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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Forbidden

Since the turn of the century the rushing flow of events has swept us all, nations, communities and individuals. Political and social polarization has reached an unprecedented level of intensity. Diplomacy in its traditional role has all but vanished, and it has become not only fashionable but rather acceptable that coercion is the new lingua franca of the world. From the micro scale of the basic family upward to the clash of civilizations, one side is trying to shove its sense of justice, of right or wrong down the other’s throat. Dialogue is fading from our collective conscience like a piece of meat rots in the sun. Although censorship, in all of its manifestations, is not a novel development, political, social and economic evolutions have always been successful in eroding the extent of its prevalence. The mere fact that censorship is on the rise again is an evolutionary mutation. It has appeared time and again in human history in the form of indoctrinated politics and religion. My focus in this article is “moral censorship”, although I would rather call it moral oppression and tyranny.

A blind, rash, senseless and stupid stroke of political genius rendered Blogspot inaccessible to Internet browsers in Syria earlier this year. The majority of these users certainly opposed this decision. Many bloggers expressed their frustration with the known and often unknown decision makers behind the scenes. At the time, I wrote a bitter and angry article but never published it afterward for two reasons. First, one has to remember where he or she is and not stretch his or her luck too thin. Then, and more significantly, scoring goals is more important than beating up the goalkeeper. I continued blogging and circumnavigated yet another obstacle in a course full of them. Political censorship is wrong, but this post, as I have indicated earlier, is after another culprit which is sneaking up on our already almost non-existent freedom of expression.

Certain voices then and now keep bringing up a point of immense consequences, why does the government, any government that is, oppress political freedom of speech while turning a blind eye on the immoral literature, be it on internet sites, television stations, magazines or books. They are literally advocating and calling on the powers in control to exercise moral censorship on the masses. Pornography, nude pictures of men and women, suggestive music and inappropriate or explicit content are invading our cultural and religious fabric and integrity, they claim. They want the censor to tear off pages, to unplug cables and to break the waves of the onslaught of foreign and decadent influence on our puritan society. These individuals whose numbers are certainly on the rise, are using their religious beliefs or inscriptions, as they prefer to call them, to dictate and to impose their own sense of morality on the rest of society. They are absolutely convinced that they are right and that the others are wrong because the word of God is on their side.

Shouldn’t we question the validity of the hypothesis advocated by millions of followers that theirs is the one true and universal religion? I have no idea about the exact number of religions in existence today (there are far too many). However, you and I are certain that many adherents to every single one of these religions believe that they solely possess the eternal truth, the only and unique key to the gate of heaven. If that were to be true then what is the grand idea behind mass producing generation after generation of humans born to the wrong religion. If God only meant Religion X to be the perfect path, why is HE throwing newborns, left and right on the Y and Z roads. What is the point behind this biased game? I would heartily accept that all religions possess a certain amount of truth in them, of decency, of goodwill. After all, they are all human. Their dark sides are also inherent traits of their human pedigree. Is it not a little strange that no single religion could ever exist alone? Is it not true that their version of good can not survive if it were not for the presence of evil? Be that as it may, trying to impose a sense of morality on the grounds of divine rights is totally unacceptable.

We all have, as individuals and not as a group, an obligation toward our offspring. We are required to stimulate their senses and intellect in order for them to develop their own conscience. As adults, we raise our children on a matrix of threads. We protect them from the unknown and from what we deem to be dangerous. This is perfectly normal and as thus, if I were a religious person I would show my kids the signs that might lead them eventually to the stairway to heaven. But I would never give up my right of parenthood and ask the government to take over the responsibility of raising up my kids. It is my duty as a parent to supervise and guide them as far as what they watch, hear and read. I do not need a public servant to decide for me which particular internet site is offensive and which one is acceptable. If I have succeeded in my role of bringing them in touch with their own conscience then I have nothing to fear. Let them surf and sail every which way their untethered minds take them. They have nothing to fear.

I have previously expressed my dislike of and disagreement with a few blogs on political grounds. However, blocking them is wrong and nobody has the right to do so. I have made that choice on my own and refused to read them long before Blogspot was blacklisted. I feel exactly the same about pornography and "morally" questionable material. I would not go purposely on a quest to find pornographic sites. However, I stand by their right to exist and the right of any adult to browse these sites till he or she drops. Is it not strange that in a city like Dubai, where soliciting the services of a prostitute is as easy as ordering a pizza by phone, internet sites are blocked because of their morally unacceptable content? What about the other Arab countries from where I keep getting hits everyday on a long gone post about Fairuz. Through search engines and from behind firewalls, these maverick browsers were looking for a “smooth ass”. Who has the right to deny these poor souls their right to see an ass? I have previously made a joke about this particular incidence but now I repent.


It is beyond the scope of this article to differentiate between art and pornography as in doing so I would be negating the beliefs I so dearly hold. Whether I find a novel, a photo, a video or a song as a majestic objet d’art or as a tasteless, pointless and shameless piece of shit is my opinion only. It is also beyond the capacity, the duty and the right of a civil servant to appoint himself or to be appointed for such a malicious endeavor. If we fail to see the beauty that lies in between the extremes of human taste it is a shortcoming of our own eyes, of our own minds. It is my ethical obligation to defend beauty, abstract and earthly. I highly appreciate the spiritual content of all the religions I have read about but I disagree with their insistence on refusing the other, on indoctrinating a way of life for their followers, on permitting and forbidding. Humans have evolved (yes dear, evolution is not called “the theory of Darwin” anymore, it is a fact of life) and through their evolution they have developed a highly intricate conscience. At a certain stage in their social evolution, moral guidance through religion was a much needed step. But as in all dynamic processes, the possibility of something going wrong is ever present. Yet the powers of the human brain are unimaginable and it had eventually crossed this and other hurdles. Pornography is another mutation in our social evolution. It also is a result of human folly, when the line between beauty and bad taste is crossed.

If our traditions, arts and culture stumble under the heavy weight of external influences, it is our own failure. We can either choose to burry our heads defensively under the sand like a damn flock of ostriches or fight back by providing the entire world with our own, new and improved, versions of traditions, arts and culture. We need to wake up and finally reach the simple yet eternal truth, our sense of morality is not and could never be any better than the rest.

29 comments:

The Syrian Brit said...

An insightful and thought-provoking post, as usual..
Censorship in the name of preserving our social fabric and our moral values is nothing but an excuse to oppress and dominate..
As you point out, no-one has the right to impose his/her own moral values on others.. least of all, those morally-defunct, morally-corrupt, self-rightuous individuals..

abufares said...

Dear Syrian Brit
It's been a while since I've posted or since I've had the chance to read my favorite blogs.
Luckily, I was able to break the chain today.
I'm glad, as always, that you're here to share with me and others your valued opinion and comments. As parents, we both understand the enormity of the task of bringing up children. However, I'm glad that you agree with me that parenting is our business and our business only.
Thank you for dropping by.

saint said...

Like the post and the photo
I will say censorship in a country like Syria is abortive trial to prevent evolution from happening,Of course it is a crime,and then as in the Jurassic Park, one day the Australian body guard turns his face and see his end near and says: Smart girl, you found a way.

Yazan said...

I agree with everything u say on so many different levels,
We obviously have very different approaches to religion. But the fact that if we as individuals cant find it in ourselves to help a blind man cross the street, or to take ur example, to be good to our offsprings, without religion, or social norms or whatever u wanna call it, pushing us into it... then its sad, its very sad.

ofcourse needless to say about censorship, they couldnt keep satellite dishes from mushrooming up in the 90s, and they definitely will not be able to keep people away from the internet, and definitely not away from porn.

Welcome back abu fares, u've been missed.

Lujayn said...

I think I'm about one of five people in this country that doesn’t know how to bypass a firewall. Shows you how effective censorship really is.

But while everyone knows how to get around the system, very few people reject the concept of censorship outright. I think it’s because very few people really tolerate others and their viewpoints. I don’t like the viewpoints of the religious right in our countries, but I have to accept that they exist. I can’t pretend they’re not there, by muzzling them. That only forces them to go underground. And what is not out in the open is very, very worrisome. I would rather know what people think and want.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, despite government efforts to block out any suggestive or pornographic content, the country tops search engine statistics for the most outrageous and twisted search requests. Since Saudi youth most likely are not genetically inclined towards pornography, there must be a reason that country is teeming with sex-starved, porn-seeking youth. Nobody wants to accept or tolerate that it’s normal for young men and women to have sexual needs.

It requires a lot of awareness to overcome these problems, but since our governments don’t really want to give up their control over every aspect of our lives, generation after generation grows up expecting someone else to take care of its problems because we lack the ability to draw up our own ethical and moral guidelines.

Phew, that must have really been pissing me off cause my rant is almost as long as the original post. :)

Rime said...

Great post, great writing, great debate. And great sentence which I will unashamadly quote when appropriate: "scoring goals is more important than beating up the goalkeeper." (Although sometimes beating up the goalkeeper is a lot more satisfying.)


On a serious note, I most certainly agree with your position. I cannot stand the notion of having others decide what I, or my child, has the right to think, to feel, to see, to read, to say, to wear, to eat, etc. It goes without saying that the holier-than-thou thought police popping up in every religion have no business telling us what we can or cannot do.

On an even more serious note, I think we must nevertheless begin to take stock of the many evils that are allowed to slip through our determination for freedom of choice. The problem is: do we stick to laws (who's laws?), morals (who's morals?), common sense (who's common sense?)?

I live in a country where it is difficult to escape the revolting, inhuman reality of paedophilia. Every few weeks, stories emerge about tiny children, babies even, abducted, abused, raped even, and killed. I tremble as I write these words, as we are in the midst of another big media story here, with the abduction of a 3-year old British girl in Portugal.

That's one reason I think there must be a caveat somewhere, a censorship that goes beyond the legal. Of course, such heinous crimes are illegal all over the world, but still there are apparently thousands of websites peddling the horrific sight of children in the most inhuman abusive positions we can imagine.

I know this was not the object of your post, and I apologize for digressing, but if we agree that these sickening sights and sites must be stopped, then we agree that there is a basic necessity for some form of censorship. Where does it start, and where does it stop?


On a far less serious note, as you mention the right to admire art, amongst others, why are we never treated to illustrations of male beauty every now and then, heh? Would it kill you to show, say, the many delights of George Clooney? Sorry, but my feminist leanings sometimes do come out when provoked. :)

Apologies for the lengthy aside.

abufares said...

Hello Saint
Welcome to my blog.
Censorship is wrong and unacceptable not only in Syria but universally.

abufares said...

Thank you for noticing my short absence Yazan. I'm afraid that for the next couple of weeks (at least) I would be busier than I would like to be.
"Forbidden" is a very tempting word to break. More so with frustrated, over-controlled, over-protected and over-monitored kids. Rules are meant to be broken and kids, especially, enjoy doing that.
With proper upbringing and trust they can find their own way. It will most certainly be a little on the radical side for the parents but that's the way it was meant to be. To foster replicas of ourselves is to bring forth a stagnant society. That's what's happening, sort of.

abufares said...

Hi Lujayn
How I miss arguing with you.
"I don’t like the viewpoints of the religious right in our countries,..."
Frankly, I don't like their viewpoints anywhere in the world. My argument is simply based on the fact that nobody has the right to issue a moral certificate of acceptance regarding what we should interact with. The highest level this issue should ever reach is the immediate family. As long the children are under age, their parents have the right to raise them as they see fit within the general guidelines of common sense. Once they are adults and break free they will reap the benefit or the psychosis of their upbringing. To even contemplate that we need government assistance to help us with the kids is the most cowardly act of all.

abufares said...

Hi Rime
It sure is nice beating up the goal keeper every once in a while.
Paedophilia is not a form of self-expression. Anytime a minor is involved, it's totally fair to bring in the law and to even shoot the maniacs without even a blink of an eye. I'm certainly glad you brought up this particular point as it needed clarification.
BUT Rime, do you want to make a laughing stock out of me. Can you imagine what will happen to my cyber image if I post a photo of George Clooney's ass on my blog?
Having said that, I would oblige in the near future with a post about beauty as seen from the eye of a woman. Can I do that and get away with it? I have no idea.

KJ said...

Salam Abufares!

Thank you for the great post (I love your writing style... I lost my writing style years ago when I stopped reading books)

Anyway.. I also questioned myself the other day when my friend and I passed by a prostitution hub in Dubai. I asked him and myself the rhetorical question: Here are these prostitutes in one of the most known hubs in the city, selling themselves for various prices, while the proxy blocks the preview of such prostitutes.

Then I answered myself the question: The proxy censors pornographic sites because (in addition to other reasons) children can easily access the internet but may have a more difficult task asking their parents to take them to that area in the city.

However like you said, it is our responsibilities as parents to raise our kids and it is not the governments. This is of course an idealistic and approach to achieve utopia. I am sure you know that there are parents who are not fit to raise their children properly, whether that is their fault or not is a by-case scenario. While the children may grow up with intense sexual frustration that "anything goes", most of them would go around and develop their proxy bypassing skills to see what they have been uneducated about and then go try them out when they are able to.

Regarding censorship of other material, like religious points of views and other suggestive material, the government takes the role of stopping a possible anti religious propaganda from the get go. Discussing religion and its basis is a huge topic in and of itself so I will keep that rant for another reply or post.

I agree with you that censorship is a piece of shit and oppression masked as a crusader's sword. However, following pure science, one thing leads to another, and censorship is a result of a variety of things, some of which you have mentioned, some of which I have mentioned (bad parents).

Unfortunately, this is a vicious cycle. Censorship is 7erman and it is human nature to want something they have been deprived. Which results in a more psychologically disturbed society, and hence, as protection, more censorship, and the cycle continue.

Arab video clips are a testament of what has become of this society... they just want to break out free and experience everything. And since the majority is out of control, the governments are taking action to control (although not airing those things would be the easier way).

It is a cycle.

As a side note, most of the visitors to my blog arrived at it because they were looking for sex (and I had a joke post about it). So much for being creative in my posts :P

*opens up ass photo and brings baby oil*

Joking :P

DUBAI JAZZ said...

I love the post and the comment. Very intelligent and thought-provoking as always!
I don't believe in Darwinism, but I strongly believe in social and human evolution.
My humble opinion is that those who censor don't do it because they are fear our culture will stumble under the heavy weight of external influences, they do it because they are lazy, over-protective, and (in some cases) hypocrites!
I believe in reasonable censorship, for instance, there is a term in the western media called “water shed” which is that programs with explicit content don't show before 9:00 pm.
I also don't mind establishing some sort of a uniform moral values for a certain nation. (provided that it is only up to the individuals to conform or not). I neither mind making moral dilemmas a national concern, for instance, there was a governmental campaign in the Cameroon recently, which aimed at improving the treatment of the elderlies country by the youth. (Apparently, there was a public outcry over the growing trend of the youth to being rude to the elderlies)
Thank you for the great post Abu Fares, and please la te2ta3na, we are missing you!

Golaniya said...

Ohh, so that's what you mean by an "assy ass"! ;-)
One of best articles I've read today, and thought provoking comments as well.

I find what Lujyin said is very similar to my initial response to your post:

"But while everyone knows how to get around the system, very few people reject the concept of censorship outright."

I do think that censorship lives within since we have been subjected, with or without our knowledge, to certain domestic, regional and international censor policies that have become part of our consciousness demonstrated in our detailed daily lives.

So when US sensor Syria, and Syria censor its people, and the people sensor the less authorial people/sex, we are facing a process and a chain of censorship that it has gradually become part of us, and only those who recognize it, and self-conscious about it, are the ones who can manage to flee the chain.

I'm afraid am still stuck in it.

Thank you for a satisfying post indeed.

Lujayn said...

I miss arguing with you too, Abu Fares, but on this one, we more or less agree.

abufares said...

Hello KJ
I'm all to open discussion of any topic. However, discussing one particular religion from the perpsective of any other religion is very stupid. What are we out to prove? We are right and they are wrong? This is absurd. The only way for religion to have any validity is to ascertain that they are all right and wrong.
Censorship is no longer acceptable by any standard. As Rime so wisely pointed out we do need some form of inrevention at times. But I think that we need to do so when the plaintiff isn't really exercising his right of free expression but rather trafficking a humanly (not merely morally) unacceptable notion.
Deprivation is the mother (and father) of all social ailments. Some people find their solice in food, others in sex, still others in religion. Let them be, as long as each is not trying to convert the others to her own way.

abufares said...

Sure Dubai Jazz
we need to protect minors from controversial notions as we need to protect them from tobacco and alcohol. But once they are adults, it's up to them to choose their way of life.
There are no uniform moral values in real life. Even in my own house, with my own children, I seek a compromise. Can you imagine how boring a general moral concensus for an entire country could be. My stand is that we should drop our own bias of right and wrong. We should all agree that our freedom stops where the others' start. We should not hurt each other, but what we choose to do with our own lives is entirely up to us.

abufares said...

Sham
Permit me to say that this is one hell of an ass. I look forward meeting such a thing irl :-)
We do impose our own censorship that's true and fair, as long as we impose it on ourselves and not on others.

abufares said...

Lujayn and I agree
I must've written something right after all.

Fares said...

Abu Fares, I think this is the first time I comment on your blog after reading.

All I can say wow very amazing, truly great article. If there is 100 people like you inside Syria or may be a little more, we could be in a much better shape.

Don't forget to drink Kass Il Mughterebeen next time you drink Arak in one of these lovely restaurents (previous post) or remember us when you drive through the beautiful mountains and villages of Tartous (Muhafza), my mom is originally from near Mashta Alhelou and Kafroun and we used to spend a lot of time in the area during the summer.

Lujayn said...

:)) no comment

abufares said...

Hi Fares
Welcome to my blog.
There are thousands of Syrians who are far more enlightened than I am. I'm not saying that out of false modesty but simply because I believe it is true.
There are more Mughtarebeen in my family than there are people living in Syria and I always drink their toast. My main point of disagreement with some Syrians is that, as I've written in the course of this article, "...scoring goals is more important than beating up the goalkeeper."
Fair play, as far as I'm concerned, doesn't only apply to the game of Football.
Thank you for being here.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

The need to protect minors from what we think is controversial(or harmful) notions(or material), is exactly why I think that we should have some sort of ‘uniform morals’, which we can fall back upon as point of reference to determine what’s harmful and what’s tolerable.

I know the word ‘uniform’ might not go down well with some people (as it has other connotations), so let’s call them ‘General Conventions’ or any other name in this context…

Now having said that, it seems to me that it is very hard to set moral guide lines for public broadcasting or publishing, and it is way out of my league to do so here, somebody(s) should do some homework about all this…

After all, shouldn’t the goalkeeper do some goalkeeping?

:-)

Cheers…

gospodinBezkrai said...

Hi Abu Fares!

I will write here from a different perspective, and please excuse me not knowing how the censorship you talk about in Syria works - it is probably quite different from what I refer to. Also I am not going to talk about religion or porn.


I was in entering my teenager years as my country from full censorship passed to full individual freedoms. I can say its quite cool, because it made life much more colourful and interesting than it could be before, but also including the dark shades. Previously maybe it was not exactly censorship, as here were no private agents, simply the state owned the publishing agencies therefore it decided the books to be translated and published. (same for tv, cinema, etc.)

this meant a restricted range of books, but in fact it was a very high quality selection by professors, literature critics, etc. (of course, it meant also the government blocked everything politically overtoned, promoting capitalism, or else) As an example, if they publish science fiction, a genre not widely considered "serious", they will publish Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak, Stanislav Lem, J R R Tolkien, but not the endless pulp series of heroes or magicians battling it out with sole purpose to entertain the audience.

today the market is inundated with cheap western thriller, love/sex and celebrity books and thats what people would buy and read. its there because it sells. some quality authors are still translated or home authors published, but they are barely visible in that sea.

There has been general feeling in the nation that the common culture is going straight down to the gutter level, and I could witness that as I was growing up. You say, let me educate my children as I know, but alas it seems the mass of people prefer to slide along the easiest plane. Could we trust them totally to educate their children if we want to get a better future for our nation? (sorry that I sound a bit elitist here!) If you allow mostly "intellectual crap" to surround them, it will shape their tastes and they will just want more crap. I don't know if censorship can battle that and how one could draw the balance. How could one reconcile it especially with plurality of opinion (e.g. my idea of better future for the nation is not the same as somebody elses). And probably any authority will immediately abuse such power for its own interests. But I am feeling unhappy with how things are going in the moment.

If you are bored sometime you can read thoughts in related topic on my webpage:
http://arcoiris.umnaglava.org/designed/pismo-eastwest.html

Thanks,
Nikola

gospodinBezkrai said...

lol, not sure why my "blogger display name" has changed - i am the same Никола from before!

Shannon said...

I read the first half of this post last week and have finally had the time to finish it. Once again, bravo on an outstanding post. Fortunately, I saved the half with the "smooth ass "for a time I wasn't at work ;).

I love Munich said...

I fully agree dear friend - everybody has the right to decide for him/herself.
Everyone has own perceptions of what he/she feels is appropriate and what is over the limit ... what religion he/she feels comfortable with and which not. I went through enough criticism when I converted so I'm a living example for that.

I love the way you write dear friend ... GREAT POST as always!

abufares said...

Hello Dubai Jazz, Nicola, Shannon & Karin
I have been out of Tartous (thus a fish out of water) for the last week. I just returned today in time to thank you for your comments. Now I have a harder task ahead. I need to think of my new post.

Chet said...

As always a great post! I haven't been around much, but I do know that this post is one of the best I have read and have to agree with you. As a father and grandfather I feel that I have the right to decide what my kids should know. Most of the moral standards I grew up with doesn't seem to exist today. I honestly don't know what has happened over the years. I just hope that the few moral standards I have, I won't loose. Without them I can not do much to help others growing up in todays world to know right from wrong.

Lujayn said...

Allah yirda 3laik, Abu Fares, write a new post. Everytime I check your blog to see if you've posted something, the smooth butt photo flashes on my screen. And since my boss' office faces my computer, he must think I'm some sort of pervert :))