Facebook Mullahs!

Pakistan extremist find friends on Facebook, Twitter

Groups with Facebook pages include Sipah Sahaba, Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Hizb-ut-Tahrir. – (File Photo)

KARACHI: Hardline groups in Pakistan are plugging into Western online favourites Facebook and Twitter in a bid to win friends and influence people.

Tweeting their view of a civilisation clash between the West and Islam, and posting comments that advocate violence against non-Muslims, groups that are officially banned in Pakistan have found a welter of freedom online.

There they have been allowed to operate without censorship from Pakistani authorities, who have instead restricted access to hundreds of Internet pages for “anti-Islamic content”.

Amir Rana, an author and expert on the Taliban and militancy in Pakistan, said that extremists had found an easy outlet in social media.

“Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook give banned groups and other extremist groups a good forum for carrying forward their agenda. They are effective tools.”

Groups with Facebook pages include Sipah Sahaba, a banned militant Sunni Islamic organisation accused of sectarian bombings, and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is on the UN terror blacklist and linked by India to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

Pakistan has battled with militancy for decades but in recent times the number of violent incidents linked to extremist groups has risen sharply, with bombs killing more than 3,570 people across Pakistan in three years.

The authorities have been accused of double-dealing in their relations with hardline religious groups by speaking out against them while courting their followers for politically expedient reasons.

Facebook sparked a major backlash in the conservative country last May over a contest organised by an anonymous user calling on people to draw the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) to promote “freedom of expression”.

In the wake of the “Everyone Draw Mohammed Day” controversy, Pakistan blocked Facebook along with some 1,200 individual web pages and URLs to limit access to “blasphemous” material.

Pakistan’s information technology ministry said, however, that the aim was not to censor, but to keep the peace.

“If someone reports objectionable content on any website we will look into the matter,” one official told AFP, defending the block on Facebook in May because it “created a law and order situation.”Abdul Ghaffar, who runs a page for sectarian outfit Khatm-e-Nabuwwat, says Facebook, which is again accessible, is useful for reaching media-savvy followers.

“It gives us space to counter the malicious anti-Islam propaganda. Facebook and Twitter are effective tools to inform people and involve them in the collective tasks.”

Several fan pages have also been set up in praise of jihadi organisations and militant leaders, including Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the cleric killed in the 2007 military crackdown on the notorious Red Mosque in the Pakistani capital.

One recent Twitter post by banned global Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, urges Muslims in Pakistan to stop supply trucks travelling to Afghanistan to deliver provisions to Nato coalition troops fighting Taliban insurgents.

“These means give us space to approach the people and inform them about our programme,” said Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesman Naveed Butt.

“We target the elite and educated through bulk SMS and our pages on social networking sites are gaining popularity,” he added, accusing Facebook of twice deleting a Hizb-ut-Tahir fan page.

Last month, Singapore said it had detained a 20-year-old army trainee who planned to fight with militants in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq after being influenced by online posts.

Muhammad Fadil bin Abdul Hamid, who was serving his mandatory two-year military service, was “deeply radicalised by the lectures of radical ideologues such as Anwar al-Awlaki and Sheikh Feiz Muhammad,” the government said.

Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim who holds dual US-Yemen citizenship, is known as the “Bin Laden of the Internet,” as he has a blog and Facebook page and posts his lectures on popular video-sharing website YouTube. – AFP

If you want to follow news on your mobile, click on http://dawn.com/mobile/ and download Pakistan’s first mobile news application.

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