Yesterday’s appalling massacre in France has reminded me of the power of satire and humor. For a lot of people, direct and vehement opposition to their most cherished ideals and beliefs is far more tolerable than jokes or satire aimed at those same ideals and beliefs. In France, for example, Marine Le Pen’s Front National party openly opposes further immigration of Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East, yet no one is attacking her offices with assault rifles. Suicide bombers likewise have not targeted the increasingly large, anti-Islamist PEGIDA demonstrations in Germany. But a few satirical cartoons in a Danish newspaper and a French magazine provoked rage and violence, culminating in murder in both countries and rioting in several places around the world.
It’s tempting to compare the Kouachi brothers (the alleged killers) and their ilk to insecure tweens with very fragile egos–of course, heavily armed, but tweens nonetheless. Nothing sparks a middle-school feud like ridicule or mocking–usually for wearing the wrong clothes or having the wrong hairstyle–and these men (using the term loosely, given their clear immaturity) have lashed out like a fragile child who has been teased over jeans from Wal-Mart. But, just as in middle school, it is the reaction that reveals the weakness. And these jihadists, rather than wrap themselves in glory for having defended the honor of Mohammed, have shown just how vulnerable they are to well-placed mocking and satire. Despite all the bluster and bravado and videos of beheadings and suicide bombings, these guys are showing the world what really scares them: ridicule.
Why is that? I’ve often pondered the reactions my little blog has provoked. Obviously, my blog has focused largely on the LDS church and its ideology and practices. Compared to the church–a large, well-organized corporation with deep pockets–my blog is pretty inconsequential. And for the most part, what I write doesn’t get much reaction from Mormons (which is fine with me, as I write for myself, not them), even when I’m highly critical of the church. But without fail, if I write something satirical or humorous about the church, traffic increases greatly, and I get angry responses from people I’ve never heard of. I even have one commenter who shows up to lament my psychological and emotional problems, of which my satiric writings are a clear symptom. And it was my sarcastic humor that drove some misguided souls who threatened me with violence and sent threatening emails to my LDS wife.
I think I know why humor is so threatening: when you can laugh at something, it means you aren’t afraid of it, and you don’t take it seriously. By extension, you don’t take its ideas, beliefs, and practices seriously. It’s like a bad horror movie; when it wants to be scary, it’s funny. People love watching “so bad it’s good” movies, but such films are always failed dramas or action or horror films, invariably films that take themselves too seriously. On the other hand, a comedy that isn’t funny is just bad, and it fades into obscurity.
Islamic jihadism in its various guises (al-Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and whatever may crop up next) wants us to be afraid. The whole purpose of the beheading videos, the rapes, suicide bombings, slavery, and so on, is to scare anyone who might dare oppose them and their medieval-cum-fascist ideology. By nature, bullies are effective only when they are scary; fear is what allows bullies to maintain power over their victims. A bully who can be mocked is a bully who isn’t scary and has no power. What Charlie Hebdo demonstrates is that the jihadists are not scary, and they merit nothing but scorn and mockery from the rest of the world. And they know that our ridicule robs them of their power. That is why they attacked a meeting of magazine editors and proclaimed that they had “avenged the prophet.” Could any act have displayed their weakness and cowardice more clearly and effectively?
Obviously, these cowardly, overgrown tweens have guns, and there are thousands like them terrorizing people in several parts of the world. We must and will defeat the enemies of tolerance and peaceful coexistence. We have no choice. But we also must remember the fundamental weakness of an ideology (fundamentalist jihadism, not Islam per se) that portrays itself as an army of God sweeping the world yet is afraid of someone holding a pencil and paper.
Jihadists ought to be mocked and ridiculed, and it’s high time we started laughing at them.