Pakistan launches Facebook for the faithful

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It was meant to be the Muslim alternative to the world’s biggest online social network, but the Pakistani version of Facebook has already banned a member for depicting Mohammed. RNW spoke to the man who set up the site, and asked whether he really thinks it’s possibly to censor the internet?


Listen to an interview with one of Millat Facebook's founders, Omer Zaheer Meer

Pakistan recently barred access to Facebook and the video sharing website YouTube after a user launched a competition to find the best picture of the prophet Mohammed. Depictions of Mohammed are considered blasphemous in Islam and the contest caused huge controversy in the Muslim state. Some furious internet users responded by shutting down their Facebook accounts, but Omer Zaheer Meer decided to take a more practical approach and set up his own alternative, Millat Facebook:

“Basically the objective is to provide a platform for all people, not only Muslims, but nice and decent people of all faiths, to come together and interact in a way that is socially responsible by providing them all the freedom of expression, however respecting each others’ sensitivities and faiths. [Facebook] seems to allow mockery of religions it has an issue with… The caricatures of the prophet Mohammed were uploaded, and instead of taking any consideration and action, they came out and said they were supporting it.”

Conspiracy theory?
At the time of publication Millat Facebook had attracted around 7,000 new members, many of them based in Pakistan. But while a huge number of their wall posts feature religious messages or comments about the importance of promoting Islam, it didn’t stop one person from posting an image of the Prophet Mohammed on the site on Thursday morning. Millat Facebook’s administrators have blamed the CIA for the incident, saying they have proof the IP address was connected to US secret services.

The man’s account was deactivated and he’s been banned from the site because even the right to freedom of expression must have its limits, says Zaheer Meer:

“I would like to say we should all express our freedom and rights with sensibility and care and consideration for our fellow human beings. My freedom shouldn’t mean that I go out on the street and start hitting my neighbour every day and say ‘that’s my freedom’. As for all internationally accepted laws and regulations, the freedom of a person ends where the freedom of another person starts. So why is it that when it comes to the Holocaust, or racism, this rule is respected, but when it comes to the Muslim faith, it’s not? Is it the new Holocaust for Muslims in the making?”

Growing fast
Facebook has yet to respond to its new Pakistani rival but Zaheer Meer is confident his project will have a significant impact on the US-owned company. He says anyone, from any country and from any faith, is welcome to sign up to the social network and expects it to grow along with the publicity it’s generating.

But while its fans may be pleased with the way Zaheer Meer and his team are running the site, computer experts in Pakistan are less than impressed. The Express Tribune newspaper described the quality of the experience as “abysmal”. And RNW’s ability to monitor the progress of Millat Facebook is also limited – we were banned just two hours after signing up.