Neshan and Jon Stewart, The Zionist

Is there anything better than your healthy dose of Zionism to kick off the day?

While hosting Bassem Youssef on his show yesterday, Neshan decided that Youssef’s friend, the infamous Jon Stewart, is nothing more than a Zionist. Just because he’s Jewish.

Bassem Youssef was polite enough to tell Neshan that, contrary to popular belief, Jon Stewart’s religion has nothing to do with his political mindset, that he is a defender of the Palestinian cause, etc.

Of course, you might as well have been talking to a wall.

Not to expect the mentality set forth by the likes of Neshan in this part of the world is absurd. But what’s shocking is that someone like Neshan – a self-proclaimed educated individual (you only need to listen to his degustation of every letter in an Arabic sentence) – doesn’t know the simple and yet very important fact that we all need to grasp: Jewish does not equate Zionist.

Instead of trying to stop the perpetuation of this blatant racism and incessant ignorance, Neshan not only fuels them but helps affirm them in the minds of the millions who already believe such ideologies.

In what world is Jon Stewart a Zionist? In the world of ignorant individuals who can’t get past their hate, their prejudices, their closed-mindedness, their ignorance, their racism.

There’s nothing different between what Neshan believes and between those who believe all Muslims are terrorists. Except maybe one generalization gives the people in this area some drive, some peace of mind while the other makes them rally in anger.

In the grand scheme of things, Neshan is irrelevant compared to Jon Stewart. I don’t even like his style of interviewing. But he apparently represents a mentality that people with the exposure he has should not possess. And that mentality is more dangerous than his presumed pretentiousness.

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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.

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Downtown Beirut, Lebanon

I recently visited the Wadi Bou Jamil area in Downtown Beirut to check out the infamous synagogue, currently being renovated. The area itself is a security zone within a security zone – call it security zone-ception. They have security forces for Hariri’s “Beit el Wasat,” the Serail and the synagogue itself.

You can get to the synagogue by walking up the stairs of the Serail and then walking on the street towards the Capuchin church. Once you reach the church, proceed to the street that is sealed off with one of the red plastic barricades, with an ISF person guarding the entrance to the synagogue’s street. Don’t worry about him, though, just proceed as if he doesn’t exist.

As a result of the security zones, the synagogue is off limits by a huge gate that is sealed shut. You can still see the building from outside but you are not allowed to go in. Furthermore, you are prohibited from taking pictures of any kind whatsoever.

We asked the security guard present near the synagogue if we can get access if we happened to be Jewish and he said no. He then said no one comes to this area except for very few tourists who want to look around, which is understandable because the area is so segregated from Downtown Beirut and yet so close that finding it is a task on its own so many Lebanese don’t care it exists to begin with.

I wonder, though, what’s the point behind so much security if the synagogue’s renovation is supported by the different political parties in Lebanon? I guess what’s been declared is drastically different from the hidden intentions…. Typical of Lebanon.

Until then, the synagogue is such a beautiful location in Beirut, in a very serene area of Downtown Beirut, whose calm contrasts drastically with the bustle of the surrounding shops and streets. It won’t be long before they ruin it with high-rises as well. They’re already talking about demolishing the Roman hippodrome near the synagogue to replace it with a high-rise.

Al Manar’s Anti-Jews Brainwashing

While reading an article by Beirut Report about how local media handled the recent Beirut fire, nothing struck me as much as a screencap that was taken of something Al Manar TV was broadcasting – a cartoon for kids.

The picture showed a bad-looking man, with a chef hat, roasting a chicken. The chef hat had the Star of David symbol on it.

Now I have to ask. I was under the impression that Hezbollah, who obviously owns Al Manar, timidly asked people to differentiate between a Jew and a zionist. How is this calling for that?

The Star of David is not a zionist symbol, it’s a religious Jewish symbol similar to the Crescent for Muslims and the Cross for Christians. Having that symbol in a cartoon aimed at young kids helps them learn that Jews are not their enemy how?

What’s worse, I’m pretty certain that parents who let their children watch such a thing approve of the ideology being disseminated. How despicable. When will Hezbollah and co know that Jews are not Lebanon’s enemies?

The sad thing is that we have a Jewish community in Lebanon that’s becoming more afraid and secluded by the day and things like this can only mean the path will get worse for them. When will Hezbollah know that Lebanese Jews have as much a right of existing freely and without fear as their Shiite followers?

I remember when I was a kid, our cartoon of choice was something on the Disney channel, Pokemon or Digimon. How about Al Manar shows the kids those stuff instead? Oh wait, I’m sure there’s a zionist mentality there somehow. My bad. Let’s teach kids how all Jews are killing us instead.