Why Those Who Insult Istanbul’s Victims Should Always Be Challenged, Not Ignored

I never thought that we, as a country first and foremost and as a region in the grander scheme of things, would so grossly disagree about our characterization of the victims of the Istanbul attacks. I’m not talking about whether they are martyrs or victims, but about people who are so full of hate that not only do they not mourn but believe others should not mourn too.

Those people have forsaken every ounce of humanity and turned the barbaric deaths of innocents as yet another event to correlate with their religious, sectarian or even political discourse.

Ramzi El Kadi & Huffington Post Arabi:

Earlier yesterday, I posted screengrabs from a Twitter account by someone named Ramzi Al Kadi on my blog’s Facebook page. Soon enough, the story was picked up by news outlets and it went viral.

Within minutes, Al Kadi was being called all kinds of names as if he were the only entity in this country and region regurgitating that horrifying word-vomit. Some were attacking the way he looked, digging through his entire online history and bringing it back to haunt him.

El Kadi had said he did not want to mourn the victims. He thought what happened to them was well-deserved given that they were at a night club, which is in his opinion is a disgrace of a place. To him, the victims – Rita, Elias and Haykal – were nothing more than sinners who had it coming for wanting to have fun at a “whore house.”

Unfortunately, Al-Kadi isn’t a lone example. You only need to head to Huffington Post Arabi’s Facebook page to see the exact same rhetoric being spewed by Arabs in the comments section. In an article posted by the page about Lebanese victim Rita El Chami, the comments ranged from those who were sympathetic to her sacrifice, calling her a hero, to those – like Al Kadi – who saw her as nothing more than – again, I quote – “a whore” for partying the end of the year away, wishing that she’d “go to hell.”

The debate in Saudi Arabia about the Istanbul attacks isn’t about their dead, but about whether they were at a nightclub or a restaurant, because that makes a difference in how their death is perceived. Palestinian victim Leanne Nasser is suffering from the same discourse back home: whether it was appropriate of her to go party the night away. It was her first trip abroad.

To note, Ramzi Al Kadi is saying his Twitter account was hacked. I don’t see why given there’s no value in hacking an account with 200 followers, but it’s a statement to be conveyed. Ramzi has since been arrested in order for his tweets to be investigated, which – regardless of how disgusting what his tweets were – is not something we should accept. Being an asshole is not a crime.

Hassan Hamzeh & Politics:

 

Al Manar reporter Hassan Hamzeh decided to insult the victims of Istanbul’s terrorist attacks from a different perspective. To him, this was pure politics. Being a Hezbollah supporter, he saw the attacks on Istanbul as nothing more than a chance for him to gloat in revenge and spite.

“Istanbul is paying the price it should pay” he tweeted. He then followed it up with: “Istanbul should pay more,” before concluding with: “Erdogan, you reap what you sow.”

To Hassan Hamzeh, the victims from all backgrounds are nothing more than pawns in his party’s political game, their entire lives and families and loved ones be damned as long as he can be satisfied that a city and a country he despises are being broken like this.

Other politically-charged social media users were annoyed at how the victims of Istanbul’s attacks were being called martyrs compared to others who “didn’t sacrifice their lives at a nightclub,” as if the location of where you are brutally killed has some bearing over the worth of your life and death.

While the Lebanese government flexed its muscles with helpless people like Al-Kadi, Hassan Hamzeh – with his political backbone – is still at large, free to roam and tweet more hateful things because he’s untouchable.

Why We Should Speak Up:

Regardless of where people die because of such vicious attacks – whether at a club, a brothel, church or Mosque – the sanctity of death should be respected. You have to be at a whole other level of deplorable to disrespect the passing of people whose only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time because you don’t like where they were or what they were doing.

When I first posted Ramzi Al-Kadi’s screenshots, people said that giving people like him such exposure makes them feel important and gives them power, that their negativity had no place in times of mourning. I disagree.

The best way for hate and bigotry to prosper is for them to run unchecked for a lifetime. The more we stay silent, the more we let such horrors fester in the minds and souls of those who are most susceptible, and the more Ramzis and Hassans we will have to deal with later on.

Our bubble as millennials or liberals has gotten us to think that the majority of people share our views and as such most will find the words of Ramzi or Hassan as abhorrent as we do, and that might be the case with many, but today’s world is far from being one where we can remain silent to people who insult victims just because they can.

Staying silent to people like all of those who insulted the victims of the Istanbul attacks in LaReina has a lot to do with why we are dealing with entities like Trump, Le Pen, Brexit and a rising trend in right wing extremism all around the world, why we are reeling from the effects of living in a post-truth existence where facts have become matters of opinion for many.

There remains a huge populace that lives among us that believes in what Ramzi Al-Kadi said, without them proclaiming it. We live in a conservative Arab world where it’s very easy to forget, as the only people we talk to are those who think like us, that there are those beyond our walls who believe that nightclubs are abominations, that those who frequent them are sinners and that those who die there should not be mourned.

Those people you want us to ignore are voters, influencers, mothers and fathers. We can’t repress them into a basket to be tucked away just because we feel like the higher road is the better road. To drive our society forward, those people’s ideas – not the way they look as many have criticized Ramzi – should always be challenged. We can’t shy away from the ideological debate taking place wherever we roam for fear of the challenge, or of upsetting others and ourselves.

Ramzi Al-Kadi and those who think like him think their ideas and beliefs are as valid, and should be applied on a more grander scale than just tweets or Facebook comments. To better our societies, we can’t just dismiss those ideas outright just because they’re horrifying. We have to listen, criticize, challenge the core of their thoughts.

The cycle of us versus them will never end if we stay silent and let the cycle perpetuate without breaking it. It’s easier to imagine “them” as enemies who hate the way we live no matter what. But “they” are victims of ideas that have been entrenched in their minds for years, and those ideas can be beaten if we take up the mantle of the fight.

Advertisements

I Don’t Get What’s Special About Jesus

Zealot life and times of Jesus of Nazareth

I always thought Jesus of Nazareth was the same as Jesus Christ. It was how I was brought up. That figure was the man I was taught over and over again never to question, to always take whole, never to tackle in a way that could tarnish his divine image.

But, as it seems, Jesus of Nazareth is entirely different from Jesus the Christ. One is the simple historical version of a man who existed the same way you and I did. The other is the embellished version that the Church has worked years to build. The man from Nazareth was someone who was born in Palestine and who was crucified. Whether his birth was of immaculate conception and whether he got resurrected after his death are matters of pure faith that fall under the domain of Jesus the Christ. If you believe in those two entities, then Jesus of Nazareth doesn’t really matter because your faith is unshakeable. But if you’re like me, full of doubts and constantly questioning, Jesus of Nazareth may hold a few surprises up his sleeve.

I recently read a book about the historical Jesus – the man that Jesus truly was. The book was titled: Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, it’s the book that caused a ruckus across the United States because its author was Muslim. Yes, I read it more out of interest in what the fuss was about than about the entity on whom the book revolved. Yes, it was an interesting read. Yes, I was left with more questions than when I first set reading the book’s pages. Yes, I think the book is impeccably researched. No, I don’t think the author is biased. No, I don’t think the author’s religion impinges on his judgment – if anything, he’s also discrediting his religion by saying Jesus actually died on the Cross as opposed to what Islam preaches on the issue. No, I don’t think the book is perfect. No, I’m not silly enough to believe what he’s saying is scripture but I believe it’s important enough to strike a conversation about.

The entity of the historical Jesus doesn’t really challenge Christian faith whose foundations are built upon three main elements: the Holy Trinity, Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ resurrection. The concept of the historical Jesus is what happened to Jesus’ life between his birth and death. If you believe Jesus died and resurrected for your sins, then whatever happened when he was alive holds little importance.

For starters, the Gospels were not really written by the saints to whom they are associated. It seems that was common practice back then, as a form or respect, to write what a man would have written and associate it with them. They were never meant to be a historical documentation of Jesus’ life and yet we are taught that they are.

Jesus was not born in Betlehem. The census that the Gospels speak about apparently happened after Jesus’ supposed birth and the type of census wouldn’t have required Joseph and Mary to relocate all the way to Betlehem. Why was this altered? Because the Gospels were trying to give Jesus the characteristics of the Jewish Messiah who had to be born in David’s town.

Jesus apparently had brothers and sisters and this is has been historically proven. The Church has tried to cover the fact that the man to whom Jesus gave the mantle of the Church was his brother James because this poses a problem to the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. To me, however, Jesus becomes much more interesting if he actually had siblings and if those siblings had tried to keep his message alive.

Jesus was a man of profound contradictions which we apparently don’t notice. At one point, Matthew 15:24, he says: “I was sent solely to the lost sheep of Israel.” At another point, Matthew 28:19, he calls to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Sometimes he calls for peace: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God”; Matthew 5:9, and at other points he calls for violence: “If you do not have a sword, go sell your cloak and buy one”; Luke 22:36. These verses have been proven to have a higher accuracy chance than others because they happen to exist across the four Gospels that are believed to be the most accurate. It’s worth noting that if Jesus had his way, we may not have turned Christian at all: “Go nowhere near the gentiles and do not enter the city of the Samaritans,” Matthew 10:5-6.

Some infamous statements that Jesus made, such as “love your enemies” and “turn the other cheek” were also removed out of the Jewish context in which they were said because early Christians wanted to make his character more universal and disassociated from Jewish zealous nationalism.

Jesus was also not an anomaly in the times that he lived. There were plenty of “self-proclaimed” Messiahs that came before him and many more after him. His preaching time, which lasted three years, started soon after he met John the Baptist. Historical proof seems to indicate that Jesus was a disciple of John the Baptist but Gospel-writers tweaked the story later on to make it sound like John the Baptist was the subordinate during Jesus’ baptism. His miracles, however, have apparently happened. There’s no scientific proof, obviously, that they were truly miracles, but there is proof and enough documentation about a man called Jesus who trotted around Galilee, healing people. However, even in this Jesus was not alone. His advantage? He didn’t charge any fees.

The story of Jesus’ death, the way he was dragged from one court to the next, seems to have been embellished as well. Pilates’ washing his hands from any guilt regarding Jesus’ crucification while pinning it all on the jews is but the attempt of early Christians to make their preaching more accessible and acceptable to the Romans who soon became their main focus. Pilates, it seemed, was a ruthless man who crucified any one he met. Jesus may have had an audience with him but it wouldn’t have been more than a reading of the charges and a quick sentencing. But Jesus has been crucified and crucification was reserved by the Roman authorities to people whom they viewed disrupted order.

Current Christian theology stems from the teachings of St. Paul which are apparently drastically different from what early Christians believed Christianity should be: a variant of Judaism that is based on Jewish laws with the acknowledgement that Jesus of Nazareth was the long awaited messiah. This “fight” between James the Just and Paul illustrates the difference between Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Christ: What Jesus was versus what it is believed he meant. It is the resiliency of Paul’s teachings that have done the most work at obscuring who Jesus of Nazareth was.

I was told that the historical Jesus was someone worth worshipping. After reading the book, I felt that wasn’t the case. I had no idea with what stroke of luck he managed to found the world’s biggest religion. I had no idea why he, out of everyone like him who came before and after, stood out. Two decades of rigorous research made Reza Aslan, the author of the book in question, a more devout follower of Jesus of Nazareth than he ever was of Jesus the Christ. Two days of reading his book have left me in the cold. What I thought was special about Jesus Christ turned out to be but a variation instilled in Jesus of Nazareth by the Church I was taught to follow. What I thought made the entity I worshipped special turned out to be but mere additions here and there to make his story fit ancient prophecies. As it stands, I really have no clue what’s special about Jesus of Nazareth.

I hope that changes soon.

The Myth of All Terrorists Are Muslim

Bad luck Muslims: they drew a deep sigh of relief when the Boston bombings turned out not to be done by a Saudi citizen… it turns out they were European Muslims who, ironically, are literally Caucasian. I guess racial profiling is out the question now?

I didn’t know that a simple comment on a BuzzFeed article from yours truly would spark a debate of over 50 comments and a hundred “likes.” The article in question was simply about the Islam leaning-Youtube page of one of the bombers. My comment was: how is this relevant?

Many sided with me. Many called me overly politically correct. Many others said that even though not all Muslims are terrorists, all the terrorists are Muslims.

If you ponder on that last statement, you are sure led to believe it’s true: the Boston Bombings, 9/11, etc…. However, it turned out to be the furthest thing possible from the truth.

There’s a hypocrisy when it comes to the categorization of “terrorism” in American media. For instance, the Aurora and Newton shootings were not carried out by a “terrorist” but by someone who was mentally unfit. If in a hypothetical scenario that person worshipped Allah instead of God, the “terrorist” label would have been used. Labels tend to stick.

The American and international media have been doing a “fantastic” job at highlighting select bits of acts of human violence and throwing them as representative of an entire sociological or religious aspect. Their portrayal of any violence that happens to come from Muslims tends to be sensationalized à la Middle Eastern way of reporting and, since their extent of knowledge regarding Islam and Muslims is very limited, it also comes off as ignorant. But not to those who take that media as scripture.

Moreover, the numbers to back up the “all terrorists are Muslim” claim is simply not there.

A study published by the FBI – could you get a better US-centric reference? – about the acts  of “terror” on US soil from 1980 till 2005 revealed approximately 318 terrorist attacks that varied in magnitude which break down in the following way:

Terrorism by event USA 1980-2005

Luckily enough, the numbers and data in that study have been turned into a pie-chart (here) that categorizes all the terrorist attacks by religion/ethnicity/background:

Terrorism Islam USASure, many things happened since 2005. But not all of those things were from Muslims. The above percentages may have fluctuated slightly but they’re still representative. For instance, Jewish extremism has over a period of 25 years committed more acts of terror in the United States than Muslims had. Now isn’t that interesting? Did any American know about this or is it hail-Israel and bomb-the-Muslims all the way?

To back this up even further, CNN published a study about the threat of Muslim-American terrorism. The study was done by Duke University and the University of Chapel Hill and found that the supposed danger of the radicalizing of Muslim-Americans post 9/11 has been severely exaggerated. The level is “small compared to other violent crime in America, but not insignificant.”

Violence Begets Violence:

The more societies across the world shut out, categorize and work against people just because they wear a headscarf or pray in a different way, the more these people will find refuge in doctrines that may not represent their true beliefs. The actively-fueled verbal, moral or even social violence only serves to increase the physical violence of those on the other side of the equation. There could be a linear relation there. Sure, the aforementioned premise is an over-simplification but talking about Saudi or Qatari policies of exporting radical Islam coupled with American policies in the region which help fuel this export will take forever.

Is there a growing trend of radicalizing in Islam? I only need to look at samples across my country to say the answer is yes. But fighting this growing radicalization doesn’t happen by clumping those who haven’t fallen prey to erroneous indoctrination with those who have anti-American, anti-West or anti-non-Islam agendas.

The whole point is: political correctness is perhaps something that we need in a time when it’s very easy to judge and lump people in a batch of stereotypes just because we think we know everything there is to know about them, especially when said-political correctness isn’t really coming from a higher moral ground as much as it’s emanating from actual reality.

Empathy isn’t a one-way street. Those terrorist Muslims are the ones dying in the tens and hundreds daily across the world today and it’s not only because they’re fighting among each other.

So next time someone wants to “kill all the Muslims,” know this: not all Muslims are terrorists and it’s a certainty that not all the terrorists are Muslims – not even half of them.

PS: A note from all those big bad Muslims to the people of Boston:

Boston Bombings Syria

My Salafist Friend

I was one of those people who, less than a year ago, equated Salafism with extremism. They were all bearded freaks who wanted nothing else but to establish the Islamist Republic of Lebanon and either kick me out of my home in the process or tax me for just being here.

It’s definitely a misconception. But can you really blame me? After all, the only thing I see of Salafists are those extremists who burn tires and talk endlessly about the struggle of Sunnis in Lebanon.

All of that changed when I got to know M. some more. I won’t say his full name and that’s not even his initial, just in case. He’s my colleague in medical school and I knew he was a devout Muslim but never knew he was a Salafist until he told me.

There he was: no beard, no robe, no constant angry rants about how Lebanon’s Sunnis should reign supreme even though he senses inequality in this country regarding his people, which is definitely not a work of fiction.

And I was taken off guard. This man was challenging every misconception I had about those people I had grown to be disgusted by and he was doing so not by trying to convince me about them not being as bad as they appear to be but simply by existing in the front row of our classroom.

M. later on gave me my pet cat. He didn’t ask for money for it – he simply had two Persian cats who like to reproduce and decided I should have one. Here’s how Katniss looks like today (link).

M. even read the many posts I had written about the reaction to The Innocence of Muslims and was even supportive of the content that criticized the very people that are associated with his branch of Sunni Islam.

M. is always the first Muslim of my friends who texts me on our religious holidays. Whether he’s traveling to Kuwait or in his home in Beirut, I can always expect a heart-warming greeting message. And the texts are not just addressed to me. He sends a personalized one to every Christian he knows. The more “moderate” Muslims I know and with whom I may be an even closer friend don’t do that. The Christians I know rarely text greetings as well.

Back in July, during a month we had as a clerkship at St. George’ Hospital in Achrafieh, we decided to have a group lunch at one of the nearby restaurants. It was there that we discussed his religious views. He explained that Salafism is one of many branches in Sunni Islam, sort of like those sects we have under the umbrella in Christianity. He explained that they differ with others in that they have a stricter view of the Quran. He told me about the struggles he has on daily basis while trying to reconcile his faith with the way of life. His worry at the time was that he cannot shake the hands of women at the hospital and is worried they would be offended.
To many, his struggle borderlines on the absurd. But who was I to judge?

M. doesn’t shove his religious views down everyone’s throat like other people in class do. In fact, he is often ridiculed by other students and even some doctors for asking about the benefits of abstinence in preventing some types of cancers and other diseases.

M. doesn’t believe that Christians should be second-class citizens in Lebanon. He believes they should not only be first-class citizens but if there’s only one A-class, they should be it. Why? Because he says they are the reason Lebanon isn’t more screwed up than it currently is and is different from our neighboring countries.

M. doesn’t believe the Islamic Sharia should be applied in Lebanon even though he doesn’t oppose it. And even though ideally he would like to live in a place where the Sharia is enforced, he says he will be the first Muslim to oppose such a thing happening in Lebanon because “we don’t live here alone.”

M. is actually with optional civil marriage in Lebanon. He was against it at first but after discussing the issue, he decided it wasn’t his place to enforce his views on everyone even though he doesn’t like the idea of civil marriage to begin with.

M. understands why the Orthodox Law came to exist. He comprehends the reasons that sparked such a law from becoming in the forefront of discussions. And he said he doesn’t mind if the law passes, although ideally he would prefer something less divisive.

After my daily encounters with M., I became a person who separates between Salafism and extremism. Salafism is a religious current that even Christianity has a counterpart for (Evangelicals in case you were wondering). Extremism is something that transcends religions and sects: we have it, they have it, everyone has it. Those Christians who hate Mohammads because they think they are the root of all the woes in the country are extremists. The Sunnis who turned Salafism into a taboo are extremists. The governmental policy which almost turned Salafism into a crime is an extremist.

My friend M. the Salafist, however, extremist he is not.

Could Patriarch Raï Become The Next Pope?

The conclave of Cardinals in charge of electing the new pope to replace Benedict XVI is currently underway at the Sistine chapel in the Vatican. You’re out of luck if you are a Roman tourist at this time of year – you can blame Benedict’s old age for that.

As it is with papal elections, there is no clear frontrunner as of this point. The myth goes that the cardinals leave their choice to the holy spirit through copious amounts of prayers and holiness. That is if you believe the holy spirit is a combination of politics, geographic, demographics and whatnot.

Eventually, any Pope nowadays is chosen based on one premise only: strengthening the position of the Catholic Church around the world. The late pope John Paul II led one of the biggest developments the Catholic Church had seen when it comes to the Youth, especially in popularity. Benedict’s undeclared job was to contain this surge that John Paul caused in a more Christian, usable, framework.

Today, the Catholic church is stuck at the edge of a steep cliff with the following predicaments:

  1. Decreasing worshippers across the world,
  2. Rise in Christian persecution in certain parts of the world,
  3. Sex-related scandals that plague Catholic priests more often than none,
  4. Corruption scandals that always seem to find a foothold,
  5. The issues of abortion, same-sex marriage and other thorny issues.

Seeing as the Catholic church is firm in its position regarding abortion, same-sex marriages (despite some recent breakthroughs in that regard), stem cell research and the like, I believe point #5 is not even an option in the voters’ mindset. Corruption and sex-related scandals are issues that Cardinals feel should be best kept in-house, not influencing the decision of choosing a Pope who will lead a Church not only based on those two criteria. The stances of the Catholic church regarding the many sex abuse cases that were revealed is a testament to that – if anything, it reminds me of typical elderly Lebanese women whose job in life is to cover up any wrongdoing in their family and showcase it to the world in positive light. Cardinals are similar to those elderly women in that regard.

The most important framework for Cardinals voting today is the following: help Christians around the world stay Christians and lessen the numbers of Christians who are deciding not to be so anymore. There’s little that a Pope can do when it comes to decreasing worshippers – after all, how do you convince people who lack faith that they should have it? It’s impossible. But what the papal conclave of Cardinals can affect is the persecution of Christian minorities across the world, notably in the Middle East.

Pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon back in September – his last major visit to any country before his resignation – was not out of the blue. Him demanding Patriarch Raï to go to Syria and hold mass there, which sparked an insane reaction, was also not out of the blue. Small steps they may be, sure, but for the faithful who still cling to their belief despite the hardships, a patriarch or a Pope acknowledging their strife is some very important business.

The question, therefore, asks itself: Could Patriarch Raï be the dark horse to be elected as the upcoming Pope?

Many Lebanese have already set Facebook pages to that effect, out of enthusiasm mostly, as if a liking a Facebook page to demand our patriarch be instated as Pope is actually beneficial or worth it. But that’s how things are with us – we always take things to Facebook.

However, I have thought about it lately and come to conclude that Mr. Raï could have a decent, albeit slight chance, at becoming the world’s next Pope for the following reasons:

  1. If the main focus is to target the persecution of Christians in the world, what better option than the head of the Christian majority in the location where Christians are targeted the most? The Middle East.
  2. Former pope Benedict’s XVI’s visit to Lebanon was, in part, to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation (text) in which the Vatican goes on and on about the crucial importance of the Church in the Middle East.
  3. A Pope from the Middle East would set the wheels for true Muslim-Christian dialogue, which is what this deeply religious and troubled region needs and the Vatican knows this.
  4. Patriarch Raï is age appropriate to be pope. He is only 73. He also speaks several languages fluently, as is required of Lebanese bishops.
  5. Patriarch Raï does not come from a country where priest sex scandals are aplenty and being relatively unknown to the vote has a rather “cleaner” slate than his counterparts. He was also elected as an assistant to the interim Pope over the past week.

The reasons may not be supremely compelling to have someone become Pope, sure. But they’re still viable enough to put Mr. Raï on the papal map. I’m not even sure if Mr. Raï can be a good pope but he might become one.  And frankly, him getting elected sort of scares me.

The Rise of the Middle East’s Atheists

September 2012, Middle East:

A low-budget movie titled “The Innocence of Muslims” makes its way to the media of the region. The movie insults the prophet Mohammad and doesn’t pretend to do so innocently. The mayhem it caused became infamous, notably for the American embassy storming in Libya which made its way to the US presidential elections. Protests across the region turned bloody. Innocent people lost their lives because of cheap ten minute footage. And the image that some Muslims have been giving to Islam over the years was reinforced once again.

October 2012, Pakistan:

Malala Yousafzai, a fourteen year old girl, was shot in the head by Taliban individuals who feared her message. Malala’s message was not that of an uprising against the men who worked endlessly to make her life and the life of countless other girls like her a living hell. She was calling upon girls her age to seek an education, which most of us take for granted: the kind where we sit behind a desk and listen all day to teachers telling us things we believe we’ll never need. Her message did not sit well with the Taliban whose mission had been, in part, to eradicate education in the parts of the world where they are of influence. They had destroyed countless schools and forbade women from attending schools in their attempt to restore the days of 600AD.

October 2012, Facebook:

A Syrian woman named Dana Bakdounes posted a picture of herself on Facebook without the veil as part of a movement for the rights of women in the Middle East. (Check the picture here). The message Dana wrote, as part of her picture, said “I am with the uprising of women in the Arab world because for 20 years I was not allowed to feel the wind on my body… and on my hair.” The message rubbed some people the wrong way and a bunch of extremists took it upon them to silence Bakdounes, even on Facebook. So they mass reported her picture as offensive, prompting Facebook to remove it.

October 2012, Egypt:

In a post revolution Egypt where Islamists have been gaining power, two Copt boys, aged nine and ten, were arrested for defiling the Quran. Another Copt teacher was arrested after some students accused her of speaking badly of prophet Muhammad in class while another Copt is facing charges for material deemed offensive which he posted on his Facebook account. A veiled Muslim teacher also cut the hair of two girls in class who refused to wear the veil. She later explained that she had been “challenged.”

The Rise of Atheism:

The rise in religious extremism in the Middle East is touching all of its religions. Be it Christians who are worried about their fate and revert to their Bible in belief that it will somehow be their salvation. Or Jews whose reputation has become intermingled with zionism and borderline inseparable in the mind of many. However, I decided to only discuss Islam because the broader picture of the Middle East, in which there’s a tangible rise in Islamist Influence, is a canvas of Islam – as it is the region’s first and foremost leading religion, demographically.

The rise in extremism is attributed to many geopolitical reasons. It is also associated with a serious lack of understanding of religion from all involved, most notably the men of the robe who are doing more harm to their religions with their backward mentality than anyone else.

The Middle East has probably one of the world’s highest rates of religious people. And it’s simply because we were born this way. We are not allowed to choose what we want to be religiously. I was born into a Christian Maronite family. Therefore, I am a Christian Maronite. If fate had it differently and my parents were from another part of Lebanon, I may have been a follower of a different religion. And this applies to everyone. As we grow up, we are taught our religion and nothing else. Come Sunday morning, it was better for me to attend Mass. For others, they had better pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan and never eat pork or drink alcohol. During my early days at AUB, I was surprised to find that some Muslim people – obviously a minority – had absolutely no idea when Christmas was celebrated. On the other hand, I thought Achoura was a happy celebration. We rarely challenge our religious beliefs because we don’t feel the need to. Those beliefs enable us to blend in our societies and not get ostracized – at least in that regards. They enable us to connect to other people with whom we are able to identify not due to their mentality or thoughts but because of their religious beliefs. At a certain level, deep down, it’s always easier for a “Christian” to make “Christian” friends than to become friends with a “Muslim.” The reverse is also true.

Our narrow religious upbringing also limits us to the other religions present around us, especially in the region’s few relatively mixed countries. Egypt’s Muslims know very little about the Copts who were founders of their country. Lebanon’s Muslims know very little about its Christians. The opposite is also true. This lack of understanding, combined with an increased rooting in unchallenged belief, places the seed of conflict, which has been manifesting way too many times across the region.

However, religion is but one side of the coin. For with the rise of the Islamists on one side, I believe that the region’s atheist numbers are increasing dramatically, albeit most of them are probably closeted, and they are fueled by the exact same events that are getting people to become more religious, coupled with an increase of education across the board. What people turning increasingly religious see as a threat to their belief, others do not see it as such. What some increasingly religious people do to defend their beliefs, others see as a violation of freedom. What some increasingly religious people feel related to, others want to detach from it. The religious behavior that makes some religious people proud causes others to be the opposite. The picture that some extremists deem offensive, others see as a manifestation of free thought. The children seen as defiling Islam by some, others see as children being children. The girl infecting the minds of other girls with poison, which some (obviously very, very few) believe, others see as a complete violation of every single human sanctity.

One part decides to cling further to what they know because of such events. Others decide to look at alternative, which might fit better with how they see the world, away from a notion of faith that has become alien to them. After all, all they’re seeing of faith is repeated incidences of things they do not remotely agree with, despite that being as remote from what religions call for.

Religious people will call it a lack of understanding and narrow-mindedness for someone to turn atheist. They will never be convinced how someone who was born and raised on certain teachings can ditch them entirely and move towards thoughts that they find revolting. What they don’t get is that the same rhetoric they use applies in similar fashion to atheists who are moving away from teachings that they find revolting and forced upon them throughout their years.

Of course, this does not apply to all religious people as some practice their religion in silence, without letting everyone know when they’re praying and when they’re offended. But this silent majority is not the one that gives an impression. Out of a crowd of millions, the person who changes perceptions is that whose voice is heard the most. And in a time of religious insecurity, in a region of political insecurity, the voices heard the most are those of people that rub a whole lot of other people the wrong way.

Regardless of where you stand regarding the two sides of the religion-atheism coin, the image being painted is the following: religion is the bread of the poor. Atheism is the butter of the “educated.” However, the only one thing that I believe is of absolute necessity is that the Middle East needs more atheists.

On Those Raging Muslims

I love Charlie Hebdo. How can you not love Charlie Hebdo. He hits the nail on its head so brilliantly and he makes it look so effortlessly funny. Oh, you don’t like him? Well, too bad for you.

I find the following caricature to be absolutely hilarious and spot on – especially if you’ve watched the movie he’s alluding to (click here).

Following the publication of this picture, French embassies across the world have started boosting their security measures as they prepared for a wave of demonstrations similar to those against the Americans following the anti-Islam movie that was published.

I, for one, have no idea why how some so-called Muslims even saw the prophet in that picture because all I can see is a man similar to the ones protesting getting dragged by an Orthodox Jew, an obvious jab at both religions but not at their holy figures. But what do I know, right?

The movie was disgusting. This picture though isn’t. The response of some so-called Muslims, obviously a minority, will be the same regardless. Their prophet was “insulted” therefore they must kill people. It’s a simple leap of reasoning for them. For everyone else, it’s nowhere near comprehensible. Even for other Muslims.

People are calling this the Dark Age of Muslims, in stark resemblance to the Christian witch-hunts and crusades and crackdown on science. But is the classification based?

I, for one, don’t think so.

Let me ask a question. How many Muslims look at the above picture and can’t help but smile? And why do those who smile actually do so?

The answer is quite simple: thick skin. And it’s what more Muslims need to start building. Why? Because in the age of freedom of speech that’s slowly but surely becoming less and less defined, the backward mentality of some of them when it comes to their religion is beyond unacceptable. It’s borderline nauseating.

Look at the following picture:

These pins are sold in a Christian area of Lebanon. Their origin has been reported to be somewhere in Beirut’s southern suburb but I don’t care about that. What I care about is the fact that these pins didn’t even elicit the response from Lebanese Christians that the flip flops did last year.

In the case of flip flops last year, the reaction was more than peaceful. No food chain stores were torched. The only thing that happened was that the store was closed by a court order for a weekend as people prayed in front of it. How many Muslims are publicly praying on the “insults” these days? Not many I suppose.

Keep in mind that for Christians, Jesus is God. Therefore, people insulting Him would be a much greater offense than insulting a prophet. And yet, no one is dying for insulting Jesus over and over again and let me tell you it’s not because Christians don’t have their fair share of religious pride.

How many so-called Muslims are publicly raging over the movie and the comic? Many. I’m sure there are many more Muslims who just let it pass. I’m also sure that there are many more that are better than the best of people at handling these things. But sadly that’s not the image the world gets across.

The image the world gets of many of my friends is that they are a bunch of narrow minded, religiously blind zealots who can’t but get up in a fit whenever their prophet is insulted and the world doesn’t know why. And this idea sickens me. But I can’t do anything about it because whatever I do, I’ll be the Christian looking at it from outside and preaching. So the world challenges Muslims again and again and again waiting for a change in their reaction. But the change never happens.

The reaction keeps on increasing. And the impression of Muslims becoming more blinded and more religious and, well, more unfree increases in the process. And all of this is because of the ignorant attitude of some.

The world doesn’t know that in Islam, portraying the prophet in picture is forbidden. Or it could be that they know and they don’t understand why. To be frank, I don’t even understand what the big deal is about painting a prophet in a picture. But what some so-called Muslims should know is that the world doesn’t care even if it was a cornerstone of their religion. Why’s that? Because the rest of the world is fast moving away from the bonds of religion and they expect everyone to keep up with them and the level of freedom that they are reaching. It’s overly simplistic perhaps but that’s the way it is.

The DaVinci Code. The book that caused a frenzy among Christians. It’s even banned in Lebanon. Contrast this to The Satanic Verses. Both books have more or less similar esoteric themes. Both books were widely successful. Both books are works of fiction. Both works were picked up by the corresponding religions they spoke about. Only one of those led to a fatwa asking to the murder of the author.

And I have to ask: why?

It’s not because Christians are more open minded. It’s not because they are more tolerant. God knows there are more narrow-minded Christians than they let on. I know many who are like that seeing as I come from the heart of Christian Lebanon. It’s because over the time, the majority of Christians developed a thick skin against these types of “insults.” Many don’t see them as insults anymore. I don’t think I’ll find a Muslim who doesn’t see in the above caricature an insult somehow. Even among the ones who are condemning the reactions.

But the problem isn’t only with those “people” protesting (read killing) on the streets.

Did you know that some twisted sheikh in Sidon decided to issue his own mini fatwa to permit the killing of the filmmaker behind The Innocence of Muslims? If you didn’t, now you do. How many Muslims can fathom this? The problem is that they are many. And some might even take him out on it. It has happened before with Salman Rushdie and Islam hadn’t been hit this hard since.

That sheikh’s protest was one of many that took place in Lebanon yesterday regarding the anti-Islam material. Some French language centers had even closed down for the day for fear of actions taken against them. Lebanese army tanks were spotted in the parking of Burger King and other franchises.

What some Muslims are failing to grasp is that the only thing hitting Islam and bringing it down is Muslims. And they are bashing it, tearing it, destroying it, demolishing it, annihilating every single foundation of it – all five pillars – with the behavior of some people and some beyond ignorant, beyond bearded religious men and their turban which, to those people, holds the pride of a religion whilst the only pride being held is the arrogance of said bearded religious men as they flaunt one extreme idea that defies the foundation of the religion they claim to know after another, sort of like candy at a carnival. Except it’s not haram.

Why isn’t this the dark ages of Muslims? Because such a thing is impossible to happen in this day and age. When the Christians had it, news didn’t travel in the blink of an eye. Almost everyone was ignorant. The corrupt church was the only entity effectively governing the world back then.

What is this age for Muslims? I’d like to call it the age of imbeciles. Because that’s what those violently protesting the movie are and that’s what those who are offended by Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon are. And they are the ones making their entire religion look like a religion of ignorants who can’t grasp the basic concept of freedom

But I have a solution to help these imbeciles.  How? Let’s start with making the level-headed religious men of Islam more powerful. Make their voices louder than the useless but effective shouting of those rallying the angry masses. Make the fanatic religious men with their hate mixed with extremism with a dose of stupidity to top it off categorically and irrevocably nobodies. Make more “anti-Islam” material. Brochures, clips, caricatures… you name it. Call it some people being offensive, call it freedom of speech. But make so much material that the only reaction possible would be to start ignoring and grow thick skin. It’s like giving a five year old so many toys he’d be saturated. Saturate their little heads. Expose them to so many stimuli that the only thing they’d want to do is go home and tuck themselves into bed and cry themselves to sleep and then wake the following day and realize that their prophet doesn’t care one bit about the movie, the caricature, the brochure and neither should they.

Did I mention I love Charlie Hebdo? Let’s not hope some fame-seeking bearded imbecile decides to kill the cartoonist too.