I've been censored by YouTube. Or to put it a little less dramatically, an item I have put on my YouTube channel is - I was informed just a couple of hours after the item was posted - to be 'removed'. It has breached YouTube's community guidelines. I'm both surprised and disconcerted.
So, here's the story. During the pandemic I am spending a few hours most days sorting some of my archives - and particularly the huge amounts of audio (and some video and photos) accumulated when I was a BBC News correspondent. I'm posting some programmes, features, interviews and other bits-and-bobs on YouTube. It might seem strange to post audio on a visual platform, but the items get some traffic and I design images, covers, which accompany the audio.
Today I posted a snatch of a minute or so of a jihadi song on a cassette I came across twenty years ago when I visited Muridke. The image at the top of this post is the 'cover' I designed for it. Muridke is a large Islamic centre and seminary outside Lahore in Pakistan which was then - and perhaps still is - closely associated with the Islamic militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is banned under anti-terrorism legislation in the United States, the European Union, Britain, India and many other countries (including, nominally, Pakistan).
I was surprised when at Muridke - a rare access to the site for a western journalist - that wailing songs with lots of reverb praising the mujahideen played from loudspeakers. I hadn't expected such a hardline jihadi group to go for song at all. Radio lives on sounds, and I managed to get a cassette of these mujahid songs - as I recall, from a shop on campus. I probably still have it somewhere in the loft.
When I came across part of a song from this cassette on a minidisc I thought it was worth posting - it's hardly commercially available, and such pieces of music are resonant of a time, a place and an issue. I've also posted recently a burst of Naxalite singing from Bihar - a Kashmiri mourning song - chanting by supporters of the assertively Hindu RSS ... you get the sort of thing.
YouTube doesn't specify which part of the community guidelines I - or the item - has breached, but I assume it is the section about 'hateful content'. I don't think anyone at YouTube has examined the song's lyrics; more likely, the word 'jihadi' in the description has alarmed someone there. The song certainly praises the mujahid, the religious warrior, and I imagine that it originated during the conflict in Afghanistan, when western nations armed and supported mujahideen groups to bring down the country's Soviet-backed government.
I am fairly sure I used a snatch from the song in reports I compiled at the time. I wouldn't have thought twice about it. No one complained or expressed any reservations that reached my ears. Now it seems that the posting of the song - even though it's twenty years old and there is no suggestion of sympathy for its message - is entirely impermissible. Shorn of context, the song is clearly more a target of censure than when it's part of the tapestry of a news report.
This is not an open-or-shut issue. Hate speech is wrong and should not be tolerated. But does the posting of this song valorise violence or incite hatred? I don't think so. Can extremism be understood if its cultural expressions are banned from the public arena, even when it's clear that there is no advocacy being conducted? I don't think so.
I do feel stung by YouTube's move. I have appealed - though since you have to make your case in about a couple of hundred characters, I am not expecting a reconsideration. I'll update this post when I hear.
But you can make up your own mind about the song. Here it is:
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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