from the what's-in-a-name dept
Terrorism is scary. That's the entire point of terrorism, of course. The relatively meager bodycounts of acts of terror -- compared with, say, most minor individual battles in either of the World Wars -- are actually attempting to create some kind of political or social change amongst the victims. And guess what? It totally works! After all, western nations, the bastions of freedom and puppy dogs that we are, have reacted to what is ultimately a minor threat by reporting toddlers to the authorities, freezing the bank accounts of people with dogs whose names are a couple of letters off of the scary terror-enemy, and refusing online services to people with scary (read: Islamic) sounding names. Freedom, you see, isn't free, and we have to pay for it with freedom.
And the real lesson that should be learned from pretty much the entire early part of this century is that once you start the fear-ball rolling when it comes to terrorism, it gets really hard to prevent it from trampling a great deal of innocent people in some of the dumbest ways possible. Take, for instance, Sony just flat out banning a guy's Playstation Network account because his parents named him "Jihad."
Jihad Al Mofadda, whose story shot to the front page of Reddit yesterday, said that Sony banned his account on June 7. At first, PlayStation customer support offered to switch his PSN name to something else. Then, he says, after a few days of silence, a different representative reviewed the ticket and decided to ban the account entirely, preventing Al Mofadda from accessing his stats, trophies, and all of the digital games he’s purchased. After his story exploded, Al Mofadda was able to get in touch with a Sony representative again, but he was unable to keep his original handle.
Ok, there's a lot to unpack here. Stories like this are fantastic for pointing out how easy it is for a corporate entity to try to apply some kind of language policy to its online forums and systems only to find itself hopelessly engaging in hypocrisy. For instance, Jihad is a word with a lot of discussion about what it actually means. Westerners tend to associate it with the term "holy war", and it has indeed been used in that way historically, but the word itself essentially means to persevere or struggle to keep the Islamic faith. To that end, Jihad isn't a rarity in use as a first name in Muslim circles. Meanwhile, one of my own Playstation friends has the handle HowDatDicTaste. Shall we vote on whether that handle or the one Al Mofadda used, iJihaD, is more likely to offend?
But the fact that Sony refused to allow the handle even when it was explained that Jihad was Al Moffada's first name moves this into epic levels of silliness.
One e-mail from a Sony representative read as follows: “As stated in our previous email, we have to consider the network as a whole and we need to take every ones feelings into account. I can appreciate that your name has many meanings but it has one meaning that a lot of users find offensive and there for, when a report was submitted the decision to ban your account was taken.”
Imagine for a moment that some religious sect went completely rogue somewhere in the world and carried out a series of violent attacks. And imagine that this sect decided to name these attacks "Steves." Sect members would walk into a crowded marketplace in Brazil, declare a Steveing, and set off a bomb. And let's say that these attacks received wide press coverage.
Would Sony then ban the accounts of everyone named Steve? C'mon, it's the guy's first name and he has the passport to prove it.
At the time of this writing, Sony is still refusing to allow him to use his old handle, but has allowed him to keep the purchases on his account under a different name. This means he gets his games, but loses all the friend connections he'd made as well as his game trophies. Is this the biggest deal? Of course not. But the point is that when we can't even allow people to use their own first names because we're all petrified by terrorism, things have gone a bit too far.