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Message-ID: <61c8cb6.35a69b10@aol.com>
Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 18:51:58 EDT
To: aanews@listserv.atheists.org
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for July 10, 1998

subject: AANEWS for July 10, 1998

Koran Parody Web Site up and running in the U.K.

New provider promises (for now) to refrain from censorship

From American Atheists, AANews, #451
10 July 1998

The saga of the controversial SuraLikeit site on the world wide web continues, following action recently by America OnLine which removed the pages saying that they were "hurtful" and violated its Terms of Service. The site was originally described as a parody of the Koran, holy book of the Muslim faith. Following objections by Islamic groups, including activists at a religious university in Cairo, AOL closed down the web site, which then was reestablish with an internet provider in Britain.

Earlier today, an individual associated with the SuraLikeit-UK site, told aanews that UUNET-PIPEX was leaving the site intact for now, despite an influx of new complaints.

The flap began late in June when Islamic militants at the al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt denounced the site and threatened to file legal action against AOL. Ironically, the giant internet service had just won a suit in Germany which held that service providers are not libel for the content of the pages they host. Even so, American On Line, which has established a reputation as a "family friendly" provider, removed the SuraLikeit site.

Joining the Egyptian Muslims was the American-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), which on June 25, 1998 posted an "Action Alert" on its site discussing the situation with the SuraLikeit pages. When pressed for an explanation by CAIR officials, AOL responded that they had found the pages "in violation of our Terms of Service in that it was clearly designed to be hurtful and defamatory."

"Hurtful," a Parody, or Religious Discussion?

The content of the SuraLikeit pages consist of several "suras," brief verses penned in the linguistic style of the Koran by Arabic speaking Christians.

"One of the Qur'anic (Koran) challenges, frequently reiterated by Muslims, is that those who doubt the divine origin of the Qur'an should 'try to produce a book like it...' " notes SuraLikeit. Indeed, the "suras" verses are transpositions of events found in the Bible -- such as the tale of Jesus walking on water -- transposed into the style and Arabic verse of the Koran.

One group taking aim at SuraLikeit was Islam First; their web site charged that the "suras" were "fake verses of an alleged Quran, which is deliberately an insult to Islam and Muslims." The sincerity and intentions of the people behind the SuraLikeit web verses were also question: "No doubt that the site did not gain this publicity for its literary value or its uniqueness but it has achieved fame because of its total rejection by Muslims and Islam..." More dangerous, though, was the claim by Islam First that "from an Islamic perspective the publication of the Suralikeit (sic) is not an aspect of freedom of speech nor freedom of expression but it is pure and in purpose insult to Islam and Muslims."

The identity of those behind SuraLikeit has not been determined; but one individual associated with the project who identifies himself as "kindredspirit" also said that he was an evangelical Christian. Other materials on the cite refer to bridging a "Christian-Muslim religious divide" through discussion and exchange of views.

The UK SuraLikeit site is a "mirror" of the material which had been removed by aol. It can be reached through http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/suralikeit.

On Thursday, "kindredspirit" received a phone call from an attorney at the UUNET-PIPEX "Abuse Response Team," who said that the company had received numerous protests from individuals who said that the site was "offensive." According to "kindredspirit"

"I put to her the following scenario: I put up an advert for hamburgers on their server, and a significant number of animal rights activists complained that they found the site offensive. Under their (UUNET) Terms of Service they would have to shut it down."

"Hurtful" Speech -- An Excuse For Censorship?

None of those criticizing the SuraLikeit explicitly defend the right of the individuals involved in the production of the web site to express their views. An Islamic official identified by press reports as as Sheikh Omar el-Bastawisy said that he was "happy it's been closed" by AOL, but said that he disagreed with the tactic of threatening legal action. A copy of an article from an unidentified Egyptian paper, also posted on the SuraLikeit site, exhorts:

"Dear users of the internet in Egypt and the Arab world, we ask all of you to participate in the biggest case (sic) in defending our religion against those who are trying to give a false image of our religion." Readers were encouraged to contact America On Line, warning the provider: "The web site which your firm is hosting contains items which insult more than one billion Muslims all around the world... Therefore, we expect you to stop hosting this site, otherwise do not blame us for publishing this message in all of the Muslim world which would result in a public boycott of your company."

In the June 23, 1998 edition of El-Shaab, Islamic scholar Dr. Ahmed Abd al- Rahman told readers that "this filth" of creating Koranic like verses in order the challenge the divine authenticity of the Islamic holy book "is not new." He added that the SuraLikeit pages were "a malicious joke," but warned that "this matter was blown out of proportion. To pursue it would be a waste of time."

CAIR was less belligerent, though. Executive Director Nihad Awad declared, "In future, it would be best if Muslims avoid giving these sites the publicity their authors so desperate seek," and even warned that "Anti-Islamic groups may seek to intentionally provoke a response from Muslims in order to publicize their sites.

"As with other incidents, Muslims must use common sense to distinguish between religious opinions and materials that are hate-filled or defamatory. Otherwise, Islamic sites may be subject to censorship."

But the notion that "hateful" or "defamatory" speech requires threats of censorship, and bullying internet service providers into being the vice cops of the information superhighway has disturbing implications. Why is the line drawn at disagreements over "religious opinions" -- presumably doctrinal food- fights among believers -- and a more overt criticism of religious belief that may be considered "hateful" or "defamatory"? And there is the fact that Islamists, seeking to stifle such discourse, join religious right groups, anti-pornography crusaders and other zealots in a move which threatens the very integrity of the internet as a forum for robust freedom of expression.

In the meantime, the SuraLikeit UK site is still operational. "Kindredspirit" says that an official with UUNET "said that as long as the material was not 'unlawful' then it can stay. They (UUNET) have looked at the site and see that there is nothing unlawful about this Christian-Muslim debate!"

For deep background on this story, check out the new "Islam" section on the American Atheists web site at http://www.atheists.org/Islam.

AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to aanews-request@listserv.atheists.org and put "info AANEWS" (minus the quotation marks, please) in the message body.

You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. Edited and written by C. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER (cg@atheists.org). Internet Representative for American Atheists is Margie Wait, mdwait@atheists.org.

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