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Muslim Censorship of YouTube

Lee Phillips
March, 2008 (with later addenda)

Try to view what YouTube listed until recently as its most discussed video of all time and you get this page:

The woman appearing on the poster frame for the number one spot, “Truth about Islam from an ex-muslim”, appears to be Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist who now lives in the U.S. She has spoken out against Islam, warning that “The clash we are witnessing around the world is […] a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another that belongs to the 21st century […] It is a clash between freedom and oppression.”; words that sound remarkably like the warnings one can find in the writings of another fugitive from Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

I wondered what the “terms of use violation” could possibly be, so I wrote to YouTube, sending this message to two different departments:

I tried to watch this video because I want to know the truth about Islam from an ex-Muslim. But it has been removed due to a “terms of use violation”. What was the violation? Was it pornographic? Or did angry Muslims complain about it? Was it removed because it is true, or because it is not? Can I have access to a private copy of the video?

Of course, there has been no reply. The page listing the “most discussed videos of all time” is different now: the video in question was purged from the list about two days after I sent my email. This means that YouTube’s list is a deliberate falsehood; the videos shown there are not in fact the most discussed, but rather the most discussed videos that have not been removed yet in response to Muslim demands.

And there can be little real doubt about what happened here. Muslim censorship of YouTube is not new. YouTube is now owned by Google, which has been famously cooperative (link dead now) with the Chinese government in censoring its search results returned to Chinese citizens. Perhaps those experiences have taught them that they can bow to demands for political censorship without risking their market share nor the embrace of the techno-literati.


Note added 10 March 08: This is far from an isolated incident. Recently Google agreed to remove content from YouTube to satisfy the demands of the Pakistani government, who objected to videos that were critical of, or frankly discussed, Islam. Google’s appeasment of Pakistan does not affect some special version of YouTube for Pakistan, but the YouTube that is served to the U.S. and the rest of the free world as well. This incident became prominent in the news when Pakistan’s efforts to deny access to YouTube from within Pakistan “leaked” out to DNS servers worldwide and caused the site to be generally unavailable for some time. Less generally appreciated is the fact that the problem was fixed only after Google agreed to the censorship. Some of the censored videos were again replaced with the spurious claim that they were removed due to a “terms of use violation”.

I’m not going to maintain a list of all instances of self-censorship in response to complaints from Muslims or fear of a possible Islamic reaction, but this seems a convenient place to keep track of some of the less well-known incidents.

April, 2008: At a recent press conference, Christopher Hitchens relates that the Washington Post has refused to publish an article that it had asked Sam Harris to write on the subject of the reprinting of the Danish cartoons depicting the Muslim prophet. Their objection was that Harris referred to religious violence in the same sentence as the word “Islam”.

An unsourced article (dead link now) on Digg claims that Muslims have organized to falsely tag videos critical of Islam on YouTube as violating the terms of service; and that YouTube responds by removing the videos.

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