Facebook betrays an Arab atheist 98

Facebook is alleged to have helped the Palestinian Authority track down a free-thinking blogger living in the West Bank town of Qalqiliya.

If this is true, Facebook has committed an indefensible and despicable betrayal of trust.

Walid Husayin is a 26-year old barber. Knowing the intolerance of Islam, he kept up the appearance of a conforming Muslim, and posted his real views anonymously on the Internet, thinking himself safe from detection.

AP reports the story, which is a good thing, but does so unsympathetically, calling his blogs “anti-religious rants”.

A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.

The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is … illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence. …

Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was … secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.

He faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.

Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”

If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

Then comes a very interesting piece of information:

At its peak, Husayin’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.

Wow! We wish we could find so many like-minded readers in the free West. But what a revelation – that there are some 70,000 Arabs who appreciate atheism and anti-Islam satire. A thirst for reason in the heart and home of Islam!

But hold on – not all his visitors liked what he said. Some hundreds among them objected – ranted, one might say.

His Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, detailed death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him, including once called “Fight the blasphemer who said ‘I am God.'”

The outburst of anger reflects the feeling in the Muslim world that their faith is under mounting attack by the West.

Come, come AP – hundreds among 70,000 reflect “a feeling in the Muslim world”? Oh, we know that feeling exists, but there are larger manifestations of it than that. These figures suggest something quite different: that there is an undercurrent of rebellion against Islamic dogmatism. A tide that could become a flood? We wish.

AP does its best to defend the Palestinian Authoritarians:

Husayin is the first to be arrested in the West Bank for his religious views …

The Western-backed Palestinian Authority is among the more religiously liberal Arab governments in the region. It is dominated by secular elites and has frequently cracked down on hardline Muslims and activists connected to its conservative [read fundamentalist – JB] Islamic rival, Hamas.

Husayin’s high public profile and prickly style, however, left authorities no choice but to take action.

No choice, AP?

Husayin used a fake name on his English and Arabic-language blogs and Facebook pages. After his mother discovered articles on atheism on his computer, she canceled his Internet connection in hopes that he would change his mind.

But he persisted intrepidly:

Instead, he began going to an Internet cafe — a move that turned out to be a costly mistake. The owner …  said the blogger aroused suspicion by spending up to seven hours a day in a corner booth. After several months, a cafe worker supplied captured snapshots of his Facebook pages to Palestinian intelligence officials.

He has his brave defenders:

A small minority has questioned whether the government went too far.

Zainab Rashid, a liberal [female] Palestinian commentator, wrote in an online opinion piece that Husayin has made an important point: “that criticizing religious texts for their (intellectual) weakness can only be combatted by … oppression, prison and execution.”

Is Facebook unable to resist being misused by despots?

Such “stalking” on Facebook and other social media sites has become increasingly common in the Arab world. In Lebanon, four people were arrested over the summer and accused of slandering President Michel Suleiman on Facebook. …

In neighboring Syria, Facebook is blocked altogether. And in Egypt, a blogger was charged with atheism in 2007 after intelligence officials monitored his posts.

The effect over time of the products of freedom on the closed world of Islam must be for the good. Meanwhile, those – such as Facebook – who provide the means for the free dissemination of ideas, must resist all attempts to interfere with their purpose. If they collaborate with the forces of oppression they don’t merely tarnish their own reputation but subvert the invaluable service they exist to provide.

Posted under Atheism, Islam, Muslims, News, Palestinians by Jillian Becker on Friday, November 12, 2010

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