladesh have a right to decide for themselves whether to watch the controversial clip or to snub it. These are not peculiar Western ideas but ideas that apply to all societies where human beings live their lives and are attempting to flourish.

We are reminded here of Professor Amartya Sen, a Nobel Laureate originally from India and now teaching at Harvard University. In his essay, “Human Rights and Asian Values,” published originally by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, he shows very clearly that there is no substantial difference between the basic values that need to be promoted and defended in the West and the East. This is no surprise, of course, since in both regions of the globe what is of concern is a legal infrastructure suitable for human beings. Their needs from government are no different. Sen showed that some of the major thinkers of the East, such as the Mughal Emperor Akbar who reigned between 1556 and 1605, were champions of tolerance and peace, with ideas not much different from the ideas promoted by such Western luminaries as Thomas Paine.

Sen also shows that these ideas, shared by what some mistakenly take to be drastically different cultures, are needed for economic development. The reactionary policy of permanently banning YouTube would clearly be a step backward in Bangladesh’s progress toward development, something that ultimately would be very detrimental to its citizenry. We hope the government will reconsider the ban.

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Rainer Ebert is a philosophy student at Rice University, and a founding member of the Bangladesh Liberal Forum.

Tibor R. Machan holds the R. C. Hoiles Chair in Free Enterprise and Business Ethics at the Argyros School of Business & Economics at Chapman University in California. He is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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14 Responses to “ The YouTube ban and the right road to development ”

  1. Rainer Ebert on November 10, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Help us keep politicians’ hands off the Internet! We at the Bangladesh Liberal Forum just created a petition calling on the Government of Bangladesh to stop censoring the Internet, and to instantly halt its plans to establish a localized version of YouTube in Bangladesh, thereby giving itself the power to block inconvenient content. We believe in an educated citizenry and a free Bangladesh where ideas are openly disseminated, discussed, and debated. Once you allow the government to censor someone else, you cede to it the power to censor you. We are trying to collect as many signatures as possible, and we could really use your help. To read more about what we are trying to do and to sign our petition, click here: http://www.change.org/petitions/government-of-bangladesh-stop-censoring-the-internet-2/. It’ll just take a minute! Once you’re done, please ask your friends to sign the petition as well. Grassroots movements succeed because people like you are willing to spread the word!

  2. Jahir on November 6, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    I think freedom comes with responsibility. The maker of Innocence of Muslims and the likes shrug off that responsibility just like that and create havoc around the world. YouTube authority too seem to be only interested in the freedom only, not sharing the responsibility. This is not welcome.

  3. Toufique on November 5, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    It’s about time the government removed the ban on YouTube. Why should we the general users suffer?

  4. Mishu A on November 5, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I can’t imagine the YouTube didn’t consider the movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ offensive enough to be taken down. YouTube must share the blame of violence that followed since the movie’s been uploaded to the site. Shame on YouTube!

  5. Dr.Kishaloy Sur on November 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    It is like cutting head for headache! Ban on YouTube cannot be a good decision. Technology is like tools. Say in the hand of an experience surgeon a knife can save life; on the contrary a knife in the hand of a psychopath can kill a person. So, banning the knife is not a wise decision!

  6. Yousuf khan on November 2, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I think writers have another agenda other than development of BD or freedom of opinion in BD people.

    Why the USA is not ready to allow freedom of opinion practices of WikiLeaks?

    Why did Britain take hard line position about naked pictures of princes Kate Middleton?

    Why did Britain charge against the British Muslim Azhar Ahmed as he posted a comment on facebook — “All solders should die and go to hell” when six British solders died in Afghanistan?

    Why did USA gave 9 years in 2009 to Javed Iqbal , a cable TV businessman, as he provided customer service to Al Manar TV channel which is affiliated with Hezbullah.

    Don’t any of them affect freedom of speech or development of that particular country?

    • Rainer Ebert on November 5, 2012 at 12:28 am

      Other states deny their citizens the right to freedom of expression, so it’s okay for Bangladesh to do the same? If this is what you’re saying, then you should apply the same principles to some other things other states do and ask yourself whether you’d want Bangladesh to do the same.

  7. MBI Munshi on November 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    In the context of Bangladesh the ban on YouTube is a purely political decision and has little if anything to do with religious sentiment. The government has banned YouTube on the pretext of the outrageous and offensive video defaming the Prophet Muhammad but the protests have subsided around the world but mysteriously not in Bangladesh. The government has banned YouTube on the quite sensible grounds that the video unless removed could lead to public unrest and disorder that might result in death and destruction or damage to property. After several weeks this argument should actually lack credibility.

    Another and more substantive reason for banning YouTube is the political uses to which the site could be used. There are indeed many videos on YouTube that do in fact severely criticize and contradict the government on its official statements and policies. This has often led to extreme embarrassment for the government when it has been found to be lying to the public. However, as I mentioned earlier the protests against the video defaming the Prophet still continue in Bangladesh every Friday after prayers but is mainly confined to central Dhaka. One might speculate whether there is some nexus between the present government and certain so-called Islamist parties to keep YouTube banned in Bangladesh.

    The argument for reopening YouTube is, however, diminished as Google’s decision to keep the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on its site appears to contradict its own policy concerning hate speech which it defines as “speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.” I have only seen excerpts from the video and it is my opinion that there is certainly an arguable case that the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ does amount to hate speech. Hate speech is, however, not censored or illegal in the United States but is constitutionally restricted and limited in Bangladesh by virtue of Article 39 which reads:

    “Article 39: Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech

    1. Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.

    2. Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense-

    i. the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and

    ii. freedom of the press, are guaranteed.”

    Google policy permits the censoring or blocking of material in a particular country where it may infringe the local laws on hate speech. This has happened in the case of India, Indonesia, Libya and Egypt. In other words, the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ can be blocked in Bangladesh by Google without any limitation on access to other videos on YouTube. It appears strange why the government in Bangladesh has not sought this solution and has continued its ban on YouTube. This clearly confirms my impression that this is a political decision and has nothing to do with religious sentiment.

    • Rainer Ebert on November 3, 2012 at 5:43 am

      Honestly, I don’t see much of a case for the claim that “Innocence of Muslims” amounts to hate speech. While the clip clearly ridicules Muhammad/Islam, it does not demean or attack Muslims. I am very skeptical about laws that restrict speech for the sake of “decency or morality” but elaborating on that would take more than a comment. A right to free speech means little if it does not protect unpopular speech, including hate speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.

    • Shabuz Biplob on November 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

      Actually our politicians never think about the country or the countrymen. We, Bangladeshis are very ill-fated people, thanks to our worthless politicians.

    • Tibor R. Machan on November 4, 2012 at 1:06 am

      Saying this is purely political doesn’t tell the whole story by any means. Political decisions are driven by political convictions and these appear to include the idea that when people don’t approve of some speech, they may ban it. But that is wrong, even if law and public policy support it.

      When I lived in Budapest in the 1950s the government, under the thumb of the USSR, dictated all sorts of public policies that were vile, wrong and tyrannical. Banning YouTube or Google is no different in kind. It makes governments into dictators rather than servants of the people!

  8. MBI Munshi on November 1, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    In the context of Bangladesh the ban on YouTube is a purely political decision and has little if anything to do with religious sentiment. The government has banned YouTube on the pretext of the outrageous and offensive video defaming the Prophet Muhammad but the protests have subsided around the world but mysteriously not in Bangladesh. The government has banned YouTube on the quite sensible grounds that the video unless removed could lead to public unrest and disorder that might result in death and destruction or damage to property. After several weeks this argument should actually lack credibility.

    Another and more substantive reason for banning YouTube is the political uses to which the site could be used. There are indeed many videos on YouTube that do in fact severely criticize and contradict the government on its official statements and policies. This has often led to extreme embarrassment for the government when it has been found to be lying to the public. However, as I mentioned earlier the protests against the video defaming the Prophet still continue in Bangladesh every Friday after prayers but is mainly confined to central Dhaka. One might speculate whether there is some nexus between the present government and certain so-called Islamist parties to keep YouTube banned in Bangladesh.

    The argument for reopening YouTube is, however, diminished as Google’s decision to keep the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ on its site appears to contradict its own policy concerning hate speech which it defines as “speech which attacks or demeans a group based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, and sexual orientation/gender identity.” I have only seen excerpts from the video and it is my opinion that there is certainly an arguable case that the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ does amount to hate speech. Hate speech is, however, not censored or illegal in the United States but is constitutionally restricted and limited in Bangladesh by virtue of Article 39 which reads:

    “Article 39: Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech

    1. Freedom or thought and conscience is guaranteed. Freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech.

    2. Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense-

    i. the right of every citizen of freedom of speech and expression; and

    ii. freedom of the press, are guaranteed.”

    Google policy permits the censoring or blocking of material in a particular country where it may infringe the local laws on hate speech. This has happened in the case of India, Indonesia, Libya and Egypt. In other words, the video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ can be blocked in Bangladesh by Google without any limitation on access to other videos on YouTube. It appears strange why the government in Bangladesh has not sought this solution and has continued its ban on YouTube. This clearly confirms my impression that this is a political decision and has nothing to do with religious sentiment.

  9. Jahangir Javed on November 1, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    In the infancy period, each people of every society is usually groomed up with the values, ethics, unique in every society, be it belong to east or west. With his/her grown up, he/she respects/protects those values/ethics, no matter he/she belongs to east or west. That’s why when the topless picture of British princess Kate was published in a French magazine, Britons and British media showed their anger to protect their values. French authority banned that mag and complied with British anger. But it is termed as freedom of expression by the west, when it went on against Prophet Muhamad (s), whose followers are often tagged as Muslim fanatics by the west! Interesting, isn’t it?

    Surely and rightfully then the Govt. should come forward to protect their citizens from these type of evil esignedwestern propaganda, which always the western govts follow in the same way to protect their interest globally.

    • Rainer Ebert on November 3, 2012 at 5:37 am

      In fact, the French magazine was not banned. A court merely ordered the magazine to turn over all digital copies of the photos as they were taken in violation of the strict French privacy laws. Therefore, it is also wrong to say that the French authorities “complied with British anger”. They rather applied existing law. Whether French privacy laws are too strict, however, is a question we can debate.

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