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Pakistan should ban extremism, not Facebook

By Arsalan Iftikhar, Special to CNN
  • Arsalan Iftikhar: Pakistan bans Facebook, YouTube over "Draw Mohammed Day"
  • Iftikhar: Prophet Mohammed would have ignored the campaign as silly, irrelevent
  • Kindness toward unfriendly or hostile neighbors is the Muslim "Ubuntu" standard, he says
  • Pakistan should fight extremists who kill civilians, dictators, other causes more worthy, he says

Editor's note: Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of and legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding in Washington.

(CNN) -- For a country that has produced five military dictators in 60 years, mourned the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and struggles continually against its own militant extremists who have killed thousands in their own nation, Pakistan has absolutely picked the wrong fight by banning Facebook and YouTube because of an idiotic virtual campaign called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day."

According to a story on, Pakistan blocked access to YouTube -- a day after it shut down the social networking site Facebook -- after an online group called on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed. In response, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority ordered its operators to shut down YouTube "in view of growing sacrilegious content on it."

Instead of knee-jerk political reactions and impassioned threats of violence, as proud millennial Muslims we should reflect and ponder how our Prophet Mohammed would have responded to such silly faux controversies.

In a recent piece I wrote for The Washington Post, I highlighted a well-known Islamic parable that tells the story of the Prophet Mohammed and his interactions with an unruly female neighbor, who would curse him violently and then dump garbage on him from her top window each time he walked by her house.

One day, the prophet noticed that the woman was not there. In the spirit of true kindness, he went out of his way to inquire about her well-being. He then went on to visit his unfriendly neighbor at her bedside when he found that she had fallen seriously ill.

This genteel act of prophetic kindness toward unfriendly or overtly hostile neighbors is the Muslim "Ubuntu" standard that we should all aspire to, not irrational threats of violence aimed at the silliness of some sophomoric cartoons aimed at inciting a provocative response around the world.

If we ask ourselves the simple question "What would Mohammed do?" about this, the even simpler answer would be two words: "Absolutely nothing."

Translated accurately from its native Urdu language, the word Pakistan means "land of the pure." Sadly, there has been nothing pure about the downward sociopolitical spiral of this nuclear-armed, Third World fledgling democracy of 172 million people over the last several years.

"In Pakistan, the rule of law does not protect the people. ... When people do not feel protected, they put their faith into God's hands. ... And this is exploited, frankly, by some of the rhetoric and extremist ideology of the militants," former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlin told me in a March 2009 interview.

Instead of educating and empowering the women and children of Pakistan, the "extremists moved in, slit throats of political officials, murdered policemen in their stations, slaughtered the military, kidnapped wealthy people, blew up schools because little girls went there. ... They have been terrorizing the region," Chamberlin said.

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley once said: "Pakistan is both an ally in the war on terror, and in some sense, a battleground of the war on terror."

Instead of conjuring up stupid controversies like the recent bans of Facebook and YouTube because of some silly drawings, the 172 million citizens of Pakistan should focus their political attention and economic resources on educating their women, improving their rule of law system and truly understanding the repercussions that come with ominously naming your country the "land of the pure."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arsalan Iftikhar.