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Censor's folly

I've no idea who is on the Pakistan censor board or its regulatory authority board but it's safe to say they're a few fries short of a happy meal.

It's also safe to say that they have an undying resolve to demonstrate their power and be as reactionary as possible to any global event, no matter how far or how disconnected it is from the reality of Pakistani life. Volumes could be written on the subject of censorship and its kinship to the Pakistani state, the way in which censors manage to take the attention of Pakistan's frustrated populace away from the daily issues of food, clothing and a roof over their heads (roti, kapra, makan).

A Lahore High Court judge ruled that Facebook should be temporarily banned because of a petition brought forward by a bank of Islamic lawyers, and all hell broke loose. In response to the court order, the censors start clicking away choosing random links and pages they don't want folks to address. A local internet company says 800 links have been blocked. There are certain pages deemed inappropriate for the Pakistani user — go to Wikipedia and type in "Muhammad" and you'll come up with a black page and the notice that says, "This site is restricted."

Is the public happy and thankful that the government has cut off access to horrific content that would hurt their sentiments and their religious views?

Not really. Pakistan has 2.5 million Facebook users — that's roughly 8 percent of its 19 million internet-savvy population, and many more YouTube visitors, which has been banned now for the second time. Many aren't concerned about the cartoon issue — the problem is their plants might die in Farmville if they can't tend to them.

Not to worry — Pakistanis are very resourceful in the face of difficulties. No hurdle is too great. Within hours of the notice, petitions were being signed to get Facebook back, discussion groups were in heated debate on the issue of free speech and discussion, and all sorts of proxies had been accessed and downloaded to get back in touch.

The funny thing is the wonderfully sharp censors haven't yet figured out that banning and censorship only enhances interest in an issue. When they banned Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" back in the pre-internet era, the book found its way onto the bookshelves of many Pakistani readers (some of whom likely never read it but wanted to get their hands on a copy of the most controversial book of the time).

That aside, this ain't the 1980s, nor is it the Zia era. Pakistanis are used to greater freedoms and they know all sorts of illicit ways to access them (that includes the president of the country and possibly much of his able staff).

Curiously, a sizable chunk of Pakistan's population — as with the rest of the world's population — relies on a healthy dose of pornography to get through the day-to-day. I'm told some of the big fellas of the right wing, Islamist parties have a special penchant for pornography. Obviously, none of the big pornography sites have been banned — likely not firewalled either. What else is one supposed to do on a government job from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.?

Let's see how long this round of censoring lasts. Until the head censor's daughter pouts and says she wants to feed her Farmville cow?