26 January, 2009

Liberating Speech

Five days ago, I wrote a note on Facebook:

Imprisonment of Speech

I am sure most of you know of the efforts of the Ministry of Culture and Information to ban websites. I think we are all together that this is unacceptable, unimplementable, and simply put: ILLEGAL as it goes against the Bahraini Law which protects the freedom of speech.
A group of us tried to avoid this by introducing the Anti Hate Code of Ethics (http://www.bahraincodeofethics.com) and prefer that any offending website be prosecuted under the law with a chance of representation rather than resort to this old and ineffective method.

My friends,
Whether you signed the code or not, I implore you to write about the matter in your own blogs. We should also unify our forces to make our voice heard. We could hold up a rally or send one letter of objection bearing our signatures. I invite you to come up with more suggestions on what we can do about it.


Manaf Almuhandis


Now, this has started with Shaikha Mai Alkhaleefa taking the helm as a minister. I am a fan of much of her work. She brought a breath of fresh air to Bahrain when she saved our souls with the “Spring of Culture”.

However, I would have to disagree with her on this virtual blind fold. Let me try to paint you a picture:

It is the 1980’s. No internet and no Satellite TV channels and nothing. The only communications we have with the outside world are videotapes, cassettes, books and magazines.

In these simpler times, banning something would actually work. If the government says for a reason or another that a film for example is unacceptable and not wanted, the majority of the population, if not all, will not get to see it. Tapes will be easily found and confiscated. And then what? Banning media at that age was quite effective.

But that was a long, long, LONG time ago. Just look at my brother, he was a mere idea in ’86 and was born in ’87. Today he is a 186 cm tall man, with a goatee, driving license and a college degree. Media has grown that much too.

What is the ministry hoping to achieve? Seriously? If they think they can stop people from accessing info and media in 2009, they must be delusional. Let me just count the ways that I, a non IT technician, could think of:

1. Use a proxy website. I know these get banned too, but hundreds pop out every day. The proxy websites are aware of that and email their customers a list of new addresses periodically.

2. Use a programme like Hotspot. Even if the download site is blocked, many have it and will circulate it through email forwards to all of Bahrain by this weekend.

3. Subscribe in RSS & Atom feeds: Simple. All blogs and many websites have them now. Simply click on “Subscribe to the Redbelt” to the right side bar and you will see the familiar orange box looking icon. Just click that icon wherever you go and you can get the posts immediately by email. Or you can use a service like Google Reader to read it there.

This is just off the top of my head.

Let us assume I had a blocked website (god forbid), I can easily clone my ENTIRE website and have it running from a free server with a new unblocked address. I can also email all my readers so they would know. Effectively making the ban absolutely worthless in 15 minutes.

I do understand that Shaikha Mai Alkhalifa, and the rest of the people at the ministry, mean well. So, here is my honest solution to the ministry: Go with the flow.

Example: In martial arts; to stop a punch you can either block it (which uses lots of energy and you risk injury) or... redirect it. Like Akido. Look at the following video.

Now, this is implementable in real life.In practice we can look at Apple:

One day, people found out that MP3s were popular. CD sales went down. Piracy went up. All the companies started FIGHTING mp3 sites trying to stop it, but they couldn’t. They still can’t.

Apple went and introduced itunes. If people want MP3s, give them MP3s! So simple. It worked.

The ministry is trying to block sites, which is pointless. I will still go to the same websites I went to and get all the media I got before the ban. I REPEAT: I will still go to the same websites I went to and get all the media I got before the ban. I am not affected. Bahrain is.

I am concerned about the public view of the ministry and, by extension, Bahrain as a whole. We don’t want the world to think that we are ruled by a dictatorship do we? Especially when reality is anything but that. In our post reform Bahrain, freedom of speech is guaranteed in the constitution itself:

The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bahrain, Chapter III, Article 23 (General Rights and Obligations): “Freedom of opinion and scientific research is guaranteed. Everyone has the right to express his opinion and publish it by word of mouth, in writing or otherwise under the rules and conditions laid down by law, provided that the fundamental beliefs of Islamic doctrine are not infringed, the unity of the people is not prejudiced, and discord or sectarianism is not aroused.”

The National Action Charter also addressed the matter:

The National Action Charter, Chapter I (Fourth: Freedom of expression and publication): “Every citizen shall have the right to express himself orally, in writing or in any other way of expression of personal opinion or creativity. Under this law, freedom of scientific research, publishing, press and printing are ensured within the scope specified by law”, provided it is a responsible freedom within the scope of preserving the social fabric, and does not infringe on the freedoms of others or their religious, sectarian, or intellectual affiliation.

I strongly suggest that the Ministry uses our Judicial system. If a website is considered offensive, a court case can be filed and the law will take its proposed course (That is, after all, why we have courts in the first place). Even if there was a need to rush and take a site down in a short time, an urgent case can be filed and such an order can be had within a day.

I hope the ministry takes heed of my humble advice.

I thank the many bloggers who wrote on the matter:

Eyad's Coffee Break

Yagoob's Dome



The view from Fez

Silly Bahraini Girl

S as in Saudi


Mughtarib (Ar)

Another Day in my life

Khalidbahrain (Ar)

And many, many more...


Lieutenant Columbo said...

yeah I totally agree with you and what is going on is completely ridiculous.
I was extremely shocked because one of the best art community sites has been blocked "www.deviantart.com" and people from all around the world including Bahrain are signing a petition against that in gopetition.com
this mockery has to stop very soon, I will write about it in my blog too and I will encourage everyone I know to do so

Ellis said...

Nice aikido video and nice image. Redirecting usually works better than hard blocking, but why can't we get more people to understand that?

Redbelt said...

Columbo: It's good to see deiantart.com uncensored again.
Ellis: It is more instinctive and natural to block. Redirection needs skill and more thought put into it.
I doubt that the current ministry realize exactly what the internet is.