When Micheala Harte was murdered on her honeymoon it was a poignant and tragic circumstance. Her youth and good-looks, combined with her father's popularity and recognisability ( as result of his G.A.A work ) made it a shocking and sad story. A story that genuinely touched a lot of people.
Through facebook, I remember learning that a nineteen year-old newspaper photographer Susanne Morrison had made some fairly unsympathetic comments about Micheala's death, by the time I found out about it, quite a lot of outrage had descended upon this nineteen-year old.
She stopped working for the newspaper shortly after.
I can honestly say I was mystified. Susanne typed in some glib facebook comments. Ill-advised, unsympathetic and most definitely grounded in some bigotry, but facebook comments nonetheless. The comments were nasty, but the only way that they would have ever been read by the amount of people that they were read by, including the people who would be most hurt by them, was by their constant reference & inclusion in articles and posts condemning the nineteen year-old author: I found the outrage directed at her in equal measure both hysterical & hypocritical, and then I forgot about it.
But it was in the back of the noggin somewheres.
When Alexander Aan was arrested it came back into my mind that maybe we need to redefine 'public' in the sense of social networking.
I ask , is it the same, to tap away on a keyboard some half-thought-out comment that should, in theory, be only visible either to one's 'friends' ( in the Micheala Harte situation ) , or to the group 'Atheists of Minang' ( in Mr Aan's case ) and then be pilloried for doing so by people who clearly not one's 'friends' ( or in the other case, clearly not atheists)?
Nowadays, thanks to google translate, I can tell you that Atheism Minang is a page that is frequented predominantly by Muslims who reckoned Mr Aan should be beheaded.
What are they doing there?
Waiting to be offended?
One contributor, Fauzi Arifin Ebs compared Mr Aan's case to the incarceration of 'Sean Duffy' in the United Kingdom. I'd never heard of Sean Duffy so I had to check him out.
And now that I know who he is, I have to concede that Fauzi has a point. Sean Duffy was a particularly nasty version of the interweb phenomena known as a 'troll'.
He was unlike either the nineteen-year-old or Alexander Aan in that he deliberately trawled the web looking for 'memorial' type pages for grieving families and then set about being an absolute shit.
The nastiest shit he could be.
Protected by interweb anonymity , he used each comment box to defame and degrade the memory of dead children, even composing crappy photoshops of the dead child's head to maximise offensiveness.
He even 'impersonated' the dead girls from beyond the grave, claiming at one point " It's hot in Hell" Sean Duffy's behaviour wasn't nice. In the United Kingdom of Great britain and Northern Ireland 'trolling' is an offence under the Malicious Communications Act, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison, and Sean Duffy went to jail.
My argument is that he shouldn't have been sent there, my argument is that in a truly free society, he should never have been arrested. My argument is that Trolling is an unpleasant thing but nobody should outlaw it because by doing so, that you do indeed lend validity to the Islamonazi lunatics who want Alexander Aan's head chopped off.
That Duffy was deliberately and wantonly hurtful to people he didn't know, for no reason is true, but here's the thing: Firstly, when you reach out into the big well of 'everybody', I think it's only mature to accept that among thousands of well-wishers you may also encounter the very worst type of attention-seeking idiot. Secondly, I think the hurt an attention-seeking idiot causes is a very different type of hurt than the hurt that can be inflicted face-to-face.
But finally and most importantly, if there is legislation just to protect something as fuzzy and undefinable as people's 'feelings', well then, yes, logically, A Muslim can ( and will ) claim Atheist statements hurt Muslim feelings and should therefore result in some punishment.
You could claim that neither Alexander Aan nor Suzanne Morrison were deliberately seeking to target anyone who basically 'hadn't come looking for them', and so it's different, but it's really only different in degree.
Consider this one last case, of Wayid Husayin. He lived on the West Bank and wrote a blog deliberately getting up the noses of the right wing Islamic fundamentalists around him. The NY Times says he "angered the Muslim cyberworld by promoting atheism, composing spoofs of Koranic verses, skewering the lifestyle of the Prophet Muhammad and chatting online using the sarcastic Web name God Almighty." Wikipedia claims that "The Facebook groups he allegedly created elicited hundreds of angry comments, death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him. At its peak, Husayin's Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors."
I think it's fair to say that Wayid Husayin was, in a sense, 'trolling' the muslim extremists, and playing a dangerous game. He was arrested in October 2010 and remains in jail. Palestinian security source have apparently said that Husayin will continue to be kept in jail for his own protection: "It is impossible to release him because we are afraid he will be killed by his family ". Now Palestine does not sound like a free society when you read that does it?
I believe that trolls will always be with us, and that trolling is a bit sick and a bit sad, but we have to protect trolls and other fools like a Black Police officer protects the KKK from a crowd that want to kill them, not because we like 'em or agree with 'em but because this is what freedom means.