Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Halal search engine: Can it get any more ridiculous?

When Koogle (Kosher google) came out, I wrote a post on how religious web engine may lead to cyber segregation. I noted that a Hoogle (Halal Google) may not be so far behind. Well,  now its here. A Dutch media company AZS has announced the launch of, created for Muslims who avoided the internet due to proliferation of explicit content. The company press release states:

The site offers a broad range of functions that are developed specifically to increase the users search experience. Besides focusing to be a great Islamic search engine, also aims to deliver the best search product as well.

The creator Reza Sardeha  got the idea  after he and his friends kept getting explicit content when using Google and Yahoo!. 
First of all, we have blocked all sexually explicit content. We are also in talks with Imams [Muslim scholars] to determine what might be considered haram and therefore be blocked."

The searing filter is static but is made up of three different layers which serve to give the user as good an engine as possible
  He also plans on adding Islamic widgets for prayer time or a quote from the Koran into the search engine.

There are a host of ethical issues associated with determining with  halal online content.  Firstly, what is halal? As we all are aware, there are many denominations within Islam.  What is considered halal in one denomination may not be halal in another.Even within Sunnism,  the concept of halal differs between Hanafis, Malikis, Shafaiis and Hambalis.

Secondly, who determines what is halal?  It is a fact that there is no universally accepted Islamic scholar. Even within different sects there is no one person who is universally accepted. So, which scholars should be used to determine halal online content?

Added to that is the potential for many conflicts of interest. Obviously porn sites are not halal, but what about those advocating safe sex or abortions. Will these sites be filtered through as well? How about those criticizing Islam? How about those that are critical of organizations that support the clerics determining what Halal is?

Religious search engines may provide a way for the faithful to both surf the net and safeguard their souls, but they can also contribute to cyber segregation making it impossible for people from different religious, social, moral and political values to interact with each other.  By transferring power from the hand of the populace to the hands of the clerics to determine what is and is not acceptable online, people no longer have the right to determine their own morals.Something that I find very disturbing.

And the mud slinging continues...

Pakistani politics is not exactly known for its civility (see after). In the recent days, the PPP and the PML-N have been butting heads, with Nawaz Sharif accusing Zardari of running a "smear cell" against him and the PML-N. Zardari of course, is denying this. The atmosphere in the national assembly has become poisoned to such an extent that Sharif is now threatening retribution against Zardari and the PPP if this "smear campaign" is not halted within 48 hours.

 As many of you are aware, confrontations between the PPP and the PML (both N and Q) are not a recent phenomena. Animosity between these two parties goes back to the 1990s aggregating between the late Benazir Bhutto and Sharif himself. With her passing, it is not surprising that this torch of hostility and acrimony has been passed to her successor Zardari. But jokes aside, enough is enough.

This constant personal (yet so very political) confrontation between Zardari and Sharif has to stop. There are more important domestic and foreign issues that demand the attention that is being given to this barroom brawl. Both the president and Sharif need to understand that national stage cannot be hijacked to highlight  personal agendas. Mudslinging in the National Assembly is certainly not getting this country anywhere. The fact is that both leaders and their respective political parties are incompetent. Mr "10 percent" Zardari is notorious for his greed when it comes to handling the tax payer's money (I'll address these tax payers and their counterparts in a separate post). And let's not forget about the Swat deal. But Sharif isn't innocent either. After all he is credited for bankrupting the country. According to the Wall Street Journal:
In 1999, when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister, Pakistani economy was in shambles. Pakistan’s total debt as percentage of GDP was the highest in South Asia – 99.3 percent of its GDP and 629 percent of its revenue receipts, compared to Sri Lanka (91.1% & 528.3% respectively in 1998) and India (47.2% & 384.9% respectively in 1998). Internal Debt of Pakistan in 1999 was 45.6 per cent of GDP and 289.1 per cent of its revenue receipts, as compared to Sri Lanka (45.7% & 264.8% respectively in 1998) and India (44.0% & 358.4% respectively in 1998).
None of what I've said is new. So why comment on this recent episode of mudslinging? For one, this entire episode only highlights the fact that democracy is a joke in Pakistan. Musharraf may have been an unelected representative of the Pakistani people, but I'm not sure if the elected ones are any better. The state of Pakistan seems even worse now. That's not to say that I am a supporter of Musharraf and its military regime.I'm just not sure how democracy has worked in favour of the Pakistani people.The egotistical nature of  the Sharif-Zardari confrontation only highlights this. And frankly speaking its tiring. If only both leaders could promote national education or health care with such a zeal. If only they spent this much time and energy on dealing with the shortages and runaway inflation on daily necessities such as wheat, rice and sugar.

And as much as I would like to hope for change in the political sphere, its not going to happen anytime soon.


Civility: See below