Helping Google Find Sensibility

By Khalid Baig
Posted: 8 ZUL QA’ADAH 1433, 25 SEPTEMBER 2012

Regarding the latest attack on the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, Google has certainly acted as if Muslims do not matter. It has arrogantly refused to remove the offending content from the YouTube site that it owns. The offensive video, the reactions to it and the reactions to reactions have generated lot of heated debates.

Could it have been avoided?
Many have observed that the offensive video remained un-noticed for fifty-five days. Then curiosity traffic increased the hit count from five thousand to five million in a couple of days. Obviously ignoring it would have been a better option. That is true, as far as it goes. In the initial stage the best option was to ignore it. However those who profit from such offensive material also know this. They tried to get negative publicity in Rushdie affair, they tried it now and they will try it again. They will rub it in your face until there is a reaction. And when that happens, just wishing that there had been no reaction is not going to help us solve the problem.

What Makes Google Tick?
The question arises, why Google must rub it in our face? Google would not allow the freedom to insult to its own employees in its offices that it says we must learn to live with. Why? Why can’t it see reason? The answer lies in its very nature. It is a corporation—impersonal and amoral. You cannot plead with it on the basis of morality, decency, or sensibility. It does not understand the language of right and wrong or good and evil. It could not care less about the Prophets. It only cares about its profits. Right and wrong translate into profit and loss in its world. It would enforce a code of behavior and decorum in its offices because that is needed for ensuring productivity. It upholds the exact opposite on its sites because that is good for business. If it can increase its profits by inflicting pain on us it will gladly do that. If it sees that doing so reduces its profits, it will “find” that inflicting pain is wrong and insulting the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is immoral.

And it has been very successful. Last year Google had revenues of nearly $40 billion. Ninety-six percent of these came from ads. And its claim to fame in the advertizing world is that it has revolutionized advertizing by providing targeted ads: Ads that are delivered to each viewer based on the personal preferences and interests of that viewer. Both the AdWords and AdSense programs that it uses are based on information about the users that it gathers and stores through their use of its free services.

It has a huge database about everyone who uses it and it uses that database to generate money. Every time you search for something using it, it learns something about your interests. It knows how to translate that information into hard cash because it can find the right buyers for that information. Every time you click on a Google ad, you are simply sending a check to Google as ad revenues are on a per click basis. It may be a fraction of a cent per click. But trillions of clicks turn into billions of dollars. In other words every time you use it you are financially supporting it and nurturing its arrogance.

It is our clicks that make Google tick.

Therein lies the secret to making it see reason. If most of us stop using Google even for one week, it will see such a huge shrinking of its revenue stream that it would find sensibility and decency faster than its fastest searches. It would immediately stop any and all insulting content if that happened.

Google Ads
A second but related area of our concern should be the otherwise responsible and serious websites that allow Google ads. When a web site agrees to allow Google to display ads on it, it gives them a blank space over which they can write the message they want. Google gets money from the ad sponsors for these directed ads and passes a fraction of that money to the site owner. For that fraction many “Islamic” sites are selling their iman. One can find a site hosting a lecture on Qur’an and Hadith and on the same page a Google ad displays a semi nude picture. Sometimes this blurring of the boundaries of the sacred and the profane is justified by the owners by issuing a disclaimer that they are not responsible for the ads. In most cases even the disclaimer is not there. As an example Pakistani Newspapers like Jang and Ummat frequently have obscene ads consisting of pictures of nude and semi nude women on their sites.

That such scandalous behavior has become acceptable is an indication of the toll that our blind submission to the Internet revolution has taken on us. For thinking people this should be cause for much reflection and soul searching. This calls for a new level of media activism that has been totally missing from the Muslim world. Isn’t it time that someone convinced the owners of such sites to stop allowing such ads?

Is It Futile?
There are those for whom all this talk is futile. In Google they see just an innocent search engine not a cold calculating advertizing giant that is also serving a cultural agenda, about which we may have some concerns. In the Internet and the media revolution they see only wonders.

It is part of a larger malaise in our attitudes about technology that we have been seeing for the past couple of centuries. In the 19th century the British introduced science and technology in the subcontinent through exhibitions for the public. The idea was not to educate but to impress. It was presented as magic. At an exhibition in Calcutta in the early 1800s the visitors were reported to make such comments as “Bap rey bap (Oh My!)…How fantastic.”

It seems we have not stopped saying “Bap rey bap… How fantastic.”

Once we come out of this spell, we may realize that technology both gives and takes away. And the resulting bargain will be in our favor only if we are actively negotiating with it instead of passively submitting to it. A cell phone magically can connect you to another person on the other part of the globe without any visible link. Yet it also disconnects you from your immediate surroundings. We see that in the horrible acts of insolence when people even in the Haram making tawaf are talking over their cell phones.

Once we determine that technology should be our servant and not our master, our attitudes about it will change dramatically. And so will our attitudes about the technology leaders. We may then realize that Google’s declared goal is to “change the world.” Can anyone in their right mind advocate that we should just be a passive spectator as they go about changing our world?

Of course in the latest episode Google is betting that our love for the convenience it offers is greater than our love for the Prophet and our sense of honor. And not even convenience but only addiction. For there are a dozen search engines like Bing out there that we could use without sacrificing anything.

It is only through our determined individual and collective efforts that we can convince the likes of Google, Facebook, and others to agree to a code of ethics that assures freedom from insults for everyone— which is the only way to ensure peace in the global village.

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Be Careful with Muhammad, Peace be upon him

By Khalid Baig

The crowd was growing in size by the minute. They were beating drums, singing, dancing, and shouting in joy. Pagan Makkah was about to kill Khubaib bin Adi Ansari, Radi-Allahu anhu, who had been captured through a sinister and treacherous plot, then sold in the slave market so the buyers could exact their vengeance.

It started when some tribesmen from Uthul and Qara went to Madinah and requested the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, to send some teachers with them who could educate their fellow tribesmen about Islam. The request was granted and about ten Companions were sent with them. When the group reached Raji’ two hundred armed men were lying in wait for them. Khubaib and Zaid bin Adathna, Radi-Allahu anhuma, were captured alive, while the others were martyred. Then they were sold in exchange for a hundred heads of camel. Both had fought in the battle of Badr and their swords had killed some pagan soldiers. Now the relatives of those killed in war wanted to get even. Of course, Arab traditions did not allow revenge for war like this. But their opponents were Muslims. Then, as now, the pagan world was ready to violate its own rules and traditions when the victims were Muslims.

While facing death, Khubaib, Radi-Allahu anhu, said a poem that has been recorded by history. It includes these lines: “They say if I renounce Islam, my life will be spared. But it is better to die with belief than to live with unbelief.”

At the last minute, the pagans asked him: “Don’t you wish that you were spared and Muhammad (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) got this punishment? Would not you like that you were resting comfortably in your home, while he was killed in your place?” From the man who was about to die because he had accepted the Message brought by Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, came this reply: “By Allah, I cannot even imagine that a thorn should prick the foot of Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, while I rest in my home.”

Abu Sufyan, an unbeliever at the time, remarked to his associates: “See, the love of the companions for Muhammad (Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is unparalleled and unprecedented.” At another time, a similar observation was made by another Quraish leader Urwah ibn Mas’ud al Thaqafi. “I have seen Ceasar and Chosroes in their pomp, but never have I seen a man honored, as Muhammad is honored by his comrades.”

The biographies of the Companions are full of stories that show their extra-ordinary love and devotion for the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. The Qur’an itself attests to this. “The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves.” [Al-Ahzab 33:6] It is a statement of fact as well as a command. The following two ahadith, from among the many on the subject, clarify this point further. “None of you can be a believer unless he loves me more than his parents, his children, and all the people.” [Bukhari and Muslim] “There are three signs that indicate that a person has tasted the sweetness of faith. 1) That he loves Allah and His Prophet more than anything else. 2) He loves everyone solely for the sake of Allah. 3) After accepting Islam he hates going back to unbelief as much as he hates going into the fire.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

It has to be so, because our relationship to the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is at the core of our entire religion. He is human, not Divine, but he is our connection to the Deity. He relays to us the Word of Allah and he explains what the Word means. He sets a personal example that we look at not just for admiration but emulation. Our relationship to him is legal as well as personal; moral as well as spiritual; intellectual as well as emotional. Allah chose him to guide us, educate us, inspire us, and purify us — and we remain indebted forever!

This not only establishes a relationship between a believer and the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, it also establishes the relationship among the believers, making them one unit because of— in addition to their common faith— their common love for the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.

Together these facts explain a Muslim’s sensitivity to the honor of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. To begin with, we must remember that the honor of everyone is important. As the hadith reminds us: “If a believer does not come to the help of another believer whose honor and dignity are under attack, then Allah will also not help him when he is most in need of Allah’s help. And a believer who does come to the help of another believer whose honor and dignity are under attack, then Allah will also help him when he is most in need of Allah’s help.” [Abu Dawood]. If a Muslim is not supposed to be indifferent when the honor of another ordinary Muslim is under attack, how in the world can anyone expect him or her to be indifferent when the honor and dignity of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, himself may be under attack?

As has been noted by someone else, a civilization in which nothing is sacred may have difficulty in understanding the values of a civilization in which sacred is all that counts. But if it cannot understand the logic, because of its own blinders, it will have to come to terms with the facts on the ground: Muslims treat their Prophet, and all the prophets, with utmost respect and they simply cannot tolerate any willful insult and disrespect. To compromise on this issue would tantamount to compromising one’s faith. And no one has a right to demand that. The blasphemy laws in Muslim countries like the one in Pakistan, are not only based on solid and agreed upon juristic grounds, they express a fundamental value of the Muslim civilization. We need not offer any apologies for that just because the forces of profanity seem to be powerful.

Some think that the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, forgave his worst enemies and never took revenge for himself. So any law that prescribed punishment for assaulting the honor of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is clearly against his Sunnah. What the prophetic example teaches is that we should also be willing to forgive those who have committed offenses against us, personally. But we know of Ka’ab bin Ashraf who used to abuse the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and instigated others to do so. He ordered Mohammed ibn Salma to execute Ka’ab. (Bukhari) There are not many but history records that whenever anyone tried to abuse the person of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, he was meted with the same punishment. As the Persian poet said, “May take liberty with God, Be careful with Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam.”

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Egypt state TV lifts ban on veiled presenters

Fatma Nabil becomes the first woman in half a century to present the news to the nation while wearing a hijab.

Egyptian state television has lifted a decades-long ban on veiled female news presenters, whom successive secular-leaning regimes had barred from going on air.

In a cream-coloured headscarf and a dark suit, Fatma Nabil appeared on Sunday to read the 1200pm news bulletin.

State TV said this was the first such appearance by a woman with her hair covered since the channel was established a half century ago.

The ban on female news readers wearing the Islamic veil had long been criticised by liberals and human rights activists as an infringement on personal freedoms – particularly in a country where the vast majority of adult women cover their heads.

However, it was the latest move by authorities under new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi to make sweeping changes in state-controlled media.

Just a few weeks ago, the Islamist-dominated upper house of parliament or Shura Council, shuffled editors of state-run media and most of the 50 new appointees were either Islamists or their political allies.

Egypt’s journalists’ union has accused Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group of trying to make the media its mouthpiece.

Many Egyptians fear Morsi and the powerful Brotherhood, which was outlawed and persecuted under former regimes, will give priority to Islamist interests at the expense of deep reform of the bloated and inefficient bureaucracy or pressing needs such as widespread poverty and economic crisis.

‘Personal choice’

TV official Mohammed Fathi said that Nabil’s appearance would encourage many other women who wished to wear the veil but had feared losing their jobs.

Nabil had worked for a year in the Muslim Brotherhood TV network Misr 25 after she was barred by state TV from appearing on air because of her veil.

With Morsi’s election and the appointment of the Salah Abdel-Maksoud of the Muslim Brotherhood as the new information minister, she said she was given the “green light” to come back to state TV.

“Now the standards have nothing to do with the veil, which is a personal choice, but are all about professional skills and intellect,” she said.

State-owned television, which employs nearly 40,000 staff, is among the largest employers of public servants in the country. It has long been closely associated with the ruling elite and plagued by rampant corruption.

Under Hosni Mubarak’s government, which was toppled in last year’s uprising, female TV employees who wore the veil would be asked to take jobs off-camera.

Some sued against the policy and won, but an information ministry run by staunch regime loyalists ignored the rulings, and enforced a de facto ban. Mubarak’s predecessors followed a similar line.

The end result was that the faces on state TV mirrored those of the wives of the ruling elite, where the style was set by women such as the well-coiffed first lady, Suzanne Mubarak.

Change of guard

Mubarak’s exit and the subsequent election of Morsi put a new face on power.

Morsi wears an Islamic beard, and the new First Lady Naglaa Mahmoud covers not just her hair but the entire upper half of her body, minus her face – a veiling style associated with the working class and female members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Muslim Egyptian women wear some form of head covering – from stylish scarves to the full face-covering veil, or niqab.

Privately-owned television networks have long employed veiled presenters, and a number of famous actresses wear veils and appear in soap operas aired on state TV.

Hotel and airline workers were also discouraged from covering their heads, working in industries where former governments apparently wanted to promote a vision of modernity considered incompatible with veiling.

The changes on state television come against a backdrop of concern over a major reshuffling of the editors of state media last month.

In several incidents, journalists say, the new editors-in-chief have censored anti-Islamist columnists. In others they have fawned on Morsi as they once did on Mubarak.

State-owned October magazine ran a cover page last month depicting the president as a knight riding a horse and with a subtitle: “The revolution takes off”.

“I want to see state media tell the truth and to stop serving the ruler, whoever the ruler is,” said Farida el-Shoubashi, a media expert. “I don’t want the state media to tell me that the president weeps while he prays. I want to know how to the president is going to lift the country’s battered economy.”

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