Friday, May 28, 2010

From Censorship to Absurdity..

When Martin Luther said “Reason is the enemy of faith” he should’ve added: “…and for the Arab world it’s freedom of expression”. Religions have always been demoting free-speech and in some regions, under a theocratic regime, freedom of speech is barely existent. Islamic governments are the best example of suppressive ruling. When your civil laws and regulations are based on the oppressive “Sharia” law, censorship comes with the package.
The stories you hear every day about cases of limiting freedoms, become absurd when you consider the fact that the mentality behind such limitations is being based on bylaws written thousands of years ago. I would like to mention a number of incidents that happened this week alone.
I will not go, however, into the “Draw Muhammad Day” issue because, personally, I believe this matter was dragged a long way off its originally intended message: advocating free-speech. Anyway, here is a 7-day sample of the censorship and oppression going on in the Muslim world

A Case of Double Restriction

Mohammed Abdel Qader Al-Jassem, a leading journalist from Kuwait was sentenced to 6 months in jail for saying in public that the country’s Prime Minister should resign because he is unable to run the country. Even more, journalists were banned from entering the court room and covering the event during his trial last Monday. It wasn’t enough that a journalist was being charged for having an opinion, other journalists were denied the right to tell the world about his hearing.

TEH Evil Blackberry! Evil Devil Blackberry

Again in Kuwait, the Ministry of Interior is planning to ban all Blackberry services in the country because “users of BlackBerry sets were taking advantage to spread rumors and call for strikes.” as reported by a local newspaper. The ban is not final yet but a decision will be made in the next couple days.


Back to the Dark Ages?

While in Kuwait the ban on BB services is being considered, in Pakistan it is a done deal; along with 1000 other websites including Facebook, Youtube, Flickr and Twitter. I read a funny story today, related to this issue, about the Pakistani Minister of Interior who was forced to start using Twitter because he could no longer access his personal page on Facebook after the ban. But now even Twitter is no longer accessible so hard luck Mr. Minister; why don’t you try Blogger? Oh I forget, it is blocked as well.

What’s the Point of a SECRET if not to Remain a Secret?

Last Tuesday, a book titled “Belgrave’s Diary”, published in Lebanon, was banned from entering Bahrain and copies already brought in were confiscated by the government. There are two main reasons behind this censorship, as reported by IFEX. First, because it criticized the ruling authority at the time this Diary was written. Second, because it conveys secrets about “distribution of wealth, land appropriation and sectarian discrimination”. That is not so bad, in my opinion. I’m sure they only did it to protect Mr. Belgrave’s privacy; I mean no one appreciates his personal Diary being read by the public, right?

Love the Song, Hate the Singer!

Elton John Portrait Yesterday, Elton John performed during a free concert in Morocco. The Muslim community was outraged by this gig because of this pop star’s sexual orientation and his public openness about it and could not believe how this event was allowed into their Kingdom and even supported by King Mohammed VI himself. The good thing, though, is that their rage did not turn into violence and the concert went on as planned. In Egypt, however, this same concert was banned from taking place in the country; this time the government expressed clearly its position on homosexuality.

The Finale!!

The oppression of Women has always been the favorite for all religions, but it seems Islamic Fundamentalism loves it the most. Yesterday, I read an article on Arab News, too absurd to be true. In the Indonesian district of Aceh, run by Islamic extremists, who prohibited all shops in the area from selling tight pants/dresses to Muslim women and outlawed the wearing of revealing clothes. They also distributed long skirts to the authorities and ordered them to catch any women whom they believe is wearing “inappropriate” clothing and to compel them to wear one of these skirts. On Thursday, 18 women were caught wearing JEANS while riding on motorbikes, and were ordered to wear the long skirts. One of them was a 40-year-old lady, she claimed that the only reason she wore jeans is because they are more comfortable when riding a bike. She also reported "I am not wearing sexy outfits, but they caught me like a terrorist only because of my jeans,"
Such ridiculous events are not a novelty in the Arab region. I wrote an article, here, on a similar story regarding Emo dress-code in Lebanon.


As long as religious fanaticism is given the authority to rule the people, similar stories will continue on happening. Some people might not see the dangers of such events, but when Sharia law is the only authority in control, oppression against women can, and have become, a brutality in many cases. The graphical poem by Nessrriinn, in the video below, is a very emotional one. I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint-hearted. This breathtaking visual poem depicts the sad reality of some of the men and women living under such barbaric regimes. Watch it till the end..


Friday, May 28, 2010 by Eli ·


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fresh Voices from the Arab World


Today I posted my first article (originally posted here) on the MideastYouth website. It is an active community of young men and women from the Middle-east, writing about a wide variety of interesting subject. With their open-minded attitude, they are trying to show the world that nothing can hold them back from expressing their views about the experiences they are living in the Arab world.
This vibrant group of free-thinkers are getting the exposure they deserve in the regional media, which will definitely help them in spreading the word throughout the Middle-East.
Make sure you visit this great website anytime you feel like enjoying a good read or if you would like to stay up-to-date with the latest news on Religion, Atheism, Secularism, Politics, Lifestyle and many other interesting topics related to this side of the world, written by a large number of fresh voice from the young Arab community.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010 by Eli ·


Monday, May 24, 2010

Soccer 1 - 0 Politics

lebanon municipal election 2010 The Lebanese municipal elections kicked-off on May 2nd of this month, and are still under way, covering a different region every week. Because of the high political tensions, which have been rising ever since the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, opposing parties have launched extremely competitive campaigns against each other, with huge sums of money being injected in the process of “buying votes”. Even though elections in Lebanon are democratic, candidates have been known to pay for electors in return for their ballot. This year, the heaps of cash, being frittered away on these corrupt campaigns, are inestimable. In some areas, where the competition is fierce, it has been reported that the sums being paid – per vote – reached $5,000 US dollars. It saddens me to watch all that money being squandered away when, instead, it could have been donated to charity!

While politicians are taken by this naive campaign, the people are looking forward to a totally different kick-off: The 2010 Fifa World-Cup. For them, local politics is a joke, and the situation hasn’t changed for decades. In Lebanon, the same figures have been running the country for as long as they can remember. The World-Cup, however, is a totally different story. Even though our national soccer-team has never been qualified to play in this tournament, this competition has always been the most anticipated of all events. 

World Cup 2010 LebanonMonths before the opening ceremony, everyone decorates his or her car, home and shop, advertizing the team he or she supports. During this long awaited period, political and religious differences dissolve and are replaced by a friendly competitive spirit; you are no longer labeled as a Christian or a Muslim, but as a “Brazilian”, “German or Italian (the three most popular teams in Lebanon).

When you observe this completely different reality, overwhelming Lebanon for this short period of time, you realize that people, when left non agitated by our unethical politics, are able to overlook the differences among them, and it makes you wonder whether this could become a permanent reality simply by adopting political “Fair Play”.

Monday, May 24, 2010 by Eli ·


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lebanon: Calling for Secularism & Gay Rights

Thousands of brave secularists marched in Beirut, on the 25th of last month, rallying for a secular government in Lebanon and the abolition of political sectarianism. Those courageous men and women proved to the world that even in a region such as the Middle-East, in which freedom of expression is conditional, it is possible to trespass this red-line drawn by our pseudo-democratic governments.

Another group of activists, the Lebanese homosexual pride, Helem (arabic for “Dream”), organized an event last Monday to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), under the title “I am queer”.  One of the main goals of this demonstration was the abolishment of article ‘534’ of the Lebanese penal code ‘534’, punishing “sexual intercourse contrary to nature” (visit this link for a complete list of goals set by Helem). This is not the first protest by this group, in which they try to pressure the parliament to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals. The first public protest took place in February 2009 (see video below), which came as a shock to many Lebanese citizens. This first event was launched as a protest against the violent beatings of two gay men (violent assaults on homosexuals have been taking place for a long time in Lebanon; beatings by policemen were also reported on a couple occasions). This, however, did not stop the dedicated activists from rallying again; surely, they will not rest until both the government and the public condemn such injustice.

Saturday, May 22, 2010 by Eli ·


Monday, May 17, 2010

The Irrationality of Belief

A couple of days ago my friend and I were at my apartment having coffee and discussing random subjects. At one point during our conversation we came across the subject of religion. Mazen is a Durzi – a religious sect derived from Islam, but which has many unique aspects to it. He told me that he is a believer but not a practicing one. In fact the structure of the Durzi faith is very complicated and not all Druzes are allowed to read their Holly Book (al-Hikma “The Wisdom”); only when you decide to become a “Sheikh” you are granted access to the scriptures. Most believers spend all their lives without even looking at the book once and they base their beliefs on the teachings of their parents, who, in turn, are most likely to have received them from their own parents. The Druzes are a minority compared to the other Islamic sects and the majority of them reside Syria, Lebanon and Israel. They do not marry outside their community and anyone who does is cast out.

We stayed on the subject for quite some time and I was really enjoying the discussion. I was able to strike him with powerful arguments that challenged his entire belief system. I could tell from his reactions to my reasoning that he had never before engaged in a conversation with a non-believer. The discussion became really interesting when he told me that he believes in reincarnation. The first question I asked him was “How would you explain the population growth if you believed that every time one person is born another one should already be dead in order for his or her soul to be transferred to the new host?” I was really shocked by the answer he gave me, mainly because he is a well educated person and I didn’t expect him to reply with such irrationality. He said “the truth is that the population is NOT growing and when God first created human beings, he created 6 Billion people right from the beginning” His reply really surprised me and it took me a while to ask him another question; I said “but what about the statistics which show the growth in the world’s population? I mean take Lebanon for example; the data proves that the number of Lebanese citizens has more than doubled since 1960. How would you explain that?” He replied by saying that the population of some other country must have decreased then, and also that there is no way I could prove these statistics are trustworthy.

Population of Lebanon Druze

After listening to his logic, I kept on probing his viewpoint and showing him how absurd his reasoning was. I knew he was becoming uncomfortable with his own approach, the more I spoke. However, like any other person basing his beliefs on blind faith, he wasn’t letting go of his convictions easily. I ended the conversation hoping that he will take into consideration my observations and maybe he will no longer take religious “truths” at face-value.

Monday, May 17, 2010 by Eli ·


Friday, May 14, 2010

Church & State: a similar story from a different place

The separation of church and state has always been the aspiration of any human being who understands the dangers of such coalition. Throughout the ages, religion stood in the face of reason: two non-overlapping magisteria. Today, the same ignorance is being promoted by the church. In fact, only by discouraging free-thinking and applying censorship can religion survive today.As a non-believer living in Lebanon, I wanted to add my voice to that of the millions of other free-thinkers, who are trying to show the world the wickedness of religion, by showing how serious the dangers of the situation in my country. But first I need to clear out a stereotype attributed to Lebanon.
Most what you hear on the news today about Lebanon, especially after the events of September 11, is biased bullshit. I said “most”  because it is true what they say about Hezbollah and that it is a terrorist organization but you need to consider the fact that this organization is supported only by one of the 14 religious sects in the country. Labeling everyone as a terrorist simply because of one group of radicals, is like saying that everyone in the United States is African-American (I’m not comparing African-Americans to terrorist. I’m just trying to show how absurd it is to generalize one aspect present in the country to everyone living in it).
Map of Sects of LebanonThe political system in Lebanon is very complex. The Taif Accord, which took place in 1989 after the end of the civil war between, Christians who were the majority and the Muslims who started to grow exponentially, mandates the equal division of political offices between Christians and Muslims and each half to be proportionally divided into the respective number of sects (9 Christian sects vs. 5 Muslim sects, see picture on right of the major sects in Lebanon).
In fact, having an organization of Islamic activists is much more dangerous for Lebanon than it is for other countries. Unfortunately, the authority given to religion by the government worsens the situation and the only way we can improve it is by making ourselves heard (this is exactly why I am writing this).
The Middle-East region has always been a Land of religious conflicts. A series of conquest by diverse civilizations have been taking place since biblical times. Every time a different civilization settled in a country, it spread its religion throughout the territory and became the only authority. In present day Lebanon, we do not have a unified Civil Law regulating every aspect of our lives; instead each religious community follows the ethical guidelines dictated by their Holy Book, when it comes to personal affairs, and the government regulates the more general matters.
Over the years, the majority of Christians (and a minority of Muslims) started to realize that some of the laws imposed by their religion were absurd and sometimes even barbaric and they decided to disregard them – This is why most Lebanese Christians today are very liberal. As for Muslims, however, being selective in the Quran is not tolerated since the it is the unmediated word of God; and today many of them remain attached to their deep-seated convictions. For some of those devout Muslims, observing an increase in the number of “infidels” pushes them to form groups of Islamic fundamentalists. Add a political agenda to the equation and you will obtain an extremely dangerous organization: Hezbollah.
Regardless of the fact that the Law, in Lebanon, does not force anyone to believe in any religion or to follow any of its guidelines – there are a few exceptions, however, such as civil marriage not being an option – and despite the fact that the spectrum of most religious people is shifting towards a more liberal state, religious extremism remains the major cause of hate crimes, committed by religious fanatics and xenophobes, against anyone who deviates from the Holy “path” – an Atheist like me for example. They believe it’s their God-given duty (or should I say Allah) to eradicate the infidels off the face of the earth. So as long as this sacred union between religion and state continues to be blessed, it will remain a major stumbling block in the face of our cultural advancement; and Lebanon will forever be a country of terrorists in the eyes of the world.

Friday, May 14, 2010 by Eli ·


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pull-up Your Pants or Be Damned!

In a country such as Lebanon, in which Religion has too much authority over the social ethics enforced by the government, every once in a while pressures from the Christian and/or Islamic communities result in the passing of absurd laws. An example of such idiotic decrees is the latest actions taken against Emo’s and their dress code. Cops in the capital of Lebanon, Beirut, are issuing a fine of LBP50,000 (the equivalent of $33.3) to anyone on the street who dresses like an Emo. It has also evolved to a point of extreme ridicule; today if you wear your pants low enough for your boxers to show, while out on the street, you will be fined as well.
Law Against Saggy Pants
I was surprised to find out we are not the only country fining people for wearing saggy pants, the picture on the right (which I found here) proves that a similar campaign was launched in Michigan in 2008 but for different reasons. In Detroit the police started going after those people because in their opinion such dress code belongs to prison culture.

While there are many other issues, much more critical, for the Lebanese government to focus on – for half a decade we’ve been facing a serious deterioration in the economic and social conditions as well as an on going political instability – instead, they always find the time to satisfy the peculiar needs of the religious community that ironically fails to benefit its followers every single time. They don’t really care about the freedom of expression of the people if it happens to threaten their “conservative” culture. I’m not sure which aspect of the Emo phenomenon, for example, is so offensive to the church in Lebanon; I’m inclined to think they fear the temptation coming from the “irresistible” low-rise jeans!

Thursday, May 13, 2010 by Eli ·


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Impotent vs. Omnipotent: which one is god?

Funny Impotent God "Shit"I stumbled upon three articles today that made me ask myself “is god losing some of his powers?” It is apparent in his own people’s lack of confidence in him and in his superpowers. Take a quick look at the articles in case you are not familiar with the stories: “Guns in Church Bill Dies in La. House” , “Thieves Steal War Memorial – The Cross in the Mojave Desert” and “Swede cartoonist Lars Vilks attacked”.

Let’s start by the first one. I mean come-on you guys, can’t god at least defend his own house? He who created the whole Universe and everything in it, needs YOU to keep a concealed gun inside the church for security purposes? Where is your faith in him now? Or is it that you prefer not to take the risk when it comes to “real” situations?

In the second article you might wonder why doesn’t the church or the Christian community asks god for the identity of the thieves instead of the police? Doesn’t he know everything? Can’t he miraculously make an impression of the name or face of the culprit in the clouds or on a burnt toast? Or is it a busy time for him now with all the nuisances caused by the Pope?

After reading the third article, which of course didn’t come to me as a surprise, I wondered why didn’t the prophet file for a complaint directly to god and asked him to smite Vilks instead of letting his people avenge him?

Both Muslims and Christians believe that one of god’s many magical powers is Omnipotence – well at least this is what they’ve always claimed to believe. Are the people of faith starting to have second thoughts now or has it always been the case?

“I still say a church steeple with a lightning rod on top shows a lack of confidence”Doug McLeod

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 by Eli ·


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ahmadinejad: $1,000 per child. Going once..Going twice...

Last month, during a live TV interview, Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that he was unhappy with the current low birth-rates of his country. He stated that in an attempt to encourage Iranian families to make more babies, the government is willing to pay a sum of $1,000 for every child born this year. This amount, however, will increase by $100 every year.

This outlook is in fact not foreign to Muslim ideology. In fact similar standpoints are withheld by many leaders of the Arab-Muslim world. In Lebanon, for example, an increase in the birth-rate of Shiites is significantly noticeable – 91% of the Lebanese population which is divided into Christians and Muslims; and year after year the weight is shifting towards a more Muslim-concentrated “cocktail”. (This table shows the 2009 birth-rates by country. You can clearly see the trend; the Muslim countries occupy the upper part of the table).

Now back to Iran, even though a decrease in the birth-rate of a country can be a bad indicator when for example it is negative, however 0.88% (the 2009 estimate for Iran’s fertility rate according to the CIA Website) is not a dangerous figure, especially now with overpopulation being a major threat to the survival of our planet.
Mesbahi-Moqaddam, a cleric MP in the Economic Committee, opposed Ahmadinejad’s proposition saying that it is “Improper” during such bad economic conditions and also with Youth Unemployment rates at dangerously high levels. He also stated that this strategy is very costly considering the 1.35 million children born every year which will result in a $1.35 billion allocated to this project.

I’m really puzzled by the reasoning displayed by all these religious fundamentalists today (I’m not sure if “reasoning” is right word to use here). According to them, it is absolutely moral to give birth to children, by the dozen, even if they cannot afford to pay for food, clothes, school, and shelter or any basic needs and thus condemning them to die from either malnutrition or poor hygiene, or simply due to negligence. On the other hand, when it comes to abortion, it is the biggest no-no. In other words, “killing” an embryo that cannot feel any pain because it hasn’t developed a nervous system yet, is outrageous. They would rather cause the suffering of a fully formed human being, who will eventually end up dying at a very young age, and in return they are rewarded by a prize of $1,000!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 by Eli ·


Monday, May 10, 2010

FTL Blog has been added to The Atheist Blogroll.

Free Thinking Lebanon has been added to The Atheist Blogroll. You can see the blogroll in my sidebar. The Atheist blogroll is a community building service provided free of charge to Atheist bloggers from around the world. If you would like to join, visit Mojoey at Deep Thoughts for more information.

Monday, May 10, 2010 by Eli ·


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Disarming Hezbollah, a clearer perspective!

"Lebanon allows Hezbollah arming"

This news is circulating just now on the net and it is truly sad to read such biased news, by some of the most renowned media today (especially the "anti-terrorist" media), always portraying the issue in a pro-christian anti-muslim way(when in my fact they are both as dangerous and responsible for worldwide political unrest).
I would like to give a clearer perspective on the idea from a point of view of Lebanese citizen.

It is of no doubt that the party of Hezbollah is a very dangerous group of religious fundamentalists who are a permanent threat to the stability of the local region as well as the world. However there is one extremely important and inescapable reality that should be taken into consideration, it is the fact that Hezbollah is also a political party integrated into the Lebanese government and supported by the Shi'ite community (which is the majority of citizens). The problem is deeply rooted in the sectarian-based government (which has been the case for years) and it is not an issue that can be resolved overnight by the single decision of the President.

Parties opposing Hezbollah in the current regime are well aware of the seriousness of the issue and are working alongside the UN and other countries in order to find a solution that would spare Lebanon another civil war. Lebanon hasn't recovered yet from the June 06 war with Israel and to take an abrupt decision of removing Hezbollah's arms by force in a time when Israel has its troops in offensive stance, right at the southern border, and risking both an internal and external conflict will send Lebanon into oblivion. Have we already forgotten the outcomes of irresponsible and religiously guided wars?

Just take a look at one of the posts discussing today's news It is a christian news website. And maybe now after you've read the above you might be able to deduce why president Suleiman (who ironically is one of the few unbiased Lebanese politicians) has claimed "the government cannot ask Shi’ite guerilla group Hezbollah to give up its arms at a time of heightened Israeli tension and before agreement on a national defense strategy was reached."

Sunday, May 9, 2010 by F.T.L ·


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