Censor Social Media and Lose the War Against Terrorism

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

I recently made a joke on Facebook about both ISIS and the absurdity of New Age religions and positive-thinking cults by saying that “If you don’t like ISIS, join them be cause change comes from within.” I was trying to highlight that even the idea of joining ISIS is absurd due to its barbarism. I was banned for thirty days from Facebook due to mass reports from offended people who decided that I needed to be censored. Some even called for a lifelong ban.

Another reason I was banned is be-cause I criticized the radical Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood (which also happens to be a political party in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world) for tailoring its messaging depending on whether it is speaking to an Arabic-speaking audience or an English-speaking audience. Below is my original post.

I don’t think I have ever seen better liars than the [Muslim brotherhood].

In English they say they love Freedom and Democracy.

They go to Qatar and tell them they hate Iran.

They go to Iran and tell them that they hate Qatar.

They say we “support minority groups” in English and they advocate for killing gays in Arabic.

I would prefer an honest fundamentalist than a lying fundamentalist.

The Muslim Brotherhood are not “moderate.”

They believe in Islamic theocracy as well; they just follow different means to achieve them.

I don’t blame them as much as the fools in the regressive left who fall for them.”

[See the screenshot at https://twitter.com/faisalalmutar/status/755447073944797184.]

I happen to be a lucky person. Using my other profile on Facebook, I rallied my hundreds of thousands of followers to protest that I had been unfairly banned. Also, the Facebook employees I’ve met through my activism for the past ten years worked to get the ban removed within a few days, but they had to take down my post. But many others who are constantly fighting against ISIS and radical Islamist ideology on social media are not lucky enough to have Facebook contacts on their phone, have a large following, or live in the United States. In fact, most of those people live in closed societies such as Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia.

I knew many of these people personally when I used to live in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Malaysia. I became acquainted with others more recently because I speak their languages and found their pages and profiles through a simple social-media search. They are vital in the war against terrorism, which is more than just a physical fight—it is an ideological one as well. How can we win a war of ideas if the people fighting against the violent Islamist ideology are censored?

Many of the countries where terrorism is rampant don’t have a free media. In fact, most of the traditional media companies in those countries are run by the state, Islamist militias, or billionaires with connections with the royal families of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So social-media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter are not only platforms for entertainment but vital places in which the war of ideas is waged. For example, almost all of the women’s rights campaigns in Saudi Arabia—such as the #Women2Drive and #stopenslavingsaudiwomen hashtags—had to happen on social media because of the government’s attitudes toward women and the fact that the media is controlled by the state.

Secularists and atheists have created pages on social media that now have hundreds of thousands if not millions of followers on both Facebook and Twitter. It boosts morale when secular-minded people know that there are other people who think like them and may even live in the same city. A presence on social media also helps them organize as a united force against theocratic parties and movements that receive millions in funding and face no censorship by traditional media or even by social-media companies.

But the reasons that activists turn to social media extend to concerns about simple survival. Many atheists are afraid to reveal themselves in public or in the media out of fear of being killed by the state or militias. They create accounts or pages using pseudonyms so they can communicate their unbelief without putting their lives and their families’ lives on the line. Consider that there are thirteen countries where atheism is punishable by death. According to the Atlantic, “The countries that impose these penalties are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. With the exception of Pakistan, those countries all allow for capital punishment against apostasy, i.e., the renunciation of a particular religion. Pakistan, meanwhile, imposes the death penalty for blasphemy, which can obviously include disbelief in God.”1

Many of these people who are our main allies in this war of ideas have beliefs regarding human rights and freedom of and from religion that are aligned with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When social media companies censor them out of fear of causing offense or due to business relationships with rich oil countries in the Arabian Gulf, they are placing themselves on the side of the oppressors and those who are directly or partly responsible for why we have Islamist terrorism in the first place. What should we do?

Those of us who are lucky enough to live in countries where we are not afraid of being hanged in public by our governments have a moral duty to keep pressuring not only our government but social media companies to stop censoring fellow secularists and freethinkers in Muslim majority countries. They are putting their lives on the line in that war of ideas that the founders of the United States fought before any of us were born.

Use the hashtag #LetExMuslimsSpeak and ask Facebook to protect its most vulnerable communities.

 


Notes

  1. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/13-countries-where-athism-punishable-death/355961/.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is an Iraqi-born human rights activist and president of the newly launched organization Ideas Beyond Borders (IBB). The mission of IBB is to promote the free exchange of ideas and defend human rights to counter extremist naratives and authoritarian institutions.


I recently made a joke on Facebook about both ISIS and the absurdity of New Age religions and positive-thinking cults by saying that “If you don’t like ISIS, join them because change comes from within.”

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