The Religious Extremists Who Want To Ban The Internet

On Sunday this stadium in New York packed in 40,000 people — almost full capacity. Why? Not baseball, but religious radicals who think the internet is a dangerous, mortal evil.

Godliness is often at odds with a web full of porn and piracy, but it's usually the pot-clanging of the Christian right; cultural warfare of Jewish Ultra-Orthodoxy rarely takes the stage. But what a stage it took! The protest against the internet went on for over seven hours, at an organizational cost of $US1.5 million. Prominent leaders within the mega-traditional Hasidic community, a throwback isolationist sect that's essentially the Amish branch of Judaism, allied with non-Hasidic rabbis to rent an entire major league stadium. Hardcore religious groups who quarrel over the nitty gritty of Old Testament law put aside their differences to throw down against the 21st century. Under broiling sun, tens upon tens of thousands were bused in from across state lines, rallying to denounce an existential threat to both their community and the swell name of God himself: the internet.

The people we talked to weren't certain what they would learn at the Asifa (Yeshivish for "gathering") but they knew vaguely what they'd be warned against — as well as what they feared. Some frowned at the popularity of online dating, and its potential to lead Jewish women — who were barred from attending the day's events, but could instead stay home and watch a livestream over the you-know-what — to marry outside the faith. Almost all cited online porn and its tendency to directly cause molestation, rape, addiction, abduction, infidelity, and virtually every other moral perversion — a risk about which we were previously unaware. When we asked one young man, who had shown up to the rally because his rabbi had ordered him to, if he'd ever looked at porn online, he smiled and said nothing. "You have, haven't you!" His face firmed up and he assured us he had never, but did use the open internet to help manage a catering business.

This was a common refrain: a free internet for the office, but a fettered one at home, where women, children, and tempted men would be safe from the perils of OK Cupid and PornHub. But bare tits and bad words were just the most libidinous terrors. As argued by one Orthodox (online) newspaper, Voz Iz Neias, the internet offers an unprecedented outlet for "Chilul Hashem" a term used to describe an act that casts shame on God, the Torah, or the Jewish community. (Think about the saga of Bernie Madoff, or this post itself.)

How do you stop that? Stop people from speaking their minds. Prevent, in the words of one Brooklyn dentist we chatted with, "unadulterated freedom," which he referred to gravely as the cause of the internet's power to ruin. Everyone we spoke with pointed to one solution: filtering. The same software that clogs up your local library's PCs ought to be spread generously through every home — the same ham-handed initiative that blocks plenty of informative, non-pornographic sites through a clumsy keyword dragnet. It's also the very same software conspicuously absent from the smartphones so many of these men clutched, without a sliver of irony.

But this was just the audience. None of the attendees milling around and queuing up outside of the stadium seemed sure of just how censored the net should be — they were waiting to be told how much inside by rabbinical edict. While they waited for an opinion, many in the throng were taunted by a group of Anonymous counter-protestors dressed as neanderthals, chanting and hooting at passersby. In the LulzSec era (well, post-LulzSec), it's easy to forget the group's origins as actual shoes-on-ground activists. One Anon told us they were treating the day's rally just like they had Scientology — a threat to free exchange and democratic principles. They'd organised the gathering on Reddit, of course, and didn't seem to want anything more than a rise out of the orthodoxy. They got a few stern looks and nothing more.

The picture inside the stadium sounded far more grim — the word from the powers that be wasn't just pro-filtering, but arrantly anti-internet.

We tried to get behind the gates, with tickets purchased well in advance (online, of course), but were abruptly told that our space was no longer available, ex post facto. A later attempt to cop scalped tickets on eBay, in what was perhaps the most ironic online auction in history, also failed.

But of course, the holy words drifted outside the ticketed male-only audience via Twitter, as all things do. Rabbis told the crowd an unfiltered internet was "strictly forbidden," that anyone who uses the internet without software censorship in place was violating holy rules, and that "internet is a fire that burns a person's body and soul." Influential figures from Israel phoned in with even more draconian edicts: the internet should be banned entirely at home, with its use permitted only where absolutely necessary for business, as modern life requires. Any family breaking these rules ought to have their children shunned from schools.

This is the stuff of the dark ages.

But does it matter? To anyone outside of the ultra-orthodox community, no, not really. Theirs are insular sects that, unlike their Christian turbo-traditional counterparts, don't want to recreate the globe in their image, choking software filters and all. But even directed away from the rest of society, the spectacle of an enormous, enormously elaborate rally against the linchpin of modern civilisation is a jarring one — and wholly ominous. Should the movement to subordinate the internet beneath millennia-old doctrine succeed, it won't just affect a handful of Stone Age religious scholars. A 2006 study pegged the Ultra-Orthodox population in the US at nearly half a million. That's a lot of Americans to lock in the dark.


Comments

    "All religion is stupid! You are an idiot for believing any of it. You should just shut up!"
    There! Now we have got the anti-religion spray out of the way maybe we can concentrate on dispelling the myths that the internet is the harbinger of the end of the world.
    Let's look at the issue a bit closer.
    The internet has not created bad stuff, but rather made it easier to access. There has always been shoddy poetry, talentless singers, nekkid ladies, crazy people ranting at the world/government/other people and other aspects of the seamy underbelly of society. Once they were hard to find, listen to, read or participate in - the net has just made it easier to find and consume.
    So what do we do about that? Not close down the net but educate its users about the dark side, oversee the kiddies and keep them away from the bad stuff and if its just outright plain wrong (eg child porn) use the full force of existing laws to shut it down and prosecute the crap out of the guilty.
    The net is full of great stuff but has also led to the prolification of mediocrity and crap (Rebecca Black!!). The message that needs to be said is not to bury your head in the sand (our Hasidic friends), not to hobble information (Sen Conroy) and not to approach the untempered schism of data (sorry for the Doctor Who ref) without an understanding of what's going on when you do.
    Sam and Kate - you ask does it matter? Yeah it does, because the internet genie is not going back in the bottle. At its best the internet provides avenues of communication that stand outside the mainstream giving groups who may not be heard in other ways - like those with religious beliefs - a platform to speak and be heard, even if we disagree with them. And thats certainly something more than some get in various parts of the world.

      I believe you are preaching to the converted mate, you need to talk to those in question here. Problem is they won't be online for you to talk to? :)

    Religion is like a penis. It's all well and good to have one, but it's not okay to wave it in my face and stuff it down my throat.

      best comment ever

        You must not travel these waters very often lol

    So someone who is considered "bad" because they look at porn can be marked instead as "good" as they've been prevented from looking. To me that sounds odd.

    I agree with them. I would never use the Internet.

    The NY Times reports; "The rally in Citi Field on Sunday was sponsored by a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, that is linked to a software company that sells Internet filtering software to Orthodox Jews. Those in attendance were handed fliers that advertised services like a “kosher GPS App” for iPhone and Android phones, which helps users locate synagogues and kosher restaurants." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/nyregion/ultra-orthodox-jews-hold-rally-on-internet-at-citi-field.html

    There's so many ironic things here, I'm on overload.

    How about I just go with a video of the anti-internet rally, taken on a smartphone used its' access to the internet to upload said video ONTO the internet via youTube in an article on an internet ONLY technology news site, alot of the time dealing with issues pertaining to the internet.

    So many ironic Internetssssssssssssssssss........broke the Internet

      Contrary to the headlines, it was not about banning the imternet.
      But "famliy friendly group oppessed to unfetted internet use" is not very newsworthy.

    And there is the face of the enemy...Remind me to deport them to a ten mile deep pit on the dark side of the moon.

      Do you belive that any one who has a diffrent opinion you then yours should be deported?

      The ememy of who?
      They did not want new laws limiting the internet.
      They did not ask you to come.
      They dont want you hear thier messege.
      They do want the right to have thier own concerns and not be deported for them.

      No, because that's where the Nazis are.
      Burn them, burn them aaaaaaall.

    What rubbish you write.
    As an orthdox Jew, it was not about banning the internet, it was about using it constructivly.

    I don't see the bit where they are asking to ban/filter the internet for everyone, not just in their own religious sect? If they want to opt-in to filtering themselves without forcing anyone else, then that is their choice, no problem here.

    $1.5 million to wank on about something they have absolutely no control over? Now there's a noble cause...

    "...anyone who uses the internet without software censorship in place was violating holy rules".
    Filter Admins are condemned!
    (Oh wait, its probably those making the statement).

    You know what's really, really dangerous about the internet? It gives you information, which in turn gets you to think. Fundamentalists are terrified of this.

    I betcha those guys really stank. They never have showers or use deodorant if youve ever been near them youll know.

    You know they dont live in places without wires around there suburb (cant remember why) most suburbs have wires around them in Syd like Bondi etc but Pymble? doesnt & they are furiously lobbying to make it happen - all so they can go out on a Saturday & god wont punish them.

    These are the guys who cant use anything electronic or mechanical like lift buttons or pedestrian buttons on (at least) Saturdays. They throw rocks at 9 y/o old girls & call them prostitutes because their dresses are above their ankles. Wankers

    Anyone else bummed that Christopher Hitchins died? He would tear shreds off these guys. Seriously, look him up.

    I think I'll stay on the side of science and reason.

    they do have a point but it has nothing to do with religion. their religion has spread evil for centuries. what they are concerned about is their lack of ability to control it and the people who use it.

    f*ck religion. it is obscelete and will be a thing of the past in a 100 years. until only recently people have not really had a choice, now they do and they are saying f*ck religion.

    Religion doesn't like the internet because it gives the thinkers too much information to be able to disprove a lot of what they believe. Keep the public stupid and you keep your churchgoing numbers up. It's as simple as that.

    My satanic infidel descent into atheism was helped massively by the internet as well as some free thinking thrown in. When you have religion crammed down your neck from birth, it's hard to let go of such a belief but if you're lucky enough to have a brain that can only process logic and reason then the internet becomes a powerful tool to help you wake up....... it's also got some great free PORN!

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