Somewhere in the middle of Manhattan in New York, before entering the studio, I sat on my chair in the room allocated for guests. I was waiting my turn in the third segment as a guest on Jon Stewart’s show - the host of the most famous satirical news program in the U.S. It is the second time he hosts me in ten months. I was glad to meet the man who turned from a star I used to be a fan of into a loyal friend who stood by me when they interrogated me or who rather previously stood by the Egyptian revolution and defended freedom of speech in Egypt more than once.
I smile when I remembered the fierce criticism I was subjected to by religious television stations. Jon Stewart is Jewish. These critics talk about Islam’s tolerance and co-existence with other religions yet at the same time they do not differentiate between Judaism (as a religion) and Zionism (as a political orientation). As a result, we cry out that the West places Muslims, Arabs and terrorists in the same category.
Anyhow, I was waiting to enter the studio. Before my entrance to the studio, there were two segments.
The show began with a segment on the aftermath of the Boston attacks in which the two brothers of Chechen origin who grew up and got educated in the U.S. were suspected. It's up to you, of course, to imagine the media mobilization against Muslims in America, but Jon Stewart satirically discussed reactions from Fox News.
Defending American values
Jon Stewart routinely mocks Fox News. It appears the world’s extremist right-wing groups are a goldmine for political satire. But what is new this time is that amidst the media mobilization against Muslims, the “Jewish” Jon Stewart stood up to defend the rights of Muslim citizens, not out of his love for them or any bias towards Islam, but out of defending the principles of the American constitution and its moral and humane values. Why would a man choose to swim against the current? Instead of mocking those who benefited from this country’s bounties and then turned against it and falling into the trap of generalizing Muslims, he chose to defend the principles that make his country, the leader of the democratic world as they say.
Jon Stewart followed up on the statements and comments about Fox News’ hosts and guests. He compared the American Bill of Rights with what these right-wing figures had called for. There was Sean Hannity, Fox News’ famous host, requesting that torture methods be allowed to attain information. He particularly called for adopting “water boarding” as a means of torture. Stewart noted that such an act would be a violation of the eighth amendment stipulating that “cruel and unusual punishments [shall not be] inflicted.”
Another host requested fresh debates over imposing supervision in mosques and for them to be regularly searched. Jon Stewart responded by saying such an act is a violation of the fourth amendment, which guards against unreasonable search and seizure along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause.
Jon Stewart continued to present Fox’s racist remarks. There was more than one host objecting that suspects were informed of their rights when they were first arrested. These rights are known as the Miranda Warning which stipulates that the apprehended has the right to remain silent and the right to consult with an attorney. The Miranda Warning was approved in 1966 after police in Arizona violated Ernesto Arturo Miranda’s rights as stipulated in the fifth amendment of the constitution.
I watched the episode in wonder. Against a background of anger and high emotions, where the public were requesting the suspects be executed, this man comes out to speak of rights as stipulated by the constitution and to speak of rights of those whom some consider as terrorists.
Messages of hatred
Then there were Fox News’ messages of hatred. He broadcast segments from the most extremist right-wing figures like Ann Coulter and others who requested that the suspects be treated as war criminals and thus be deprived of their rights as citizens and treated like terrorists whose belong in Guantanamo. Jon responded by saying this would be a violation of the sixth amendment, which states that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime was committed
There was another host who requested not to accept Muslim and Arab students at American universities before they pass tests that guarantee their loyalty. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter demanding that the Boston suspect's wife remove her veil.
Jon pointed out this would be a violation of the first amendment, which prevents the Congress from supporting the practice of any religion or prohibiting the free practice of any other religion. It is also a violation of the ninth amendment that prohibits any amendments to the U.S. constitution that deprive people of the rights granted to them.
In the end, Jon Stewart mocked the extremist right-wing individuals who were willing to veto all the rights mentioned in the constitution -- except for the second amendment, which stipulates the right to possess arms. Jon also presented statistics showing that the number of those killed in terrorism incidents throughout thirty years is 3,400 whilst the number of those killed by firearms is 900,000.
After this episode, I spent days thinking of the constitution which was meant for Egypt, which provides opportunities to solidify sectarianism and fanaticism in a society that bleeds on a daily basis as a result of intolerance and hatred of others in the name of religion. But for the sake of integrity, we do not really need a constitution to do so as we Egyptians already do that without any constitutional support.
As I watched this Jewish man defend the citizenship rights of a Muslim minority – that does not exceed five percent of the population – from a humane, legal and social perspective and not a religious one, I imagined if the same scenario had occurred in Egypt and if the suspect had been Shiite, Bahá'í or Christian. I wonder what the clerics who appear on satellite television stations will say; those preachers who have issued fatwas against Muslims wishing Christians a “Happy Easter.”
Islam came to earth for all humans but the merchants of religion besieged it within a detestable narrow sectarian circle.
Al-Azhar cleric Sheikh Mohamed Tuaileb, God bless his soul, used to say: "We must first learn what makes a human a human before we learn what makes a Muslim a Muslim."
We were brought up with the concept that our religion is the religion of humanity and co-existence. Unfortunately, we grew up to realize that those in control of satellite channels and politics are as far as anyone can be from religion and as close as anyone can be to fanaticism and tribalism. And now, we have realized that those defending the rights of Muslims beyond our borders are not of our religion!
This article was first published Egypt-based in al-Shourouk on May 14, 2013.
Bassem Youssef is an Egyptian doctor, satirist, and the host of El Bernameg ("The Program"), a satirical news program broadcast by a private Egyptian television station. The press has compared Youssef with American comedian Jon Stewart, whose satire program The Daily Show inspired Youssef to begin his career. Despite all controversy and legal debates it has sparked, El Bernameg has been a major success. It is constantly topping the regional YouTube charts, making Youssef's YouTube channel one of the most subscribed to in Egypt.