Comment: YouTube and all of us: Moeed Pirzada

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Moeed Pirzada | Daily times |

Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace” had argued that it is not the state of peace but the state of war that is the natural state among men living side by side and for peace we have to strive hard away from the glare of mega politics of nations, major megalomaniacs and their ego trips I want to focus on an event that had appeared on the retinas of our consciousness like a flash and then disappeared into oblivion.

It too involves some “minor megalomaniacs” and some idiots, yet to my mind it was a manifestation of the age we live in: the age of global inter-dependence; a reality that has landed upon us without giving us any opportunity to adjust to its myriad challenges. Geert Wilders, a member of Tweede Kamer, the Dutch House of Representative, is making a short film, Fitna, that aims to prove that Holy Quran is “a fascist book”. A clip of that film was placed on YouTube in Europe. Islamabad, apparently, alarmed that this might spark riots and violence decides to shut down YouTube in its jurisdiction.

And then a miscommunication takes place between PTCL Pakistan’s largest telecom company and PCCW, a Hong Kong telecom giant, and the blocking message starts replicating on the internet worldwide. Result: YouTube shuts down across the globe. First complaints arise from California. If there was ever any need to demonstrate the physical interdependence of the world we now live in, this was it. Yet most of us fail to realise and accept that physical reliance places new limits upon our individual and collective lives and decision-making process.

Pakistan’s decision to ban YouTube reflected 19th century mentality, first invoked in Victorian England against the Penny Press, in application against technologies of 21st century. It appears that no one really bothered to understand the nature of YouTube; it was not a billboard lying open in physical space. Access to the website is already restricted by such barriers as possessing a computer, having an internet facility, high-speed connection to download YouTube videos and finally the ability to understand, given that most of the material related to Fitna was actually in French.

No wonder many in Pakistan suspect that the Musharraf government’s real objective behind the decision to get rid of YouTube, in its realm, was to prevent Pakistani citizens from watching video evidence of election rigging cropping up in cyberspace. Having said this, the idiocy of the Pakistani establishment is equally matched by the prejudices and confusions of the European mind. And it reminds me of an interesting interaction.

Many years ago I met a lady at a party somewhere in Islamabad. She was in her late forties and passing through a difficult divorce; I, in my twenties, fully hormonal, had an eye on her niece. I told her that I would be a very liberal husband. She said: “How do you know; you have never been married?” I retorted: “Because I am a liberal and I know myself” and she smiled the kind of smile you see on Mona Lisa. Even then I had consumed the writings of Russell and Voltaire. But over the years as I evolved from a liberal-minded lover to a conservative husband and a possessive father, I kind of fathomed the cynicism of her “Mona Lisa smile”. I smile the same smile when I see Europeans brandishing their placards of secularism. Gentlemen, there are phases of knowing thyself. The idea of a well-rounded educational background for legislators is a controversial one. However, in the case of Geert Wilders this assumes some significance. This Dutch member of parliament and founder-leader of his “Party for Freedom” has a Health Insurance course and some law certificates as evidence of high education. Armed with these impressive insights into human history and in this age of global interdependence, he has launched his crusade to “reform Islam and Quran” to “tailor them to suit the Dutch law”!

Lunatics exist everywhere. But what have the Dutch government, media and the intellectuals done to expose and cut him to size? In December 2007 the mainstream radio station, NOS, declared him politician of the year. Imagine the Western reaction if a popular TV or radio station in Pakistan celebrated a rabid Mullah uttering profanities against Christ or Christians? Immanuel Kant in his 1795 essay, “Perpetual Peace”, had argued that it is not the state of peace but the state of war that is the natural state among men living side by side and for peace we have to strive hard. Yet more than 200 years later when microchips and internet have placed us face to face, many still fail to realise the responsibilities of an age of interdependence.

Ironically, this fact seems to be least appreciated in countries which place the highest premium on globalisation. Perhaps, if for no other reason than to add some credibility to its lectures worldwide, the European Parliament should either arrange for the hospitalisation or forced university education of Geert Wilders. It may be a small step in the right direction!

Dr Moeed Pirzada, a broadcaster and political analyst with GEO TV, has been a founding member of the Association of Pakistani Professionals (AOPP) in New York. He can be reached at mp846@columbia.edu

 

 

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