Wednesday, 26 May 2010


Free Speech Mural, BerkeleyImage by George via Flickr
 To be perfectly honest, I'd rather have nothing to say about this at all, but I don't see how I can let it pass by now that it's been resolved, to most people's minds, appropriately.

The blog at posted a hateful piece a few days back, based on the Mangalore plane crash. you can hear more about it in this podcast of the Dubai Today radio show yesterday, which I co-host every Tuesday. Jessica Swann and I talked to Samurai Sam, the shadowy figure behind the ever-central UAE Community Blog about the very issues raised by that venomous little blog. The whole issue raised an interesting ethical conundrum - how bad does it have to be before even people like myself and Sam, who believe passionately in free speech, agree that it's bad enough to be blocked?

I'm told that the al-emarati blog, although it looked as if it hosted several bloggers, was all the work of one man, a person who many bloggers will know as A Blessing in Tragedy. Sure enough, it certainly seemed that way stylistically, veering between interesting comment and bilious ranting. You'd start to worry about the stability of someone capable of that range in commentary rather than fiction.

There was a sizeable group of people calling for the Mangalore post to be blocked by the UAE regulator, the TRA. Although I appreciated people's strength of feeling (you'll just have to believe me when I tell you it was a truly horrible outpouring), I and others felt that blocking is not the solution to stuff that you don't agree with. Tellingly, the regulator's guidelines for blocking do not include incitement to race-hate. And I'm not sure how qualified we are, in the absence of a definition in law, to call that. If it doesn't actually break a law, blocking content is purely an emotional reaction and sets a dangerous precedent for obliterating opinion that we don't agree with - but that is vitally important for open debate.

However, it's been taken out of our wishy-washy pinko liberal hands. The blog has been deleted and now returns a 404 error. The URL had previously displayed the etisalat and du blocking messages, which rather made my heart sink. But now it's a 404. Whether that is because its author finally realised that he'd gone too far, or because Google had invoked US laws governing race-hate, we may never know.

But yes, I am very glad it's gone.

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alexander... said...

Just to let you know, any comments from ABIT or anonymous will get deleted automatically.

Sorry, but that's just how it is on this post.


Mita said...

Like you and many others, I thought the blog was abhorrent and I thought we give people like him so much time on Twitter, Facebook, et al that it encourages their narcissistic nature.

I'm not sad its gone but I agree with you that blocking a site because he's an idiot is not the answer. Ignoring it and not giving it importance may be.

Gambl3R said...

There are many things floating about the Internet that are hard to digest. Can't go around changing them.

I believe its best to ignore them. It's really hard because we end up sharing it with our friends but thats what we must try to avoid. The more attention you give to a subject, the more it spreads.

Kanga said...

Freedom of Speech is an important value, but it is not the absolute, hard and fast rule that overrides everything else. Balance has to come from Society creating boundaries. This particular person was over that boundary. Society saying what is and isn't okay is not the same as a dictator shutting dissidents up in prison because he doesn't like what they say. In most societies, it is not okay to eat other people or molest children. There are reasonable boundaries. Spouting racial hated should not be ignored.

the real nick said...

I must have missed that because I just don't read that blog. And that I think is the appropriate response: ignore that weirdo, don't block and ban.

Kyle said...

Ignoring it and not giving it importance may be.


I agree with this statement of yours but unfortunately not everybody realizes this and especially in situations when emotion takes over common sense.

Dubai Jazz said...

I'd rather defend the right of the sensible and the rational to free speech. (we're still somewhat lacking in that area in this part of the world, btw). The ability of bigots like ABIT to voice their opinions is the least of my worries... Let him rot in bansville.

Rami said...

@Dubai Jazz

But who decides what is 'sensible'?

Censoring anyone is a slippery slope towards censoring everyone.

Now I do agree with you that before we can even have this argument, we'd need a situation where free speech exists in the first place...

Dubai Jazz said...


I said *I* would rather defend the right of the sensible…. So it’s got to be decided according to me for now...:)

Yeah, my main point of contention is that we don’t have a first amendment here in the UAE. So why should we start by imparting that right to the bigots?

Luke said...

I'd love to give my opinion on this but I can't as it is blocked. even the cached google versions are blocked. very annoying.

what i can gather is that he wrote something about resting in "pieces" instead of "peace". not exactly very sympathetic to the families, i know, but.....

here is another angle. who is to say that the phrase "rest in peace" isn't offensive in itself? I find it very offensive. here is why.

the dead certainly aren't resting. and they certainly aren't in peace. they're dead - just as dead as they were for the billions of years before a certain sperm poked his head into a certain egg. instead of wishfully thinking that the dead are somehow resting peacefully somewhere (in a meadow of flowers maybe??), surely it makes more sense to celebrate their lives which have come to an tragic and abrupt end, lives that live on but only in the memories of those who knew them. I'm not too sure who soundbites like "may he rest in peace" is supposed to placate - the mourner or the person saying it.

When you're dead, you're dead. And the sooner you come to terms to with that truth, the sooner you will appreciate every moment of the life you have - it is the only one you'll get.

In the given circumstances, I would take up the issue if someone came to be with this resting in peace nonsense. It is offensive to my atheism.

moryarti said...

good riddance

Susan said...

I'm fed up with people using the "freedom of speech" argument to justify spouting their vile opinions all over the net. Freedom of speech implies a level of respect for others, a level of humanity and a level of consideration that this prat wouldn't understand in a million years.

I'm glad he's blocked, I hope he gets arrested. I don't believe its a slippery slope - it just takes a bit of common sense to realise where to draw the line.

I noticed before he was blocked he came back with the classic whine of bullies everywhere when they're confronted "I was only joking...." Pathetic.

Stained said...

I didn't know he was also known as ABIT. Interesting.

I'm not happy that it got removed cause everyone has a right to have an opinion irrespective of how bad it might be. It's better to try to change that opinion instead of trying to shut it out cause now even though his current account is gone, nothing is stopping him from making a different account and starting all over again with possibly more hate.

Honestly I see this as a step back and not forward.

Even though I kinda agree with moryarti...good riddance indeed...

Anonymous said...

I haven't read it - and I won't. But FoS for me is a tender spot.

All in all I am willing to trust the judgement of people like Alexander if they say "Enough !" but I live in a country where the issue is not so black-and-white, so I wished the remedy against misuse of FoS was... low traffic !

Oh, and OpenID login is broken

Brn said...

I read the post before it was deleted. It was vile.

However, I'm more concerned about the lack of respect for free speech so many of you all have expressed here. I admit, I'm more of a free speech absolutist than most, but "Society" deciding what I can and cannot say isn't like a dictator locking up those who don't like what I say. The only difference is the number of dictators.

Society does have a role in this, but in shunning those whose speech is offensive, not in forbidding them. The mob is capable of being a tyrant the same as anyone. As many have pointed out, without safeguards, democracy can become five wolves and a sheep voting on who to eat for dinner.

Freedom of speech doesn't imply a level of respect at all. If anything just the opposite. I defend the right of those (like ABIT) whose opinions I absolutely despise. Because everyone has to have this right or anyone can lose it.

If you are only in favor of free speech for things that don't offend you, then you are not in favor of free speech. Period. There is no right not to have our feelings hurt, and even if there was, life doesn't work like that anyway. Speech has limits, but they should be limited to things that actually hurt people (e.g. child pornography).

Brn said...

Also, there aren't any US laws against race-hate (at least yet - some are working on that), because of the First Amendment, so this wasn't taken down because of that.

alexander... said...

Thanks for that, BRN. Wasn't sure about the legal thing as US law can be so disparate.

Google considers itself governed, as far as I can tell, by the law as it applies in California, but ah ain't no expert on that there Caleyefourniane lawuh...

Stained said...

Just found out that he had posted an apology on the blog moments before it was taken down. So maybe it wasn't google...

Brn said...

Re: the Google/California thought: I've enjoyed the irony at the community blog of the "if you don't like it here, go home" commentary that occurs sometimes.

When you think about it, since Google, which hosts the blog, is in Cali, isn't it really the opposite? It seems to be that the offended, when visiting the blog, are virtually in the US. So if they don't like what they see there, perhaps they should stay home.

JC said...


That's an interesting comment you have written!

Now, let's do this, based on a case scenario, as follows:

Say, I come over to your blog tomorrow and provoke you. You don't respond. I come over again and do the same. Again, you don't respond. And this cycle continues for a few days after which I go ballistic abusively against you, your family (wife, kids, the works...).

What would be your first reaction?

Will you let me keep on with it (based on your belief that it's my right to abuse you) or will you in your enough-is-enough moment, enable moderation?

If you enabled moderation or privacy, then I believe you took away my right that you so vehemently believed, was rightfully mine. Isn't that so?

I am an advocate of free speech but that (free speech) too has its limitations. And that limitation starts with one's own ability to ensure they don't cross the dotted line. Once that line gets crossed, then it's got nothing to do with advocating free speech but pure harassment, simply for kicks, if you please.

Lastly, I'm not here to start an argument with you but to present my own views on freedom of speech and its repercussions, if any, if not practiced in a civilized manner.

Dubai Jazz said...


There's a difference between freedom of speech on privately-run blog on one hand, and on the entire world wide web on the other. Your right as an owner of a blog to moderate trumps all others, and thus you're entitled to censor comments.

People, however, can still establish their own blogs somewhere else and (hypothetically) attack you.

Brn said...


DJ has this right. I believe that you should have a right to abuse me (short of some strict definition of slander/libel - in the US it is almost impossible to successfully convict someone of those, and that seems right to me) and I will defend your right to do so.

But at the same time, I'm allowed to not allow you into my property. If I don't allow you into my property because of your behavior in the past, that doesn't stop you from expression your opinion. My blog is my property.

Personally, I have never deleted a comment on my blog, except for clear spam. I've actually left a couple on that I think were spam but were borderline (and quirky). But that is my choice and I would never complain about anyone else's choice.

I have a right to free speech. I don't have a right to my own New York Times column. But if they don't want me, I can always start up my own paper.

JC said...

Dubai Jazz & Brn:

Thank you for your views. They would be most useful when I start work on my thesis.

I also do not support banning any one but then again, I don't get to make or enforce that rule but if that ban serves as an offset to prevent (further) damage, then so be it.

Thanks again for your inputs.


It was a pleasure reading this post and equally pleasurable, the view-notes in this discussion.

samuraisam said...

99.99999% chance It did not get removed/deleted by anyone other than ultra[blue]/blessing in tragedy himself (or another author of the blog) (read: google very, very, very, very seldom deletes blogs)

I think he just fancied himself as becoming an expert internet troll and chose the stupidest, most contentious issues possible; once or twice it was admittedly funny although most of it went way off the mark. Let's face it, if you outright insult the families and friends of a few hundred people who have died in an aviation disaster you have no defense. I'm sure if people at his work/in his family knew that he wrote that kind of tripe they would never speak to him again.

His previous topics really varied, and he did share some decent opinion here and there--however every few months he'd spam the crap out of blogs and send death threats. I can't say why he did this because I don't know, however I'm inclined to believe that he just has inherent personal problems. He also has a set of online-people who seem to support him regardless of what he writes (for instance there were a few bloggers who were seriously trying to defend his rights to freedom of speech to talk about raping children)

This has absolutely nothing at all to do with freedom of speech and everything to do with maturity and just not being a dick to people who have died in a plane crash.

I also find it a bit hard understanding why he went so long in insulting and threatening people (I read one threat to a blogger in which he named his uncle at the police station and basically said come down and let's fight and i'll get you arrested etc).

Perhaps he'll take this as an opportunity to wise-up with how he spends his time in life.

Brn said...


Thank you for the interesting and civil exchange of ideas. Good luck on your thesis.


I think that this particular case is a free speech matter, but respect your opinion. You have certainly had more experience with ABIT than I do, though I've had one or two.

Keefieboy said...

I have had abusive comments from ABIT/ultraBlue, and it's clear to me that this person has mental health issues. @Brn, to be blunt, there is always a small precentage of people in any society who should not be allowed a platform / allowed to carry arms (that's a very large percentage, actually) / let out on their own. So I guess I'm saying the right to freedom of speech is not an absolute (I used to think it should be). Having that person make those comments on my blog actually felt like there was an uninvited lunatic on my property.

Keefieboy said...

Here's the thread where I first met ultrablue. I permanently deleted his/her grossly abusive comment. For the first time ever.

Tajdar O. Chaudry said...

Free speech, albeit heralded and often used as a shield for thoughts ranging from mildly explicit to raging extremism in nature has vague defining boundaries. It's moments of infringements being equally hard to discern.

Although I am not aware of the contents of the blog that sparked this debate, the matter at it's core seems quite familiar to the recent Facebook ban implemented by the Pakistani government. In an effort to block out certain unislamic content, PTA blocked out all of facebook. This not only blocked out the offensive content but also crippled any voices the populi could raise against it. In a total infringement of freedom of speech, the government took away the citizens right to choose for themselves. While there have been those who have advocated for the ban under the "blasphemy" banner, there are others who value their freedom of speech and have advocated against it.

The crux of this matter therefore comes down to preference, both personal and racial, along with unethical use of personal broadcast mediums merely to spark controversy in a bid to get attention.

Those of sound moral values will choose to ignore the incoherrent ramblings of an individual knowing simply that nothing good will coming out of fanning the flames of that conversation onto the masses. Free Speech is a priveledge, those who willingly abuse it never amount to anything... Those who try and breed hatred from it deserve to be blocked out lawfully and through one's own free will and not simply because one does not "like" what's being said.

samuraisam said...

Does anyone remember the comments where he would claim non-citizens are worth less than citizens in car accidents? It was like his main point in all arguments and it wasn't even true.

Brn said...


Good points, even if I don't completely agree. I am slightly less absolutist about free speech than I used to be, but still more than most.

As I've gotten older, I realized that so many issues are a balancing act between two goods, like freedom vs. civility. Both of the equations are good things, but there is an opportunity cost for each choice we make. We cannot have both perfect freedom and perfect civility. People will differ about where the proper place to draw the line between those values.

And there is no absolutely perfect division for all time and all places.

I respect your right to delete ABIT/ultrablue's hateful comments. But it seems dangerous to me to say that anybody should never have any access to a platform to air their points of view. I'm not talking about making threats, which are and should be criminal.

My attitude toward hateful comments is summed up by Fredrick the Great. Told a man was insulting the Prussian army, he replied "Let the man be and
don’t get excited, he’s biting on granite." I'm glad when I see the ABITs of the world disagreeing with me. It let's me know I'm on the right track.

~*♥ miss pink ♥*~ said...

Free speech is a worthy enough value to defend, but people need to learn to use their freedom of expression responsibly.
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should use your freedom to incite hate or contribute in a destructive way.
I personally don't understand why someone would use their rights to promote and condone things that aren't positive or helpful in any way.
While it is a bit alarming to have a blog censored in this way, if someone doesn't know how to behave responsibly, then they can't really complain.
If the cause you're supporting is a derogatory one, it makes no sense to have your freedom respected. Respect is a 2 way street. You give some, you get some, otherwise you have to be ready to be treated the way you treat others.
Too bad for the blogger, but maybe he was asking for it.

BuJ said...

Good riddance!

btw, you should see the treatment he gave one Emarati blogger girl once.. horrible.

well i guess he got way more than his 15 mins!

HE said...

I think this is what happens, it wasn’t blocked, he shut it down – he was being bombarded with responses to that post. I read it, twice. It’s disgusting – the funny thing is, a week or two before this particular post, Al Emarati blog was featured in a Gulf News article about an emerging breed of Emarati bloggers (UltraB is in a class on his own, the low type), the article mentioned something along the lines of how Al Emarati blog posts in English because they want to change the misconception many westerners and expatriates have about the UAE, WHAT?!? ABIT and his likes are exactly the reason for these misconceptions, - In typical fashion, Gulf News failed to research its subject matter and decided that because the blog is called Al Emarati then it must be a great thing, -

I think this was inevitable, ABIT was always digging his own hole and with this particular post I think someone important took notice and called him out on it – I think someone actually took his usual offer of “lets meet in Abu Dhabi and I will call my daddy and you will be deported” – someone replied “ok, when and where cupcakes? Lets meet, I have a couple of important people who want to talk to you about this” – I know I sound dramatic, but I do honestly think someone significant told him to straighten the fuck up!

HE said...

Although, I might be way of track here. ABIT can be sitting laughing and loving all of this. Re-fuelling to come back with more vile and arrogance.

Susan said...

Brn, freedom of speech is like you Americans' right to carry a gun - just because you have the right doesn't mean you can use it whenever you feel like it - the implication of having the right to carry a gun is that you will use it wisely. And it certainly doesn't mean that you can use it to threaten and intimidate people without there being consequences.

Having rights means we as adult human beings have to accept responsibilities as well.

Just because I have the right to be abusive to someone, doesn't mean I should be. And if I don't have the maturity to tell the difference then I should expect my mother (or some other authority figure) to give me a clip round the ear!

Aalia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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