Pakistan's antisocial networking

Have they not heard the phrase "going viral"? That was my first response to hearing that the Lahore high court had placed a temporary ban on Facebook in response to its Everybody Draw Mohammad Day! page.

Sure enough, the ban brought the page to the attention of millions, and – as some found ways around it and others uploaded the offending images on alternative sites – led to a subsequent ban on BlackBerry services, proxy servers, YouTube (yesterday partially rescinded), Flickr, and a few Wikipedia pages. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has established a "crisis cell" and set up a toll-free number and email address where people can report other sites that carry blasphemous content. The dragon chasing its tail all the way across the world wide web.

Meanwhile Facebook itself has become a sad and lonely place for those in the rest of the world who used it to communicate with Pakistan. Every day a few people pop up from behind freshly discovered proxy servers to mutter disconsolate or defiant messages, and then disappear into the void again.

On Monday the Lahore high court convenes to decide whether to extend the ban. There are a number of civil rights activists working to oppose it, but support has not come from most sections of the media. While the press has fought many battles to uphold freedom of expression it is treating this ever-widening ban as a separate matter.

The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists has published a statement supporting the ban and condemning blasphemous content. Sabeen Mahmud – a civil rights activist who protested alongside the media during the attempts by Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari's governments to limit press freedom – has spoken of feeling "violated and angry" on reading the union's statement. It has fallen to Sherry Rehman, the minister of information who resigned her post when Zardari imposed restrictions on the media in 2009, to remind the press that: "Freedom of expression is a jealously guarded and very hard-won right, and we must not squander it in a rush to tar all outlets with one brush."

And therein lies the crux. No one is publicly arguing that the "draw Mohammad day" page should not be blocked. Even those who privately oppose all censorship agree that, given the blasphemy laws and wording of Pakistan's constitution, there is nothing to be gained by opposing the block on that page. Instead, they extol the virtues of self-regulation and point out that it is possible to block individual pages, as has been done with Wikipedia.

For this they are being accused of blasphemy by rightwing groups who long ago learned the effectiveness of rabble rousing. These accusations are also repeated by members of the rightwing media, some of whom make Fox News look like CBeebies.

But for those who want to continue to use a social networking site without running into anyone else's offensive views, help is at hand from the, which announces itself like this: "MillatFacebook helps you connect and share with more then 1.57 billion Muslims and Sweet people from other Religions. The terms of use are straightforward. 1) You must respect Humanity; 2) you must respect Believes of all People; 3) No Disrespect to anyone."

And who started MillatFacebook? The first name that appears on the website's "team page" is Azhar Siddique, advocate, a representative of the Islamic Lawyers Forum, which petitioned the courts for the Facebook ban. He is planning to ask the UN to take action against the founders of Facebook. It's reassuring to know he's giving the world an option to fall back on should his case succeed.

Kamila Shamsie, the author of four novels. She lives in London and Karachi and is presently teaching in New York State.