Bassem Youssef: Israel-Palestine, Gaza, Hamas, Middle East, Satire & Fame | Lex Fridman Podcast #424

Bassem Youssef: Israel-Palestine, Gaza, Hamas, Middle East, Satire & Fame | Lex Fridman Podcast #424

Introduction (00:00:00)

  • Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian-American comedian, discusses his experiences with satire and fame in the Middle East.
  • He highlights the importance of storytelling in supporting one's opinions and criticisms.
  • Youssef mentions the word "Jihad" as one of his favorite hobbies.
  • He criticizes the lack of attention given to the voices of the people by those in power.
  • Youssef shares an anecdote about receiving advice from "John" to confront his fears by making fun of them.
  • Bassem Youssef was born in Cairo, Egypt, and studied medicine before pursuing a career in comedy.
  • He gained popularity through his satirical news program, "The Show," which aired in Egypt from 2011 to 2014.
  • "The Show" tackled sensitive political and social issues in Egypt, often criticizing the government and its policies.
  • Youssef's comedy was known for its sharp wit and ability to resonate with the Egyptian public.
  • Bassem Youssef faced numerous challenges and controversies throughout his career.
  • His satirical approach often drew criticism and backlash from various groups, including the Egyptian government and Islamist movements.
  • Youssef received threats and faced legal challenges due to his criticism of the government.
  • Despite the challenges, he continued to use satire as a means to address social and political issues in Egypt.
  • Bassem Youssef's contributions to satire and freedom of expression in Egypt have had a significant impact.
  • He helped break taboos and encouraged other comedians to address sensitive topics through humor.
  • Youssef's work inspired a new generation of satirists and comedians in the Middle East.
  • He continues to advocate for freedom of speech and the importance of satire in society.

Oct 7 (00:01:21)

  • Bassem Youssef, an Arab and Muslim comedian, faced challenges in addressing the October 7th attacks due to the difficulty of navigating the situation as a member of both groups.
  • Despite warnings and potential consequences, Youssef appeared on Piers Morgan's show to confront misinformation about the attacks, motivated by a personal connection to the victims and a desire to represent them.
  • Youssef criticizes biased reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict and uses his platform to highlight the human suffering in Gaza, particularly the disregard for Palestinian lives and the normalization of certain narratives that favor Israel.
  • He argues that Israel views Palestinians as less than human, leading to oppressive treatment and limited freedom for Palestinians under Israeli rule, fostering hatred towards Israelis.
  • The Israeli military's actions in the West Bank, including the use of advanced technology and tactics like starvation, result in numerous civilian deaths and demonstrate a disregard for human life.
  • The use of advanced technology, such as biometrics and AI, in the West Bank creates a divide between the people there and decision-makers, leading to desensitization and a lack of understanding of the consequences of such actions.
  • Propaganda, particularly the use of extreme imagery and distractions, aims to overwhelm and confuse the audience, preventing them from focusing on the core issues and allowing perpetrators to continue their actions.

Two-state solution (00:31:49)

  • Bassem Youssef suggests looking to comedians for hope in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
  • Despite global support for the Palestinian cause, there is a significant asymmetry of power and influence between Israel and Palestine, with Israel having a clear military advantage and the backing of the United States.
  • The core of the problem is the suffering of the Palestinian people, including displacement, loss of homes, and living in diaspora.
  • President Biden's statement that Jews will not feel safe without Israel is dangerous and implies that Jews in America are not safe.
  • America is historically and currently a safer place for Jews than many other countries, including Israel.

Holocaust (00:47:28)

  • The Holocaust was a terrible event, but it cannot justify the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians from their land.
  • Anti-Semitism has a long history, fueled by factors such as anti-Christian sentiment, accusations of usury, and envy, and has been perpetuated by works like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
  • Jews in Israel have a right to feel afraid due to their history and the constant threats they face, but this does not justify taking Palestinian land.
  • The conflict is primarily between Israel and the Palestinians directly affected by the occupation, not the entire Arab or Muslim world.
  • Many Muslims live in oppressive regimes supported by the United States, making them vulnerable to exploitation by powerful countries.
  • There is a disconnect between the people in power in Arab and Muslim countries and the people themselves, resulting in a lack of representation and support for the Palestinian cause.

1948 (00:55:15)

  • The 1948 Arab-Israeli war was not a simple case of David vs. Goliath, as Israel had superior military power in terms of equipment, training, and planning.
  • Unlike other historical conquests, the goal in Israel was not just to conquer and take the land but to completely replace or eliminate the indigenous population.
  • The modern era, with its advanced technology and social media, has made it possible to witness the realities of war and empire in real-time, challenging our perception of human progress.
  • The conflict raises questions about our evolution as a civilization and whether we have truly become more humane, despite international laws and institutions aimed at protecting human rights.
  • Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian, satirist, and television host, discusses the various labels and accusations he has faced throughout his career for his critical views on Israel and the Middle East, including being called a "Nazi," an "Islam Nazi," a CIA operative, a secret Muslim Brotherhood member, a secret Jew, and an Israeli with a forged Egyptian ID.
  • Youssef emphasizes the importance of using humor to address sensitive topics and highlights the absurdity of some of the accusations against him.

Egypt (01:04:07)

  • Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian comedian, grew up in Cairo and attended various schools, including a Catholic elementary school and a prestigious international school.
  • Despite his academic and athletic achievements, he felt like an outsider due to socioeconomic differences and lacked confidence in social situations.
  • Youssef discovered his passion for salsa dancing during a trip to Miami and became a successful salsa teacher.
  • He chose to pursue medicine as a career due to limited options for high achievers in the Middle East, despite his love for salsa.
  • Youssef's personal struggles, including a speech impediment and social insecurities, led him to use his difficulties as an excuse to avoid social interactions and competition.
  • Despite his success in stand-up comedy and television, Youssef still feels a sense of inadequacy and believes he lacks the foundation that other comedians have built.
  • He emphasizes the importance of self-criticism and finding flaws in oneself as a way to build a strong foundation and overcome insecurities.

Jon Stewart (01:18:29)

  • Bassem Youssef was introduced to Jon Stewart's show in 2003 while running on a treadmill at a gym.
  • Despite not understanding the political references or context, he was captivated by the rhythm and style of Stewart's comedy.
  • He watched every episode of The Daily Show available on YouTube and became inspired to create something similar in Egypt.
  • In 2011, with the encouragement of a friend who was a YouTube Partner, Bassem Youssef decided to create his own satirical show inspired by Jon Stewart.
  • He faced skepticism from his friend, who suggested he emulate popular YouTubers like Ray William Johnson instead, but Youssef was determined to follow his passion for political satire.

Going viral during the Arab Spring (01:20:42)

  • The Arab Spring, sparked by economic grievances, political oppression, and social injustice, led to revolutions in several Middle Eastern countries, including Egypt.
  • Bassem Youssef's satirical show gained immense popularity during this period, attracting millions of viewers and putting him under immense pressure to maintain his comedic edge.
  • Despite threats, interrogation, and arrest during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Youssef continued to criticize the government, leading to tensions between the Brotherhood and the Army.
  • After the Muslim Brotherhood's removal, Youssef faced backlash for criticizing the popular military, resulting in his show's cancellation, death threats, and severed ties with his production company.
  • Youssef left Egypt in 2014 due to legal issues and safety concerns, experiencing stress, self-doubt, and even suicidal thoughts.
  • Comedians in authoritarian regimes often use subtle humor and double meanings to criticize the government without facing direct repercussions.
  • Bassem Youssef's use of satire to expose flaws in the Egyptian government's propaganda led to his show's cancellation twice.
  • After moving to America, Youssef faced personal struggles, including a traumatic attack for not speaking out about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the difficulty of transitioning from a famous surgeon to a struggling comedian.
  • Despite the challenges, Youssef persevered and eventually found success in comedy, selling out shows and gaining recognition.

Arabic vs English (01:44:45)

  • Bassem Youssef discusses the differences between English and Arabic stand-up comedy, highlighting the conservative nature of Arabic comedy and his own boundary-pushing approach using profanity and taboo topics.
  • Youssef's show in America is well-received by the Arab diaspora, and he plans an Arab tour in the Middle East, including Jordan, Lebanon, the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain.
  • Youssef expresses a complicated relationship with Egypt, torn between love and disappointment due to changes over time, and draws parallels with the experiences of Egyptian and Soviet Union immigrants.
  • He emphasizes the distinction between love for one's country and disagreement with its regime, using the example of Iranian immigrants in the United States.
  • Youssef criticizes the treatment of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints and shares an incident in the West Bank village of Kufr Qaddum, where Jewish settlers from Brooklyn use technology for intimidation and establish a paramilitary group called Mishmar Yesha.
  • He expresses concern about the daily struggles faced by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and argues that Israel's actions are unfair to both Palestinians and Jewish people worldwide.
  • Youssef warns against rising anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews, emphasizing that these sentiments are directed at the actions of the Israeli government and not at Jews themselves.
  • He encourages Jews to hold the Israeli government accountable and criticizes the labeling of critics as anti-Semites or self-hating Jews, citing examples of prominent Jewish individuals who have criticized Israel's actions.

Sam Harris and Jihad (01:57:08)

  • Bassem Youssef discusses Sam Harris's episodes on Jihad and agrees with the idea that the negative connotation of Jihad and martyrdom is counterproductive to the flourishing of the Palestinian people.
  • However, he argues that people don't choose to end their lives by taking others with them willingly and that the presence of a story that promises a better afterlife in exchange for self-sacrifice is harmful.
  • Bassem criticizes the nitpicking of religious texts and narratives, arguing that all religions have problematic aspects and that focusing on these aspects distracts from the political context and current events.
  • Bassem challenges the idea of focusing solely on the negative aspects of Islam and highlights the existence of problematic beliefs and actions in other religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Scientology, and Mormonism.
  • He points out the tendency of people to pick and choose religious rules and sins based on personal preferences and desires.
  • Bassem humorously suggests negotiating the number of virgins promised in the afterlife and jokingly offers a 1998 Camry as an additional incentive for conversion.

Religion (02:02:16)

  • Religion emerged as a product of human development, providing refuge and purpose but also leading to feelings of superiority and entitlement among believers.
  • Bassem Youssef faced potential job losses due to his criticism of extreme religious beliefs and auditioned for a role in a Superman movie, but lost the part due to a writer's strike.
  • Youssef initially felt angry but later realized he was living a good life and didn't need to be angry. He defended James Gunn after controversy arose from his comments about Israel.
  • Youssef warns of the dangers of victimhood, criticizing Israel's use of it to justify actions against Palestine and suggesting it may be intentionally fostering anti-Semitism to maintain power.
  • He believes in the power of individuals to overthrow oppressive governments and criticizes American politics out of love for the country, concerned about the diminishing power of individuals against powerful interest groups.
  • Youssef criticizes the excessive defense budget, lack of transparency, and misuse of taxpayer money, including funding for foreign countries.
  • Free speech is under threat, with criticism often labeled as anti-Semitic, and the Western media is no longer seen as a beacon of freedom but rather as a mouthpiece for certain interests.
  • Youssef criticizes the New York Times for its biased reporting on the Middle East, particularly its role in promoting the false narrative of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

TikTok (02:21:28)

  • Both Israel and Palestine use propaganda and lies in their media.
  • Social media, especially TikTok, has given individuals more power to share their perspectives, challenging the mainstream media's dominance.
  • While TikTok allows for diverse voices, it also faces issues with misinformation and sensationalism, as users prioritize virality over accuracy.
  • Legacy media outlets like CNN, BBC, and New York Times are criticized for spreading lies and failing to provide balanced reporting.
  • The rise of citizen journalism and long-form content is seen as a potential solution to combat misinformation.
  • TikTok's dopamine rush and addictive nature can be dangerous, leading to excessive usage and negative emotions.
  • Twitter and Instagram are also seen as problematic due to concentrated hate and negativity.

Joe Rogan (02:26:00)

  • Bassem Youssef admires Joe Rogan's success in comedy and podcasting.
  • Rogan's ability to bring people together and share their experiences is impressive.
  • Youssef appreciates Rogan's passion for comedy and his commitment to creating a platform where comedians can have freedom of expression.
  • Bassem Youssef expresses his admiration for Joe Rogan's comedy club, the Comedy Mothership, and his contributions to the comedy world.
  • He acknowledges the difficulty and demands of comedy as an art form and appreciates Rogan's dedication to promoting it.
  • Youssef highlights Rogan's belief in creating a space where comedians can have creative freedom and be respected for their craft.

Joe Biden (02:27:58)

  • Bassem Youssef criticizes the state of politics in the United States, particularly the choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
  • He expresses concern about Biden's age and mental fitness, describing him as "sleepy Joe" and a potential danger to the world.
  • Youssef mentions his support for Bernie Sanders and criticizes Biden's pro-Israel stance while ignoring the plight of Muslims.
  • He jokes about Biden's fundraising from pro-Israeli groups and the difficulty for Arab Americans to compete with such financial influence.
  • Youssef acknowledges Biden's high earnings from Israeli lobbies and expresses belief in great leaders who go against such influences.
  • Bassem Youssef discusses Bernie Sanders and his admiration for him.
  • He mentions listening to Sanders on the Tom Hartman show 20 years ago and notes that Sanders was sharper then.
  • Youssef acknowledges the issue of age and the importance of setting limits on working years in politics.
  • He criticizes the lack of term limits for Congress people and Senators, leading to potential corruption.
  • Youssef suggests a two-term limit for everyone and jokes about a half-term for Egyptian politicians.
  • He mentions the curse associated with the Egyptian presidency, where leaders end up dead or in jail.

Putin (02:32:23)

  • Putin has a history of poisoning and killing people.
  • Putin is like a living example of what happens if Game of Thrones was reality.
  • Putin's methods include death by poison, blowing up planes, and mysterious disappearances.
  • The West is more advanced in directing and presenting geopolitical power struggles in movies and cinemas.
  • The West's geopolitical power struggles are not as open and pronounced as in Russia.

War (02:34:11)

  • Humanity is destined to have wars, but the lethality of modern weapons has increased significantly.
  • The ease of destruction with nuclear weapons and the risk of false alarms or misunderstandings pose a grave threat to humanity's survival.
  • Certain media outlets and religious groups, particularly Christian Zionists, contribute to the escalation of conflicts by promoting the idea of an apocalyptic end time.
  • The desire for an end-time scenario, coupled with the availability of powerful weapons, creates a dangerous situation where individuals might intentionally trigger a nuclear holocaust.
  • Elon Musk's efforts in space exploration offer hope for humanity's future as a multiplanetary species, potentially providing an escape from the dangers of Earth.
  • The existence of conspiracy theories, such as the belief in lizard people, highlights the irrational beliefs that some people hold.

Hope (02:39:07)

  • Bassem Youssef believes that younger people, despite their use of platforms like TikTok, have the potential to bring about positive change.
  • The availability of information through the internet, while often associated with trivial content, also allows for increased awareness and the potential for collective action.
  • Legacy media and politicians are becoming increasingly nervous as people hold them accountable for their actions.
  • Youssef advises young people to continue speaking out and discussing important issues, as this is the beginning of potential change.
  • Bassem Youssef emphasizes that revolutions are not single events but rather long processes.
  • Despite setbacks in the Arab world, increased awareness and open discussions about previously taboo topics, such as Israel, are positive developments.
  • Youssef encourages young people to continue speaking out and raising awareness about important issues.

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