Pakistan social media: Debates after Charlie Hebdo

Warning: This story contains racially offensive language.

Attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, a Jewish supermarket and a policewoman left 17 people dead in Paris last week.

The gunmen said the magazine was targeted because of its publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Nevertheless, the first issue of the magazine in the wake of the killings featured a defiant cartoon of a weeping Prophet Muhammad on the cover.

Events in Paris set the tone for social media trends and debate in Pakistan this week, as BBC Urdu's social media editor Tahir Imran explains.

'We removed something you posted'

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was unexpectedly dragged into the Charlie Hebdo debate as it unfolded in Pakistan this week.

When well-known Pakistani actor and director Hamza Ali Abbasi logged on after he posted a status update about the free speech debate in the wake of the attack, he discovered that Facebook had deactivated his profile.

Image copyright Reuters

What had he said? He wrote: "Even my blood boils when someone insults my Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) but that does not give individuals the right to kill."

He added: "Freedom of expression should include criticism, disagreement or even rejection of faiths or ideology." He then wrote: "Would it be 'freedom of expression' if I brand black people as niggers or if I say Hitler was a messiah? Would I not be branded as a racist or anti-Semitic?"

He added that: "The West needs to rethink and fix its definition of 'freedom of expression'".

When he discovered his account had been temporarily blocked and his status deleted, he re-posted his comments and vented his anger. After this post many Pakistani users tweeted about it under the hashtag #ShameonMarkZuckerberg.

It soon became a top trend. But many of the tweets came from supporters of Imran Khan's PTI political party, which Hamza Ali Abbasi endorses. In fact Pakistan can boast a large number of people who constantly tweet about specific topics to keep debates going for longer - it does not necessarily reflect the thinking of the majority online.

And Mr Abbasi has himself been criticised on Pakistani social media for posting comments about schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, appearing to begrudge her the award of her Nobel Peace Prize. In the end, he had to edit his post to offer his congratulations to her.

In this instance Mark Zuckerberg did weigh in. When asked by one user what he had to say about the deletion of the post, Mark Zuckerberg responded: "I don't think this should have been blocked. Our team might have made a mistake. Justin, can you look into this?"

He tagged a senior official on Facebook who later commented on the thread and apologised: "As Mark mentioned, we made a mistake in taking this down. We try to do our best, but sometimes make mistakes. We apologize for this error, and hope that the author will re-post it as we are not able to restore it from our end. Thanks for bringing it to our attention."


After the record sales for Charlie Hebdo's publication featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, in Pakistan the top trend was #WhoisMuhammad.

Image copyright Reuters

Under this hashtag people started writing about the teachings of the Prophet, an attempt to counter negative views about Islam after the Paris attack. It came as Pakistan's parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of the cartoons.

Many people on Twitter were preoccupied by what they saw as the hypocrisy of the West, arguing there were double standards when applied to Islam.

Here are few tweets from Pakistan:

Image copyright bbc

A lawmaker from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Hina Butt, tweeted: "While receiving his daughter, Fatimah (S.A), He used to rise from his seat & make her sit in his own place."

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