Is our culture so weak?

8 Aug, '06

New Bahraini National Flag UnveiledWhat possible service does blocking access to information, any type of information, do to a community? The only effect that these restrictions can bring to is the a continued regression into an information black hole which ultimately leads to the regression of a whole nation in its development and competitive chances in a very fast changing world.

Some would say that certain kind of information must be censored due to the community sensibilities; however, I contend that if the only way to defend those sensibilities is by banning access to competing views, then those sensibilities are by definition too weak to withstand the challenge and should be discarded. Hence, the recent decision by the Ministry of Information to block some sites it purports contain material “alien to our culture” – which has become its trademarked cry for imposing its ill-conceived Big Brotherly restrictions – then the question is: is our culture and moral fiber so weak that they cannot withstand the challenge posed by these websites and the ideas contained within them?

If the Ministry claims that a site has been blocked because it contains irreligious material, is our great religion that weak that it cannot withstand questions and doubts? Questions which some might perceive as genuine, and by seeking their answer one might grow closer to the Creator? What if that question, in a person’s own mind at the very worst case renders an answer opposite to the desired effect and the person forsakes Allah’s embrace, who are we – mere mortals – to judge that character? Isn’t judgment is the sole domain of Allah and it is up to him to decide what he wants to do with that person? That responsibility most certainly does not fall on the Ministry of Information’s shoulders.

Then who outsourced the task of adjudicating what is right and what is wrong to the Ministry of Information? I most certainly have not and I have a God given right to decide for myself what I deem to be right or wrong. It is I who shall be challenged on the Day of Judgment. No one else is going to take my place then.

We now come to the current fiasco of the Ministry of Information deciding to act once again to block access to information; this time it is Google Earth, a free global service of geographic and satellite imaging information that anyone in the world today is familiar with, wether by direct interaction through its supplied application, or by watching various television stations using that very service in order to lend credence to their news reports by showing their viewers the locations they are reporting about.

There is even a big community of users of Google Earth who have documented every attack, every bomb and almost every fatality in Lebanon and Israel, yet, the Ministry of Information deems this service unnecessary and should be restricted.

One would question the rationale behind such a decision. I myself cannot find a reason other than the Ministry wanting us Bahrainis to collectively put and keep our heads in the sand and be unknowledgeable about our country, a country which is constituted of some 33 islands and the vast majority of its citizens do not know more than 5 or 6 island names, let alone their locations. They maybe do not want us to see how the sea has been blocked from access? Or maybe marvel at the architectural and landscaping splendour of some houses and islands? Or not follow up on our investments in mega projects like Amwaj, Durrat Al-Bahrain and others and just believe the developers when they say that the islands are 99% completed than what the satellite pictures show?

I concede that some of these images are dated, and I also agree that some military sensitive areas have been obliterated (see various areas in Israel for example and the United States and possibly others) but they do show at least something that we can refer to in our geographic interest. If Google did block sensitive areas in other countries, isn’t it the Ministry of Information’s responsibility to actually find the mechanism to get Google to block some sensitive areas in Bahrain too, rather than opt for the cheapest shot and banning us, everyone in Bahrain, from seeing our own country from space?

I am completely opposed to the restriction of access to information, any information, and I demand to be treated as an adult who knows what is right and wrong by myself without having to seek permission from anyone, especially a government agency which has time and again demonstrated its complete disconnect with the very essence of its mandate. Nor do I need any false protection that this Ministry offers. I have my upbringing and my religious and ethical beliefs to thank for my moral guide, rather than having the Ministry’s skewed moral interpretations be imposed on me which I should regard as better than mine.

It is high time that this Ministry is dissolved just as other countries in the region have done. In this day and age, the only thing that this kind of government agency provides is blatant and exposed propaganda, thanks to the various free media outlets available all around us, and not just through the Internet.

By using Google Earth I came to know more about my beloved country than the Ministry has provided throughout its existence. Google Earth helped me become even more patriotic to these islands, than the Ministry has caused any citizen to be by spending untold amounts of badly needed money which could have been employed in various avenues to better the lives of the good residents of this country.

Remove blocks to information. Let us be the judge of what is good and bad. The only damage these blocks do is to ourselves and the development of this country.

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Comments (20)

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  1. LiB Team says:

    Mahmood, these morons think that people still live in the 40s where information could be easily concealed and hidden. Nowadays there are millions of sources and people are more educated than they were before. It is the mentalities of those in the Information Ministry who think that we Bahrainis are stupid. Of course كل من يرى الناس بعين طبعه, so they think that all people are morons as they are!

    This is a very cheap approach which shows their real IQ and problem soving abilities and they are the reason why we never advance.

  2. ByronB says:

    What is more tempting to peek at than something you have been forbidden to view?

  3. mahmood says:

    Absolutely BryonB!

    LiB, what I would love to know is what the hell is their mandate? What is the main reason of existence of the MoI? Is there an internal constitution, a mission statement that they follow? Is there a manual that they give to every employee, news caster, under-secretary, minister, janitor that joins that ministry so that everyone knows what their mission in life is? How are they measured for efficiency and output?

    With over 700 staff and that is just for BRTC, what is their modus operandi?

    Anyone know?

  4. Yousif says:

    Mahmood, there is an article on slashdot.org about the TRA blocking Google Earth. Now, allot of people around the world know about the situation.

  5. mahmood says:

    Excellent Yousif, that with today’s FULL page 6 (local affairs) in Al-Wasat dealing with this situation, this stupid decision has been exposed completely, I hope (but I won’t hold my breath) that this situation will not occur again.

  6. what is happening here??

    I tried to access the link provided by Yousif to the slashdot article, but it timed out. I tried accessing it through a proxy and it is still there.

    Don’t tell the MoI has blocked all of Slashdot also!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The ministry had no say over this blocking, orders came from up above and the ministry must obey like a puppet. A certain official was said to have wanted to block Google Earth for “security reasons”. I guess now there are arguments between the people up above over this affair.

  8. David Langdon says:

    The address of Slashdot is “Slashdot.org”. The article is still (as of 1500 GMT) on the front page, though near the bottom. If it has slipped off, it can be found linked to the right und er the headong “older stuff”.

    I gave Mahmood’s Den a mention, but didn’t provide a direct link beccause I like Mahmood too much to bring down his web site…

    As a side note, while I was staying in Bahrain, I was unable log onto Slashdot… The site saw my network address as the University of Bahrain (even though I was using the net from my flat), which is banned from Slashdot due to some past hacking attempts coming from there(or something to that effect; I forget the exact message.)

  9. F says:

    I am still surprised by MOI’s move.

    One can visit the Bahrain Baladiya (Municipality) website and access
    maps there. I’m sure maps of all locations are not available.

    What was the Google earth alternative – Nasa….something?

  10. Ehsan says:

    There’s an Internet outage at the moment. The majority of sites were inaccessible for a while until they were rerouted, and now everything will be slow for a while.

    F: Nasa World Wind

  11. Kiwi Nomad says:

    It’s not just Bahrain that’s got this problem it seems… I’ve just found that I’m now blocked to http://www.Flickr.com by Fastelco, one of the local ISPs. I’m hoping it’s a mistake! But I doubt it somehow. Now I have tell everyone to go via a proxy server to see my photos!

  12. Ibn says:

    Mahmood,

    Saying our culture is weak is precisely the type of reverse psychology I think we can capitalise on in order to raise awareness on the MOI’s freedom-curbing intentions.

    Would it be possible to stage a protest outside MOI, invite the local media, and hold up signs saying:

    We have such a weak culture! MOI! Save us by banning all alien concepts!

    I like the idea because first off you arent even saying anything against the government – it would be one big billboard of sarcasm, but it gets the point across.

    Possible Mahmood?

    -Ibn

  13. mahmood says:

    David that was very considerate of you, thank you very much for the mention!

    Ibn, that would be wicked.

    Ehsan, which cable was cut this time? And will Batelco provide us with credit for time lost on this one do you think?

    Kiwi, I found that the program I mentioned (Tor) is the most solid local proxy residing right at your machine that no one will be able to block your computer other than severing the line. Give it a try, it’s easy enough to set up.

    Ehsan, I just had another thought! The problem with the internet can provide the government with a golden excuse to blame the “blockage” on Batelco’s network woes, rather than an MoI directive! And when the problem is solved and people can access Google Earth again, they will all blame Batelco rather than the Ministry. Brilliant! Will they take it do you think?

  14. Ehsan says:

    Not sure which one Mahmood, I forgot to check and now it’s fixed.

    Unfortunately the contract you have with Batelco for the ADSL service does not reimburse for disconnections, as it’s a best effort service with no guarantees. They might choose to credit in extreme cases, but the law is on their side not to do so.

    I don’t think the government will use it as an excuse, simply because they aren’t looking for an excuse. I’ve spoken to those types before, and they seriously believe they are right and the whole world is wrong, and feel no need to excuse their actions. I’d be very surprised if MoI make any sort of statement about this, other than plead ignorance.

  15. Loki says:

    Ehsan – nothing a colourful HTML email can’t solve.

  16. Loki says:

    Google Earth seems to be working fine this morning??!

  17. mahmood says:

    The papers are full of it this morning all voices objections to blocking this service, and they show that hodgepodge way that the Ministry of Information is run with no one coming out specifically and facing the music, it’s a game of pass the blame there, and that is something the whole of Bahrain is very used to.

    Now the human rights organisations are on the game and using this opportunity to expose the dearth of laws for the protection of access to information in Bahrain, or their complete access. This leads to elastic situations like these where an administrator at some ministry can haphazardly block a site, stop a book or paper from being accessed or published.

    And people are worried that the Arab world’s output of books is miniscule compared to the West?

    Well, here’s your answer!

  18. Anonymous says:

    It was mentioned in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune today also

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/world/middleeast/09arabs.html

    I just checked and both Google Earth and Video are not working for me. The block on Google Video is more annoying because I can’t watch any of the videos of my newest nephew.

  19. mahmood says:

    YouTube and Flickr next.

    What’s stopping them of spinning it this way:

    We’re going to create our ultra-fast, best Internet ever for the good people of Bahrain, and because we care deeply about upholding the true Muslim characteristics and culture, we are going to restrict this Internet for inside Bahrain only and in keeping with cultural norms, we are going to make it exclusive for Bahrain.”

    Which means that they will isolate Bahrain completely and do away with international connections.

    Is there any country in Africa even that I can emigrate to? I’m sure that all of them are much better in terms of human rights and freedoms of speech than Bahrain will (and in some ways has) become.

  20. Seef says:

    What the Bastards don’t realize is that you can get interesting stuff from municipality.gov.bh – in fact if you go there its even better than google earth, you can search by parcel number, and get addresses and switch between layers…!!! and it even includes the detailed shot of JIDAH that Mahmood posted a while back! The only worry is that the A$$holes that banned it dont realize that the municipality have posted it…. I would only use the municipality site you can toggle commercials streets and various things…. Google Earth Actually isn’t as good!!! now what do you think???

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