Tuesday, August 14, 2007

UAE, Censorship, Shari'a Law, Freedom: So What?

I learned something about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) today.

An online discussion brought my attention to the UAE, in a roundabout way. A blogger, who apparently lives in the United States, but needs internet connections for the blog, started the discussion with these words:

"anybody noticed today that blogger is down its down for one day and im still waiting any body having the same problem."

Later, after establishing that "blogger" was usable from a couple points in America, Sweden, and the Sultanate of Oman, the blogger wrote this:

"its not opening the website in uae"


"maybey etisalat blocked it"

Still later, the blogger seemed to have found the problem. "ok guys i knew the probem its all about our damn intenet service provider their name is etisalat they are blocking all the damn websites i dont what the hell is wrong with them my brother computer has a kind of software that can bypass any website but this software does not work in my computer so i asked my brother if i coud use his computer daiy so he said yes i will try to emai this damn etisaat because bogger website has nothing illegal."

I took a look at the website, "Make Money Online with a 12-Year Old Kid." Aside from the rather bright color scheme, I could find nothing objectionable. "Get into the world of making money online with a 12 years old kid that will teach you the best seo tutorials for optimizing your blog or website," is how the blogger describes the site.

Etisalat is the UAE's government-owned Internet provider. Their website shows a professional, family-friendly set of services.

Checking around, I found a GulfNews.com article, "Don't let your child roam the internet aimlessly" (July 27, 2007), quoting a parent with pre-teen children. "At the moment, the Internet connection we have is the Etisalat one and there are processes in place to stop some sites. They filter all the pornographic sites and the sites that could be harmful to children. I have peace of mind here [in the UAE]. In my home country we don't have this filter."

Sounds very nice. I'm the father of four, and I'm concerned about what my children are exposed to, too.

It's been four hours, so far, since that online discussion started. The blogger still doesn't seem able to get past Etilsalat.

Maybe they've got technical difficulties. It happens.

A little more checking about the UAE showed that it's a small country on the Persian Gulf, relatively wealthy, with a president, and what looks like a good, constitutionally-guaranteed set of human rights. The UAE even has a "moderate foreign policy."

Then, there's what the U.S. Department of State wrote about the UAE, regarding their 2006 human rights behavior.

"Authorities do not commonly screen private correspondence; however, there have been reports of censorship of incoming international mail. The government-owned Internet provider, Etisalat, regularly blocks internet sites that censors determine to be "objectionable" (see section 2.c.)."

"Make Money Online with a 12-Year Old Kid" hardly seems "objectionable," unless a 12-year-old talking about search engine optimization and making money is wrong. Of course, there is that rather loud black-and-yellow design.

More excerpts from the same U.S. State Department page about UAE's human rights practices in 2006:

"The constitution prohibits torture, and there were no reports that government officials employed it; however, courts applying Shari'a (Islamic law) sometimes imposed flogging sentences on both Muslims and non-Muslims as punishment for adultery, prostitution, consensual premarital sex, and for pregnancy outside of marriage. On March 13, a R'as al-Khaimah court sentenced a woman to five years and 150 lashes for adultery, and on June 11 a man was sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery with a maid. The law allows for capital punishment, and, unlike in previous years, capital sentences were carried out." (Emphasis mine.)

"The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government restricted these rights in practice. The government drafts all Friday sermons in mosques and censors private association publications (see section 2.c.). The law prohibits criticism of the rulers, and from acts to create [!] or encourage social unrest." (Emphasis mine.)

And, "Internet Freedom

"The government restricted access to some Web sites on the Internet. Internet chat rooms, instant messaging services, and blogs were monitored. Individuals and groups engaged in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by email, without reports of government prosecution or punishment, although there was self-censorship apparent in many chat rooms and blogs." (Emphasis mine.)

I'm all for being tolerant and open-minded, but I'm not sure I like what I see in the UAE. They seem to have constitutional guarantees of human rights, and think that under Shari'a (Islamic law) it's okay stone a man to death for fooling around with a maid. I don't approve of adultery myself, but that seems a little harsh.

I know: it's not my country, and (following, for a very brief moment the principle of moral equivalence) if I can tolerate someone being forced to cover a provocative T-shirt, how can I possibly criticize monitoring chat rooms, blocking websites that a censor doesn't like, or stoning a guy for making out with a maid?

I may not have any business, criticizing the UAE's human rights scorecard.

But I do believe that there's something important to think about here. There will be terribly important decisions made in the next year or so, and I'm pretty sure that some people will question whether it is important to stop Islamic fanatics who want to impose their beliefs, and their laws, on us.

Given what's been going on in the United Arab Emirates, a "moderate" Islamic state, which would you rather live under: UAE rules, or USA rules?

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.