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Monday, May 28, 2012

‘Fundamentalists can’t take a joke’

Christian, Muslim or Jewish fundamentalists have one things in common. No sense of humor. Here’s one from the Muslim side:

Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi has been in hiding in Germany since a fatwa was pronounced against him three weeks ago. … Najafi released a song in which he implored the 10th imam, Ali al-Hadi al-Naqi, to return to the Earth to sort out modern-day Iran's problems. Shiites venerate al-Naqi, who died 1,143 years ago and was a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed. The song has been downloaded over 500,000 times in Iran alone, and has received over half a million views on YouTube.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/interview-with-iranian-rapper-najafi-about-the-fatwa-against-him-a-835580.html

Najafi: Iran is hard to understand. Although it is ruled in an authoritarian manner, it's not a state in which everything is controlled from one center. There are many forces that work in parallel: the military, the intelligence service, the Revolutionary Guard, the clergy and the government. They all share a fear of the nation's youth. That's why they've built up an image of me as an enemy of the state. I'm an easy, remote target. The idea is to divert attention away from the fact that many intellectuals, human rights activists, authors and singers are in prison.

Overall, it seems many Muslim leaders want to avoid what they see as the secularization of the West, where due to satire on one side and biblical archaeology and scholarship on the other the ironclad beliefs that the sacred texts are literally true has been shattered and seems at best quaint and at worst anti-intellectual and anti-science.

Added to this is the totalitarian nature of the Iranian fundamentalism.

Totalitarian governments not big jokesters either.

Totalitarian states don’t tend to have a sense of humor either. China might come to mind.

Even in somewhat more open Muslim countries, it’s hard to do comedy.  The New York Times wrote about comedians in Qatar, a group called SUCQ.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/magazine/yes-there-are-comedians-in-qatar.html

What unrest in the Middle East has not done — not yet, at least — is embolden Doha’s comedians to tell jokes that cross the boundaries of what can be made fun of. (Sacha Baron Cohen’s film “The Dictator” offers a far more scalding critique of Arab despots than anything SUCQ would dare.)

Democracies, on the other hand…

Recently my wife and I saw Hal Holbrook’s one man show, “Mark Twain Tonight” (yes, he’s still doing it).  Perhaps in deference to the elections, there was a lot of Mark Twain’s political comments, many of which are still funny and likely to have been made in some similar form by Will Rogers, Jon Stewart, and perhaps people before Twain.

Maybe that’s a good sign of a working democracy – a sense of humor, which is one step removed from a sense of humility.