Wikipedia Russia blackout: “Imagine a world without free knowledge”
Kirill Zhurenkov

MOSCOW - This summer there was an unpleasant surprise for many Russian Internet users – the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia was shut down.

Of course, it was only for one day. “Imagine a world without free knowledge,” the home page said, instead of the usual search functions. “The Wikipedia community is protesting censorship that is dangerous to freedom of information.”

The reason for the protest was a proposed law in the Russian Duma regarding the protection of children from harmful information. The idea behind the proposal was perfectly legitimate. It would create a blacklist of sites with content such as child pornography or information on, for example, how to commit suicide, and those sites would be blocked. It was introduced by people not normally suspected of trying to force something down our throats.

But to many, the proposed law is an attack on Internet freedom. They are worried that it is really an attempt to set up a Russian version of the Great Firewall of China, as the strict Chinese Internet filter system is often called. In spite of the protests, the law was adopted, and went into effect last week.

Blacklist management

Above all, there is a blacklist of all sites considered inappropriate. The government has set up a special site (zapret-info.gov.ru) to manage the blacklist. Of course, users cannot actually see a list there, but anyone can type an address into the search function to see if it is on the blacklist.

Users can also file complaints about any online resource they do not like or which they believe has harmful information. Experts will investigate each complaint, but the Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technology would not comment on the identities of those experts are nor give details on how they would conduct investigations. Final decisions about whether or not a site should be blocked will be made by three government agencies: the Federal IT agency, the consumer protection agency and the federal narcotics bureau. Their decisions will be made administratively, without consulting a court of law.

The site’s owners will then be notified and will have to fix whatever the violation is, or be blacklisted definitively. The offending IP address will be blocked, a blunt enforcement method that could block innocent sites that use shared servers. At the time this article went to press, less than a week after the law went into effect, six sites had already blacklisted.

State monopoly on digital info

The government ministries will probably not be able to manage the blacklist on their own, and they will probably be assisted by nonprofit organizations.

Officials are using that fact to try to calm down the law’s opponents, saying that there will not be censorship. They said that once they have a little more experience with the law, they might even consult with Wikipedia about its implementation. But not everyone believes it. Since last March, Reporters Without Borders has been warning of the risk of a widening government monopoly over Internet information in Russia.

According to experts, that is not the only risk for the Russian Internet. The real problem facing websites and Internet users is hacker attacks and the increased cost of protecting against them. It seems likely that consumers in Russia will be expected to pay substantially more for Internet service because of all the technology needed to protect against hacking. In the worst-case scenario, Russians will be paying more for Internet access but getting less information.

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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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