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Treason to the rhythm of the tango

Artists, musicians and writers run risk of living as outcasts in military regimes

Bassem Youssef

Published: Updated:

The late Osvaldo Pugliese is the most famous tango musician in the world. He and other artists had been categorized as enemies of the state for opposing military rule in Argentina in the 1970s. Accusations of opposing a regime can easily turn into accusations of conspiring against a regime, which then develops into accusations of treason and espionage, and finally membership in the fifth column.

Regimes try to regain what they have lost by accusing artists, musicians and writers of treason and espionage because they refuse to be led like a herd in states of mass hysteria caused by those claiming virtue, piety and patriotism.

U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy is an example of someone who manipulated people’s emotions and misused patriotism. He became infamous in the 1950s for his crackdown against alleged communists. Since American law did not criminalize intellectual support for communism, the accusations turned into harming stability, corrupting American values and, of course, conspiring to overthrow the government.

He interrogated dozens of Hollywood writers, directors and actors over alleged links to communism. Blacklists emerged. People were tried and jailed. Those who were not convicted had their lives destroyed as society and their friends cast them out, and all major production companies refused to hire them.

Simmering fears

We cannot entirely blame McCarthy. The truth is, there is some sort of fear and worry inside people in all societies. Simmer these fears, and they blow up into mass hysteria that does not listen to others, does not discuss, and does not accept negotiations. It may be fear over the country, religion, values or identity. It does not matter. The mechanism is one, as is the strategy.

There is not a huge difference between the practices of a military regime, a religious regime, or a fascist regime with a patriotic touch.

Bassem Youssef

Create an enemy, demonize it, drown people in conspiracy theories, and specify and exaggerate people’s fears. Then shoot your arrows at whoever you want. People will then be ready to attack, and you will not need to make more effort. All you did was tell them there are evil witches in town, then point your finger towards the victim. The angry masses will do the rest.

No one will ask you for your sources, or for irrefutable evidence. No one currently asks why some people are being defamed and accused of treason and espionage via our satellite channels. But none of this matters. The verdict has been issued, and all these silly details like evidence mean nothing.

Back to McCarthy, he maintained his vehement campaign for four years, until he had a dose of his own medicine when he was accused of misusing power and defaming public figures. He used all the tactics we currently see on TV, including threatening and intimidating others and making baseless accusations.

The only good thing

Perhaps the 1957 U.S. Supreme Court decision to protect citizens from random accusations and slander without proof is the only good thing that came out of McCarthy's actions. Maybe we need a similar law, because frankly we have gotten tired of the same lists of spies, and of the same faces who reproduce these accusations without evidence. Until this happens, newspapers and satellite channels will continue to feed off people's flesh.

There is not a huge difference between the practices of a military regime, a religious regime, or a fascist regime with a patriotic touch. Those who claim piety are not less fierce, as they may add the accusations of apostasy and enmity of religion to the list.

Most Muslim scientists and philosophers, whose biographies are used as proof that the Islamic Caliphate is the solution, were creative people who were accused of apostasy and even killed in the name of religion.

So if you are a Muslim scientist, a Hollywood writer, or a composer of the best tango music, maybe history will remember you for your work and creativity. However, you will probably live as an outcast, accused of treason, espionage, and perhaps infidelity. In that case, let us see what good tango will do you.

This article was first published in al-Shorouk on Nov. 12, 2013.


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Bassem Youssef is 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.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.