(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Thousands of Muslim Facebook users have pushed to remove an Arabic-language Facebook page created by a user taking on the identity of Allah, or God.
The user claimed he/she was an atheist and believed in no God but him/herself, saying that Muslim prophets would be able to connect with users through the site and answer their questions, according to news reports.
The page, displaying warped Koranic verses and making fun of Islam, soon garnered a 600,000 strong following and drew thousands of responses to its status updates, many of them scolding the creator.
Campaigners who said it was an insult to Islam and to God demanded Facebook remove the page and some even urged users to boycott Facebook altogether.
While campaigners are viewing the removal of the page on Tuesday as an indication of their success, the creator of the controversial profile page said she (or he) removed it to create a new look.
Olivier Bassile, chief executive of Reporters Without Borders to the European Union and head of the organization’s Belgian office, said censorship of the material was the wrong strategy by Facebook, if Facebook did indeed remove the page under pressure.
“It’s related to freedom of expression,” he told The Media Line new agency
. “It was only logical that one day Facebook and other social media would face this pressure because the traditional media is already suffering from this pressure.”
“On the Internet, you find far more cases of criticism of religion, but this is the price you pay for the freedom of the Internet,” he said. “You have to accept the most dirty parts of the Internet if you want the beautiful part of the Internet and have access to anything you want. On the Internet you want to promote the international point of view, this is part of the debate.”
Dr. Abeer Najjar, a media researcher at the American University of Sharjah, said she would not consider the response by Facebook of removing the page as indication that freedom of speech was under threat, as long as the request came from the public, but she warned that such calls are often used by governments to legitimize censorship.
“The problem is that when the public asks for it, it encourages the authorities and gives them legitimacy to censor other things,” she told The Media Line. “The fundamental problem is that it empowers the governments and gives them a green light for more censorship.”
The United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) went as far as to instruct all Internet service providers in the UAE to block the offensive page, following numerous calls and complaints from Internet users who were angry about the site.
Counter campaigns to the Allah page drew more than 100,000 people, including the “20 million campaign to close down the group of the heretic who claims he’s God” that drew more than 52,000 and other campaigns that called on Muslim users to boycott the popular website.
Despite the opposition, the Allah page managed to draw a large following. Two new pages under different names were set up with similar content and appear to be by the same author, based on the content and the style of writing.
One of them, called “Believers in the New Allah” prominently features a
cartoon in which a Muslim is saying “Islam is the religion of
compassion and peace.” In the next scene he is wielding a gun over a
dead man in front of a burning church, saying “whoever says otherwise
is the son of a dog.”
One of the problems this case highlights, Najjar said, is that
Facebook’s policies on removing seemingly offensive profiles are not
“There have been cases in which they have closed pages, so they should
have certain criteria, and I’m not aware of these criteria,” she said.
“Last year everyone was talking about the Gaza War and many pages
belonging to activists were closed down because it provoked
controversy, or other people complained. If you respond to complaints,
you have to classify the complaints and consider explaining why you did
it. The whole social media issue is very raw and it takes more time and
maybe work ethic and advocacy to get it done the right way.”
Facebook was not available to comment by time of publication.