The Beast Behind MidEast Beast

Tags: Living Israel, Arts and Culture, Advocacy, Jewish Unity, Molly Livingstone

By Molly Livingstone

‘Q&A’ on the Founder of the Mideast Beast, A.E. Stahl

WIth news and satire often becoming more of a blur in this day and age, Israel Forever, wanted to get the story behind the up and coming latest and greatest Middle East satirical site online, the Mideast Beast. We wanted to find out how they get their “news,” what it’s like to poke fun at the Middle East, and where satire goes from here.

Q: My friends are posting articles from the Mideast Beast on Facebook and Twitter all the time, and I am always laughing. What is the Mideast Beast?

A: The Mideast Beast (TMB) is an openly known satire and dark comedy news site that deals with any current news topic on and/or related to the Middle East. TMB is not a hoax news site (i.e. deception), which is why we have our motto, “Because all news is satirical”, at the top of every page of our website, as well as the About Page.

Q: Is your goal to make me laugh or is there a bigger mission behind your site?

A: Our mission (or goals) can be summed up in five fairly straight forward elements, and all equal in their importance.

a. First, we aim to get people more interested in the region but to do so via parody and comedy.

b. Second, give people their daily giggle, no matter how sensitive a topic may be

c. Third, which relates to the first two, is to get people to lighten up, which is not an easy thing to do considering the fiery passions regarding the highly polarized conflicts in the region.

d. No one (except for victims) is beyond of the pale of our satire and comedy because, in truth, it’s the very people who cannot find humor in the insanity of violence who are the most likely to commit it.

e. Satire and comedy can (and should) stimulate discourse on a number of sensitive topics regarding the Middle East.

Think about it, when a person laughs, even at something sensitive to him or her, they let their guard down, their political wall starts to crumble a bit. They become vulnerable, vulnerable to new perspectives. When that happens, the possibility to open people’s minds become huge, and I cannot overstate the importance of that.

Q: I’m pretty sure I know what satire is, but just in case, can you define it for my “friend”?

A: That is actually a great question. In short, satire plays off and exaggerates issues of the day, most often political issues but it can relate to a number of topics.

It reminds me of when people ask me about strategy, which is my main area of expertise. Anyone can pick up a dictionary and read a definition but it doesn’t mean it’s always correct. For example, the common definition for strategy is, in my opinion, not correct in dictionaries and even the definition for war, as defined by the United Nations is not accurate. Satire is another term that falls along those lines. It appears that the majority of people think satire must mean ‘funny’. It certainly can be funny but funny or comedic are not necessarily requirements of satire.

Q: Is satire important in educating people? Can we increase our intelligence, knowledge or sarcasm?

A: Yes, satire is an element of education, or at least it ought to be, and the answer is simple: get people involved in current political issues, get them to truly think about those issues, and hopefully that will result in opening their minds to different points of views.

We hold our writers to this standard, which is to say: a writer may hold a certain political point of view but we encourage them to write something satirical or comedic that is opposite of what they believe. It opens their minds to different perspectives on or about the Middle East. Look, this is region can be frightening. If you can’t find some semblance of humor in it, you can lose your mind.

Q: The Middle East seems really serious with a lot of issues: war, infidels, terror, and repeat. Is satire important for the Middle East and for Israel?

A: The Mideast Beast, while founded and based out of Israel is not about Israel. It’s about the region in general, and yes it is important, even critical, for an understanding of the Middle East as a whole. The region is most often viewed in a negative light, an area that is experiencing constant political instability, warfare, hatred and intolerance. To be honest, those points are not necessarily wrong. However, there is much more to the Middle East than war, enmity and intolerance.

This is where satire and comedy play an important role. We poke at those issues, at times to show how ridiculous the political behavior can be but also to show that we know how to laugh at ourselves, no matter how sensitive a topic may be.

Q: Who writes this stuff? I would like to know so I can thank them personally for the laughs, and maybe stalk them.

A: We have writers on four continents; Jews, Christians, Atheists, Agnostics, Gay, Straight, but most are very secular. However, we’re still trying to get Muslims (mother tongue English speakers) on board. We’ve had submissions by a number of American-Muslims but, like many others who have applied to write for us, they were simply too young to truly understand high-politics, history and the like – all important for writing satire. But, we’re still on the lookout and remain hopeful.

Most of our writers are holders of master's’ degrees and also PhDs, mainly in history, war, political science, and international relations. These are critical subjects for anyone wanting to write on political satire. If someone is too young (say, a 2nd year BA student), they will be limited in knowledge and experience, which will be very apparent in their articles.

Q: How do you do it? I mean really, how to come up with the material?

A: While we carefully read every article that is submitted and edit when necessary, the topic is always left to the writer – they have complete creative freedom, which we strongly encourage. The material simply comes from their creativity.

Q: Do you get haters? Lovers? What are people saying? Tell me everything.

A: I’m laughing as I’m writing this because I just had a conversation on this very topic with other people today. We definitely get more love than hate but there is plenty of disdain for what we do. The life of a satirist is not an easy one…but it’s well worth it. The amount of positive support we receive dwarfs the disdain and that just keeps us motivated. Perhaps interestingly, the hate doesn’t come from articles poking at ISIS, Netanyahu, Obama, or other leaders but rather those about Donald Trump. His supporters are, how should we say…hyper-passionate.

Q: I know i have my weekly favorites, but as the founder, do you have some top stories that stick with you, in your heart and/or mind?

A: As the founder, I have to give a very ‘diplomatic’ answer here. Rather than list some of my favorites, I think it’s more appropriate to list topics: complete mockery of ISIS and pretty much anything on Donald Trump. Those are my favorite subjects.

Some of our most viral articles are certainly very funny, and many but not all, are highly satirical, while others are just straight up comedic fake news. A few examples:

Middle Eastern States Debate Whether to Intervene in Baltimore - simply a play off of how the U.S. intervenes in the region.

Clinton to Donor: In Next War, I’ll Let Israel Kill 200,000, Not Just 2,000, Gazans - which is simply a parody about what people will say (not do) to gain power.

Trump Blasts Malala, Saying He Prefers Nobel Peace Laureates ‘Who Didn’t Get Shot in the Head’ - which is just a satirical play off of the inane comments that come out of Trump’s mouth. Let’s be honest, the guy basically writes material for us.

Hamas Endorses Sanders for President, Calls Him “Jew We Can Believe In - a pice of parody regarding Bernie Sanders’ recent gaffe regarding Palestinian civilian casualties in the 2014 Israel-Gaza War. He put the number almost 4 times higher than Hamas.

Q: So what’s up for the Mideast Beast’s future? What's the plan?

A: When we started, we simply wanted to see if people liked us. It turns out, by and large, they do. Our job now is to offer more for our fans. So, you can expect satirical blogs, high-quality videos (including celebrities) and more. We have some great plans for TMB’s future.

Q: We have a #LaughWithIsrael initiative, a campaign that invited people all over the world to submit videos of their funniest sketches, jokes and songs sharing their comedic perspective of Israel. Why do you think humor is important when talking about such serious things?

A: For the same reason that people take a break from the news to watch The Daily Show, John Oliver, Saturday Night Live or other satirical shows or websites – people need a break because life is serious enough. To add to that, with the 24-hour news cycle that is so incredibly negative, it’s crucial to bring people daily humor.

Q: What other satirical stuff (for lack of a better word) inspires you?

A: The Daily Mash is probably one of the better satirical sites out there and we have learned a lot from them. The Onion is also great, of course. But what inspires us the most boils down to two things: the real news (which is way too easy to poke at) and life in general. As someone who has received his PhD in war studies, I can assure you that there is much in the political realm (not the realm of warfare) that inspires us to poke at. High-politics is just full of utter nonsense that it almost writes itself.

Q: With the Charlie Hebdo attack, are you ever worried, you may be targeted in the same way, in Israel, in the Middle East, or through the world of internet? And what does that mean for your product and mission?

A: What happened in Paris was truly tragic but when I spoke to a few of our writers, it only served to solidify our resolve in what we do. Like anything in life, there’s always a risk but it’s a risk worth taking. The reason: satire and comedy can bring people together, assist in coexistence and be a force against extremism, even in the worst of times. I have actually made friends via The Mideast Beast, people I never thought I’d be able to connect with on a political level. That’s been an amazing experience for me.

That being said, one of my favorite pieces regarding the attacks in Paris is “France Announces It Will Use Guillotine on Terrorists”. People latched onto that one and the article went viral. In a way, it helped bring some sanity to the insanity of what happened at Charlie Hebdo. You see, The Mideast Beast, while a satire and comedy news site, also serves as an anti-extremism tool. The former two comprise the essence of what we do, whereas the latter remains one (of many) of our goals.

Is there anything else you want us to know about Mideast Beast? A funny Hebrew word?

A: People need to be aware that The Mideast Beast is on the rise, and for good reason. Our fans (and future fans) can expect great things to come because, while our goals might be numerous, it all boils down to one important element: giving our fans something to giggle at everyday, and who doesn’t need a laugh these days?

As for my ‘Hebrew choice of words’, I’ll stick with “יין” (wine), a much needed remedy after the days we have living in this pressure cooker known as the Middle East, not to mention dealing with the comments section on our Facebook page.

Dr. A.E. Stahl, an American who lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, holds a PhD in War Studies from King’s College London and an MSc. in the History of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He is the founder of Infinity Journal and The Journal of Military Operations as well as The Mideast Beast.



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About the Author

Molly Livingstone
Molly Livingstone is a freelance reporter and comedian, not to mention a mother of two, living in Jerusalem. While playing all those roles, the script remains the same, showing the world the Israel that she sees everyday, from the people and places, to the culture and definitely the food.

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Tags: Living Israel, Arts and Culture, Advocacy, Jewish Unity, Molly Livingstone