Date: Fri, 10 Jul 1998 18:51:58 EDT
Subject: [Atheist] re: AANEWS for July 10, 1998
from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
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
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
The content of the SuraLikeit pages consist of several "suras," brief
verses penned in the linguistic style of the Koran by Arabic speaking
"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
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
For deep background on this story, check out the new "Islam" section on the
American Atheists web site at http://www.atheists.org/Islam.
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