Facebook for Muslims or religious capitalism
And as Bangladesh follows Pakistan in banning Facebook for inviting people to draw images of Prophet Mohammed, it looks like a losing battle for free speech in Islamic countries.If Pakistan and Bangladesh have initiated the ban, how far can the rest of the 60-plus Islamic nations be in banning this social networking website and similar networks of Twitter, Youtube, Orkut, even Wikipedia? But as political and religious leaders play their petty power games, they simultaneously create opportunities for commerce.
For six young professionals from Lahore, this opportunity came on May 28, a Friday, when they launched www.millatfacebook.com, a social networking website through which they hope to connect the 1.57 billion offended Muslims. “Millatfacebook is Pakistan’s very own, first social networking site,” the website states. “A site for Muslims by Muslims where sweet people of other religions are also welcome!!” (The silly emphasis of double exclamation marks, theirs.)
“We have decided to hit the Islam-haters where it hurts the most,” Millatfacebook says. “They (Facebook) are generating 47-50 per cent of their revenue (sic) from Muslim and around 10-12 per cent alone from Pakistan.” (Really?) And after an Islamic state, we have an Islamic company: “This site is the best alternative and a direct hit on interests of such websites and we firmly believe that whole team of Global IT Vision(Pvt) Ltd with this website will hit them very hard with the support of all Muslim Millat around the world.”
Curious, I visited the website and became its member. I found Millatfacebook’s home page atmosphere similar to Facebook’s — similar its colours and fonts. The name itself carries ‘facebook’ in it. The social networking interface was similar too — wall, friends, settings. The basic philosophy is the same — provide an online platform where people can come and interact with each another, become “friends”, put up photographs, join bulletins. This raised some questions in my mind.
* Moral: are the promoters of Millatfacebook — Azhar Siddique (Advocate), Arslan Ch, Abbas, Imran, Mohsin and Salman — providing a new business model of creating wealth from controversy? There is a whole lot of Islam-under-attack rhetoric throughout the website. Is that a genuine grouse or commercial identity?
* Ethical: if the promoters wanted to rebel against Facebook, did they have to use the word ‘facebook’ in their address? A four-year-old could have given them 40 different options. Are they using Facebook to book Facebook, condemn it by using it? A little convoluted, I thought.
* Geographical: will Muslims from non-Islamic nations feel and act the same way as those from Islamic countries in moving from Facebook to Millatfacebook? Are all Muslims same? I think not — take a look at this rather sad story from Austria that reached me on Sunday.
* Commercial: how many venture fund companies are willing to back this website? I think there is some quick money to be made. I also think the money would be made quicker than the promoters hope to.
* Legal: will Facebook initiate a lawsuit against Millatfacebook for being deceptively similar to it? My view: not yet — the lawyers of Facebook will most likely wait for Millatfacebook to get a large enough valuation before jumping on.
* Numerical: At the time of writing, Millatfacebook claimed that it had cobbled together 75,000 Muslims. That is untrue. If my membership is counted, it leaves the website with 74,999 Muslims — one less. And I’m sure there will be many other such non-Muslims on this website.
I sent an email to them but got no response.
My verdict on this commercial attempt at building Muslim unity through a Muslim community: it reeks of short term aspirations; it further segregates Muslims from other faiths; it is a crude and limited copy of the original; it will have its 10 days of fame; and it will get its $10 million.
Welcome to the new world of religious capitalism.
Religion this week
Week after riots, Thai Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs pray for peace
A physicist finds God in cosmic harmonies
Synthetic Life Defies Divine Law, Decries Kanchi Sankaracharya
Kenyan man arrested after sacrificing son “following God’s instruction”
Secret love-child ‘sparked honour killing massacre’ of British family in Pakistan
Netherlands: Doctors would like to ban circumcision
Sweden: The anti-Catholic cartoon
‘Turkey is the only Middle Eastern country pointing toward the future’