The Lahore High Court banned access to the social networking site on Wednesday after conservative Islamic lawyers argued the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day page was blasphemous. Hours later the state extended the ban to YouTube and by Thursday morning BlackBerry services had been pulled as fusty bureaucrats got wise to its Facebook application.
Before the end of the day BlackBerry services were restored under pressure from corporate and political heavyweights who, notwithstanding their religious devotion, drew the line at interference with business.
“Text messaging and Facebook are incredibly important in Pakistan because they are the only way many young people can keep in touch and form relationships,” said Lahore-based blogger and TV producer Farzana Fiaz. “There are no clubs or pubs here. Socially it’s very segregated and if you’re seen talking to a boy neighbours will talk and it could get you into a lot of trouble.”
Ms Fiaz, a British-born Pakistani, said she was torn. “I have seen on Facebook (she has found a way around the ban) that a lot of my younger, more liberal friends are totally opposed to the ban and see it as an infringement of their civil liberties and even their human rights,” she said.
“Then there’s the other side who are resentful of anything said against the prophet Mohammed and against our religion.
“My take on it (the Facebook page) is mischief-making and there’s no need for it but the Pakistanis on this side are equally bad because they won’t look at these things in a sober light.”
Raza Rumi, editor of liberal Friday Times and founder of the e-zine Pakistan Tea House, described the ban as “ludicrous”. He had no argument that the Everybody Draw Mohammed Day campaign – reportedly a response to death threats against the South Park TV show creators for depicting Mohammed in a bear suit – was offensive to Muslims.
But for Facebook, the domain of a younger, less influential crowd, there was no reprieve.
The bans highlighted growing divisions between Pakistan’s large conservative core and educated modern secularists who want personal freedom.