The New York Times reports on this, though it’s characteristically coy about the group’s name; the group appears to be this one — there are others with similar names, and at least one with the same name, but this is the one that has the about 750 members that the Times reports. Facebook has apparently not taken any definitive action on this, though there’s an allegation that it did briefly suspend the group.
Facebook, of course, is legally entitled to control what’s posted on its site; it’s a private entity, and not bound by the First Amendment. In fact, its decision may itself be protected by the First Amendment, though that’s not completely clear; in any event, though, there are no laws that even purport to restrict Facebook’s discretion here.
Nor would I much fault Facebook for allowing the group and similar groups as to other religions, or for banning such vulgar references in response to the mass criticism. (In the latter case, though, one might fault Facebook if it doesn’t ban the Fuck Christianity group, which has also gotten mass criticism, even if the volume of criticism is just in the high thousands rather than tens of thousands.)
But I do wish the New York Times had highlighted just what the petition said:
if the group “f**k Islam” and all similar disrespectful groups of religion are not shut down before the end of september..we are all goin to close our facebook accounts..and thats the least we can do to show our respect to religion and our disagreement of such humilating and ignorant groups.
The danger is not just that the Facebooks of the world will bar vulgar criticisms. Rather, it’s that the petition doesn’t just demand that “the anti-Islam group” be removed (emphasis added) — the petition calls for the shutdown of “all similar disrespectful groups of religion.” Religions are ideologies that offer themselves up for belief. They must be equally available for disbelief, and even disrespect.
The message attached to the “Fuck Islam” group, after all, includes substantive criticism:
The Quran contains many lies and threats. Islam is false, no god exists, and someone should say that loud and clear. Heaven and hell are fables, prayer is a waste of time, and angels and jinn are obviously mythology.
This is not a group against Muslims. They have it bad enough. If you doubt that go to Palestine. If you hate Muslims or are here to harrass them or promote your religion, go away. Muslims can be and usually are peaceful and respectful.
The best thing for the whole world is a rejection of all religions and a renewed discovery of the love for humanity and naturalism.
Fuck Christianity and Judaism as well. These religions are just as false and have a variety of disadvantages. There are other groups devoted to each of these false ideologies. Here is one devoted to religion in general: http://unm.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2225572075 and here is one for Christianity: http://unm.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5857745671
The criticism, even shorn of vulgarity, remains disrespectful. In the view of many Muslims it is doubtless “ignorant” and “humiliating.” But if the call is really (as it seems to be) for Facebook and other relatively open speech venues to shut down all such criticism — whether it uses vulgar words or not — then that is a dangerous call indeed.
And if Facebook responds to that call, and makes clear that it’s shutting the group down because of its underlying hostility to Islam and not because of its vulgarity, then it seems to me that we should indeed criticize that judgment: Facebook would then be making clear that it is willing to countenance criticism of a wide range of ideologies, but is treating either religious ideologies or, more likely, Islam, as sacred cows that its members ought not be treating “disrespectful[ly].” I would hope that Facebook members — who, after all, use Facebook as a means of self-expression — would then turn to sites that are more respectful of members’ ability to express their ideas.