Digital World: The will of which people - what happens when 'truths' collide?

Digital World The will

By DAVID SHAMAH
December 22, 2009 05:58

Democracy is the least imperfect system out there, as they say - and the Internet is the biggest democracy in the world. But Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson set the United States up as a republic, and most European democracies have some limit on how much influence the will of the people has in society - because, believe it or not, "the will of the people" isn't always that. "The people" can be goaded, bribed or otherwise intimidated into silence or compliance, as anyone who is familiar with the term "People's Republic" knows. So, when I get a message from the community e-mail list that goes something like: "Emergency! Click on this link now to vote in a CNN poll condemning Israel. We're losing!" I don't necessarily rush to vote (i.e., I take care of it when I get around to it). The truth is that these CNN polls stay on the site for months or years, and all they do is drive more traffic to CNN's site, allowing them to get more money from advertisers. US foreign policy is certainly not going to be driven by a CNN poll; the State Department, along with everyone else, knows that online polls and petitions are extremely malleable. If real-life elections and votes can be "thrown" by clever political functionaries, online votes are far-easier to bend. The choices the objects of those petitions make - for right or wrong, better or worse - are not influenced by such polls, because in the end, everyone does what they think is best, following their own truth - even if half a million people say they're wrong! Or rather, 455,165 people, to be exact - the number of people who signed a petition at the Care2 Petitionsite (http://tinyurl.com/ysnvjn) demanding that Wikipedia remove a 14th century image of Muhammad from its entry on the Kaaba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaaba); actually, Wikipedia has a whole host of historic depictions of Muhammad at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depictions-of-Muhammad. According to modern Islamic practice (though some sources say this was not the case in the past), depicting Muhammad in an image is against Islamic law. But not Wikipedia law, which strives for NPOV (neutral point of view) in all situations. I've knocked Wikipedia in the past for being too NPOV (http://tinyurl.com/ye6sf7b). Of course, it's always open season on Israel among the many liberals/leftists who edit Wikipedia, so I was interested in seeing how they handled the "Muhammad image" affair. Refreshingly, Wikipedia hasn't backed down; the Talk page for the Kaaba article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Kaaba) is full of comments by indignant Muslims demanding the image's removal, but Wikipedia has decided to keep them, in a decision that appears final (requests for reconsideration keep appearing every few months, though). Considering the recent history of angry Muslims "doing something" about images of Muhammad (i.e., rioting after the publication of the "Muhammad caricatures" in European newspapers), Wikipedia deserves credit for standing its ground, despite the overwhelming numbers of people who signed a petition demanding the images' removal. Not that I advocate insulting any religion; my own has certainly been mistreated on the Internet (and before the online era) for a very long time. Wikipedia is supposed to be a secular, objective body of knowledge that came into existence from the collective wisdom of the world's Internet users, so as such it is the very symbol of the "Secular City" (http://tinyurl.com/y8gpjtg). While we would all want the world to conform to our own world views, Wikipedia has decided to remain true to its NPOV self, despite the polls. Wikipedia recommends that Muslims who are offended by the images adjust their browsers not to display them; it is under no obligation, it says, to subscribe to a particular Islamic viewpoint, which says that displaying the images in itself is heresy, just like it is under no obligation to accept my points of view on Judaism, Israel or Zionism - even if I have the facts on my side! But then again, I don't go to Wikipedia when I want a jolt of Zionism. There are plenty of alternatives out there that subscribe to my truth. I know no amount of nudging is going to change Wikipedia's NPOV, so I move on. It's either that - or riot. In a free market, we're constantly faced with different truths; my truth is just as relevant and true to me as yours is to you. If we are going to accept the POV of one group, we have to accept everyone's. True democracy means accepting the existence of the point of view you disagree with, even if it violates your truth (as opposed to deliberately offensive). Live and let live. What about where things get really offensive? That depends; if everyone is getting poked at the same time, and no one group is getting singled out, then that may be a case for live and let live as well. Take, for example, a game called Faith Fighter, which depicts "G-d" getting into a street brawl with the prophet of your choice - Jesus, Buddha and - Muhammad. Because of many complaints by Muslim groups earlier this year, Italian game publisher Molleindustria decided to remove it from their site. It's back now - but in two versions, one in which Muhammad's "face" (we are talking here about a cartoon caricature) is blacked out, and one where he is depicted like one would expect a devout Muslim to be portrayed. Frankly, after playing the game, it's hard to believe that Muslims - or Hindus, Buddhists or even Jews, who do not permit G-d to be depicted in picture form - would be placated just because "their man's" face is blocked out; the game is offensive, face or no face. And even if you're not particularly religious, you'll definitely find something to hate with at least one of the other games Molleindustria has on their site. But here again, we see an example of an offensive Internet depiction - and provision for alternatives that don't offend. Live and let live, in other words: like it or not. But that's the way it is in the Secular City. What happens when "truths" collide, as they did in this case? Until such time as the majority of people "see the light" - whatever that light is - true believers, of whatever faith, have to deal with other points of view. And that is perhaps the true "will of the people": that everyone gets to have their truth, keeping clear of other "truths" they don't like. http://digital.newzgeek.com


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