With quickly expanding technological advances in the Islamic world, liberals can now bypass censorship by publishing on the Internet and social media. Yet this in no way protects them from the most severe punishment. Now, even a 120-character comment can win someone a date with the chopping block.
The Saudis are not the only ones moving to censor the Internet and social media.
Earlier in February, a man was arrested in Pakistan’s Sindh province for “spreading derogatory electronic messages” about the four caliphs that succeeded Muhammad. In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, one can be prosecuted and jailed for 7 to 12 years for using the Internet (including Twitter accounts) for “blasphemy.”
In 2008, Kuwaiti parliamentarians and the director of censorship at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Communication banned YouTube so they could “protect” Kuwaitis from those who “blasphemed” against Muhammed. Egypt’s blasphemy laws were used to go after Coptic Christian businessman and liberal politician Naguib Sawiris after he tweeted a cartoon of a bearded Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse wearing the clothing prescribed by Islamists as properly Muslim.
When Western journalists praised the tweeting revolutionaries of Libya, Egypt, and Syria, they missed a key element. As tech-savvy as many in the Islamic world appear, it is still an extremely closed environment. The normal Western paradigm of technological and social advances going hand-in-hand is hardly the case in the Islamic world. The same blogging sites that appeared to offer an outlet for religious dissenters can just as quickly be turned against them. With a new wave of Sunni Islamist regimes sprouting up in the post-Arab Spring landscape, cases like Kashgari’s may soon become the norm.