Wednesday Blackout: Jordan Moves To Censor The Internet, Again

This is a subject that, I admit, I have avoided writing about like the plague, and for good reason. After months of witnessing a group absurdly demanding the government actually move in to censor porn sites, and after months of a counter movement trying to convince people that self-regulation is the key and that any moves to censor pornography will undoubtedly give the government a mandate to apply blanket censorship on disagreeable content – after all this, we are finally, now, at the brink. It has come, not surprisingly, in the form of new amendments to the Press and Publications law that could usher in a new era for arbitrary censorship. If anyone reading this right now is experiencing deja vu, please note that we’ve seen this all before.

I should preface this post by a personal statement. In recent months I’ve grown increasingly cynical of the lack of progress in Jordan on nearly every front – political, economic, social and what have you – and for the sake of my sanity have attempted to shrink away from writing anything on this blog that would fuel this mental state I’m in. Since our Parliament voted on giving itself pay raises back in April, my cynicism has quickly shifted to a more dangerous state – apathy. It is perhaps disastrous for any citizen to be fairly convinced that very little progress will come about in Jordan, and this recent move by the sate to introduce typically ambiguous amendments to an arcane law that would dictate the last true arena of free speech is, simply put, the straw that broke this camel’s back.

Those arguing against moves to “block pornography” have listed numerous reasons why – in an effort to convince the state what I genuinely believe it lacks the mental capacity to comprehend. Such reasons include:

– The impact this will have on our IT sector.

– How this will make Jordan look to the global community.

– Self regulation tools are widely available and all a good parent has to do is call up their ISP to ask for parental control.

– The fact that censorship just doesn’t work. People who want to consume certain content will find ways to consume it, and they’ll drive that consumption underground.

And so on, and so forth.

Now I could write about any of the aforementioned. I could talk endlessly about the need for free speech and the impact it has on social cohesion and creating better informed citizens. I could talk about how foreign investments might be affected in the IT sector, or what impact this will have on the growing population of young Jordanians that are trying to find new and creative ways to create opportunities of entrepeneurship online. But none of it would matter, and none of it will change anyone’s mind. More importantly, I’m sick and tired of trying to convince my government to, simply put, do the right thing. I grow nauseous just at the thought that it’s the year 2012 and we have to actually convince the state that Internet censorship is a bad thing.

And at the end of the day, none of these reasons obviously click with the state. None of this matters to the state, given the amount of times they’ve made this attempt. What matters to the state is finding ways to prosecute citizens for what they say or publish online. No more and no less. We know this because we’ve seen it before. We know this because we’ve gone through this whole charade before. All that’s missing is the show closer, which is usually the King coming out and saying something about the sky being the limit when it comes to freedom of speech and a crowded room applauding for the time being.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Jordan is currently in a mentally unstable state of mind, and I really don’t know how many times we need to be hit over the head before we realize this is a zero sum game. Someone, somewhere, is convinced that Jordan’s online news sites need to be controlled, and that’s that. The state has spent the better part of half a decade trying to find ways to do it without coming off as the bad guy. They do this by introducing laws that offer a constitutional paradox. For, you see, our constitution clearly states that every citizen is guaranteed freedom of speech, but within the law. And so laws are created to ensure those freedoms remain limited. It’s like a teacher on the first day of school telling her students that the sky is the limit when it comes to free speech in her classroom, and the school’s philosophy guarantees that right – and here’s a list of all the things we don’t want you saying while you enjoy that freedom.

So, given the state’s track record when it comes to this specific issue, and given the way things usually go down in this country (especially lately), Internet censorship in Jordan is, in my opinion, inevitable. Whether it’s the amendments to this particular law, and the subsequent parliamentary vote on it this week, or whether it’s next month or next year – all the signs and evidence presented by the state time and time again points to an inevitability. Beware – this is not a cynical statement but a statement reflective of reality. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, I think it’s high time we woke up and called it a duck. I think it’s high time we realize that this boils down to a political structure that is in place, consisting of the same recycled individuals with the same redundant thinking, and sooner or later, just like a former Prime Minister, the same policy comes back again to hit us on the head. And then, of course, the government will chime in with a chorus of “but this time it’s different; we promise!”

Now I don’t know about you, but frankly, I’m sick and tired of seeing this insanity flourish. Of going through this over and over again, and expecting that maybe, somewhere, there’s a glimmer of hope; a different result. I honestly do not see this happening in Jordan, be it with regards to Internet freedom or political reform or anything of that sort. Until one sees massive upheaval of the state and not just the typical window dressing moves of changing the people at the top, then we are going no where.

I am angry, and I am thirsty for hope. I am thirsty for leadership. I am thirsty for a vision, and thirsty for a change I do not see coming because the political will is either absent, apathetic, or careless. After all is said and done, after all the arguments have been made, I am simply angry – and you should be too. Over the years, my trust in the state has deteriorated to the point of non existence. And a state that has genuinely demonstrated its dedication to finding ways to regulate the last inch of real estate where freedom of speech and expression exist – is a state that is unworthy of my (or your) trust. It is a state that works against my interests. There is just no other way to put it.

So, this blog will be participating in an online blackout this Wednesday, August 29th (for more info: click). It is a collective effort to digitally protest the government’s censorship efforts, while giving users a taste of what the Internet might look like down the line.

And if the law is passed then the blackout, at least for this little blog, will be prolonged.

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What You Can Do If You’re A…

– Jordanian website owner or blogger…join the blackout

Facebook and Twitter users…add a twibbon to show support.

– Twitter: tweet, retweet and follow the hashtags of #BlackOutJO and #FreeNetJO (follow: http://twitter.com/7oryanet for updates)

– Facebook: join/like the “I Know How To Protect Myself” page.

– Creatives: check out the advocacy content in this album and contribute your own ‘blocked website” flash page.

Thought Is Free...

24 Comments

  1. They have tried to do something similar underthe cyber crime law two years ago. Each time they come with a different pretext. It is so unfortunate how governments do not learn from other people’s lessons!

  2. Amazing entry.

    I too kept my hopes up and always believed the state will one day turn things around and come to its senses. But with each passing day I come to the realization that these reforms and corrections aren’t actually going anywhere. I’ve always believed, but in the past couple of months alone I’ve watched my belief slowly deteriorating, until this ban finally broke the camel’s back and now I’m as apathetic as I would have ever feared I’d ever be.

  3. “The fact that censorship just doesn’t work. People who want to consume certain content will find ways to consume it…”

    A friend who frequently travels to Riyadh on business tried, out of curiosity, to see how easy it would (or wouldn’t) be to get around the porn blocks.

    The solution was simple – search for pornographic terms in a foreign language.

    Internet censorship is much like prohibition was in the U.S. – when you tell people they can’t have something, that their freedoms are being curtailed, they want that something more than ever before.

  4. Suha Ma’ayeh: I think this is largely due to how we see things. if we believe Jordan is home to successive government that actually creat public policy, draft laws and issue them – then that’s one thing. If we believe that we are home to a shadow government made up largely of the security apparatus and the royal court…then that’s quite another thing. where we come down on such perspectives influences what we believe about the learning curve of a government.

  5. This is not about porn. It never was. It’s about achieving the aims of the few under the guise of the desires of the moral majority. Jordan lacks any kind of credibility when it comes to political reform and having traveled the world I can honestly say I’ve never seen a country with a more hopeless bunch of non-representative parliamentarians. Incompetence, self-interest and intransigency are the hallmarks of its political, social, academic, commercial and industrial leaders. It is a country bereft of vision and censoring the internet will insure that its booming, increasingly desperate and unemployed young population are educated in an environment that is free of ideas. There are only two ways that this will end, one of them is a return to the 9th century and the other is the spring that dares not speak its name which will surely knock on the doors of Jordan’s government not long after the Syrian situation is resolved.

  6. It’s baffling, just baffling. Where was this question when Charlie Rose interviewed King Abdullah a couple of weeks ago? How does Jordan, the “modern state”, the “beacon of hope”, the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East” answer questions about its regression plans? It’s embarrassing, it’s disastrous. But unlike you, I’m not thirsty for any change anymore. I totally, completely, give up.

  7. Well-written.

    With pressing issues like water, electricity, Syrian refugees, why would this particular law be given priority? If anything, it is hilarious when you think of a government that lacks morality, accountability and sense to claim that censorship is driven by its sole intention to protect people from pornography. Please give people their basic needs, a voice in the political process and rule of the law first. When the corrupt tackles morality, what a joke!

    I don’t think this is a matter for the state to choose, it’s up for the people.

  8. Mercy Qutishat: sorry, i’m not sure if your comment was in support of the blocking or against it. i got that you’re not a fan of porn (although that’s not the point here), but you’re also not a fan of the government wasting time on this issue. did i get that right?

  9. I am angry, I am disappointed and I am so sad for my country and its youth. I am sadder than I have ever been for Jordan. It’s not only because of this, but because of the lack of action and the nonchalant attitude this government is proceeding with, avoiding the inevitable. I am sad because I can almost smell the fire that no doubt is coming, and I can only pray harder that others will also smell it or see its thick smoke.

  10. I’ve thought about this and I don’t think it’s apathy we’re feeling Nas. I think this year has successfully managed to remove any trace of romanticism and idealism from us… we now face reality.

    This is a lawless country, things work depending on what’s best for the official making decisions at any given point in time (and his friends, nephews, in laws, etcetera). Once this person is gone, the person after him makes a different set of decisions that depend on what’s best for him (and his friends, nephews, in laws, etcetera).

    Yes. It isn’t apathy. It’s reality. I don’t think we can change anything.

  11. I just realized it’s been years (i think) since i last commented on a blog… damned micro-blogging sites.. remember, we used to call them that?

    May I express a frustration of another sort Nas, the fact that we -as a society- out right don’t know how to oppose one another on matters that we think and feel differently about!

    Mind you, the fact that i need to start a conversation with an explicit disclaimer that i’m against internet censorship just to “but” it with an alternative perspective; is very telling of the fact that many are too full of them selves when it comes to what they think is right!

    I was -through my work in prep’ing for the upcoming AmmanTT panel discussion on this subject http://www.facebook.com/AmmanTT/events#!/events/422106717835199/ – accused of “pandering” by fierce opponents of censorship for merely not taking an “explicit stand” and thus passing a gov’t agenda AND prejudged as “impartial” by the pro-censorship folks for merely representing the “techies crowd” that will be an “unfair duel”..

    the sheer polarization of opinion is startling.. leaving no space for the way long overdue conversation to take place.. labeling is prompt and instantaneous discrediting is abrupt.

    If you dare to mention the fact that UAE & South Korea is lumped up along with KSA, Iran & China in the “Pervasive Internet” censorship bracket; to illustrate that censorship in principle doesn’t necessarily harm technological advancement nor the appeal for investment in the telecom & tech fields.. you’re immediately fawned upon and deemed a censorship apologetic!

    I’ll leave it at that example, but my takeway from this stand off, our society at large got a long way to submit to the inevitability of differences and the necessity of pluralism!

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