Cooler Head from the Past Prevails

January 12, 2015

In thinking over my reaction to the massacre of 17 people in France this past week, I had a vague recollection of my response to a similar event some five years ago:

Everyone Draw Mohammed Day

I shall quote from my far-gentler, youthful self:

It makes no sense to attack or ridicule an entire religion simply because of the asshattery of some doofuses (should that be doofii?) who claim to adhere to that religion. The proper response to these moral cretins is indeed righteous indignation, well-spoken ridicule, and utter disdain. Rather than hate them or attack them, however, the best revenge (if that’s what anyone wants) is to leave them to fester in the sewage of their twisted devotion to hatred masquerading as religion. God, or Allah, or whatever you wish to name Him, is bigger than these people. We should be bigger than them, too. That’s why I’m not drawing a picture of Mohammed. I love and respect my Muslim friends, and I won’t hurt them because an insignificant little group is is overcompensating for something.

This is what I should have said in my most recent response. As I said in a comment earlier today, I’m not in favor of gratuitous mocking of other people’s cherished beliefs. I’ve never drawn a cartoon of Mohammed, not even a reverential one, and I have never mocked anyone’s personal beliefs, at least not intentionally. (Of course, I suspect more than a few people disagree with me on that.) That said, I think satire can be a useful corrective to hypersensitivity and those who seem to thrive on feeling attacked and persecuted (that would include the Kouachi brothers and their friends). I can’t imagine feeling so offended that I would be motivated to hurt or kill someone else, though I am trying to put myself in the place of those who do. (I heartily endorse Eric Liu’s brilliant piece, “I Know Just How You Feel: The Power of Radical Empathy.”)

On the other hand, I don’t really understand people who do gratuitously mock other people’s most cherished beliefs and intend offense. From what I understand, the satirists at “Charlie Hebdo” felt they were performing a vital civic function in ensuring that no group, no belief system, was immune to criticism. So, in a sense I get that. I don’t, however, approve of the content of that “criticism.” A drawing of a burqa shoved up a naked woman’s backside is, to me, well beyond appropriate, insightful, or intelligent criticism. So, were these guys heroes? Maybe, maybe not. I agree with them that no subjects should ever be so sacrosanct that they are beyond criticism. Years ago, I heard literary critic Terry Eagleton criticize the Thatcher government for attempting to make “certain thoughts literally unthinkable.” After his presentation, I asked him if that wasn’t the goal of every ideological system: to make certain thoughts unthinkable. He said I was probably right. But there’s a difference between outlawing certain types of thought and speech and rendering them unnecessary.

So, oddly enough, I agree with my commenter: free speech is a right, and depending on whom you talk to, a right granted by God. But, as with great power, with such freedom comes a degree of responsibility. At the same time, however, if people living in a pluralistic society want respect for their beliefs, whether Muslim or Mormon or atheist or anything else, they also must respect the rights of others to disagree with those beliefs, even in a mocking way. I have always been disgusted by those “protesters” outside Temple Square who drag the Book of Mormon on the ground or wipe their backsides with temple garments, but I would never question their right to do so. The same goes for the morons of Westboro Baptist, whose actions and speech are repugnant and hateful. Or the folks who have made my hometown the porn capital of the world. Free speech isn’t always pretty, but it must be free.

In short (I know, I’m never brief), I don’t have to lionize the folks at Charlie Hebdo any more than I honor The Onion or Larry Flynt. I do, however, honor a fundamental human value: the right to express what we think. And I do honor the police personnel who died protecting that right, Ahmet Merabet and Clarissa Jean-Philippe.

https://i2.wp.com/i.guim.co.uk/static/w-620/h--/q-95/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2015/1/8/1420712532048/Ahmed-Merabet-010.jpg

Ahmed Merabet

https://i1.wp.com/www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/multimedia/archive/00833/2431ee66-977d-11e4-_833878j.jpg

Clarissa Jean-Philippe

 


Sticks and Stones and Kalashnikovs

January 8, 2015

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.


Unafraid

October 22, 2014

I’ll be turning 50 in a couple of weeks. Turning 30 wasn’t a big deal, and 40 came and went with little more than a shrug. 50 doesn’t seem that big a deal, but a couple of weeks ago, a dear friend suddenly passed away, and her death has caused me to reflect on life and where I am in it.

She was 79 years old and a delightful person. I didn’t realize she was that old because she was always so active and cheerful. She volunteered as an usher at her church up until the Sunday before she died of a sudden and massive stroke. My wife and I both agreed that she went the way we would like to go: mentally sharp and physically active until the end, with no long, lingering illness or loss of mental or physical capacity.

They say I’m middle-aged, but that would only be true if I were to live to 100, which I doubt I will do. The life I have left is shorter than the life I have already lived, and according to some people, that should cause me to worry about death and what comes after it. But I’m not afraid of death, and I don’t spend much time thinking about it. Life is to short, after all, to spend it worrying about its end. I don’t even fear getting old and losing my health, mental and physical. I’ll just deal with it as it comes.

This year people seem to want us to be afraid, and sometimes it does seem like there’s a perfect storm of trouble going on in the world today: Ebola, continuing global economic stagnation, DAESH (I refuse to call them “ISIS”), and a host of other problems have a lot of people in a bit of a lather.

Not me.

The likelihood that Ebola will break out in a worldwide pandemic is very small. The last time we saw anything like that was the influenza pandemic of 1918, which of course killed around 50 million people and infected one-fifth of the world’s population. But this is not 1918. In almost every part of the world, living conditions, sanitation, and medical care are much better than they were 100 years ago. And Ebola is not spread through the air, meaning that it’s much easier to contain, as long as one is careful. Even the mistakes made in Dallas not only haven’t resulted in a widespread outbreak but have been a much-needed wake-up call for better procedures. So, yeah, I may get Ebola at some point, but I’m not going to worry about it. I have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Yes, the economy still sucks. The unemployment rate is down, but much of that is due to people dropping out of the workforce and others taking jobs that pay less involve fewer hours. My company could disappear at any time,  but then I’ve been unemployed before and, given the nature of my industry, I may well be there again. I’ll survive.

A few years ago, if you’d told me that an armed death cult of thousands of religious sociopaths would take over large parts of two countries, I’d have thought you were pitching an idea for a horror film. People talk about dealing with “root causes” of such things, but I don’t believe any of the supposed factors (imperialism, poverty, alienation) explain a group that boasts of its desire to murder, rape, and enslave the rest of the world. Root causes or not, these are not the kind of folks you can negotiate with.

Do I worry about these Islamo-fascists killing me or my family? No, not really. I know, they say they want to kill Westerners where we live, and I suppose I can’t really stop that. They could show up at my house tonight, and that would be that for me. But I don’t worry about them, simply because, no matter how well-armed or powerful these folks become, the non-sociopaths will always outnumber the sociopaths. Right now a coalition of countries is doing a sort of half-assed job of containing these nutjobs, but if and when they become an existential threat to any of the regional powers, they will not be long for the world. They’re unlikely to ever hoist the black flag over the White House or Buckingham Palace if they can’t even manage to take a lightly defended Kurdish town. Perhaps on the plus side, they’re doing us a favor in concentrating the violent nutwads in one place.

So, I could be worrying about these things. There’s a lot I could worry about: race relations in the wake of Ferguson, climate change, same-sex marriage, health care, Vladimir Putin, Mexican drug cartels, who Alison Grimes voted for, the Export-Import Bank, “Meet the Mormons,” shingles, and  Canada, to name a few.

But I choose not to.

 


Exclusive: Herman Cain Campaign Theme Song

November 16, 2011

I’m not sure why they chose me, but sources close to campaign manager Mark Block have confirmed that the following song will be the theme for the Cain campaign. As Cain has put it, he needs to “stay on message,” and the song is designed to do just that.

Cain has reached back into his youth to Sam Cooke for inspiration. Here, exclusively and for the first time, I can reveal the song and lyrics, which are set to the tune of 1958’s “What a Wonderful World“:

Don’t know much about Libya
Don’t know much about labor law
Don’t know much about Uzbekistan
Don’t know about defined benefit plan

I’m not sure what I really meant
But I know if I’m your president
What a wonderful world this would be

Don’t know who that woman was
Never put my hand up her dress
Don’t know much about harassment
Until I see concrete evidence

But I do know that Obama’s wrong
And if you join me in singing this song
What a wonderful world this would be

Now I’m not smart, like Governor Perry
But I’m trying to be
So, maybe if you want a job, baby
I can win your love for me

I’d trade a soldier for terrorists
But I swear I never stole a kiss
Don’t know much about 9-9-9
Don’t know much, and that’s just fine

But I do know I’d waterboard
And if I become your Overlord
What a wonderful world this would be


Why Mock Jihadists?

August 18, 2011

I’ve long suspected that the Jihadist movement is motivated by an immature desire to be noticed and taken seriously by others. In other words, these folks are the heavily armed, swarthy version of angry tweens whose parents won’t let them go to the Justin Bieber concert. And as such, they deserve about as much respect and seriousness (read: none).

In a further bid to prove me right, the Jihadists are now out to get the greatest, most evil and despicable, threat to the Caliphate: David Letterman. Apparently, they can handle drone attacks and special forces raids, but make fun of them at your own risk: they might start crying, hold their breaths, or come after you with a suicide vest.

So, as befits our humorless, immature friends:

Top Ten Reasons Jihadists Are Targeting Letterman

10. Sirajul and Mujibur: victims of Letterman’s vicious anti-Muslim persecution.
9. Despite a massive letter-writing campaign, Dave refuses to let Ayman Al-Zawahiri guest-host the show.
8. CBS isn’t likely to retaliate with an airstrike.
7. Once Letterman is gone, Adam Gadahn is sure to wow the producers with his improv tape.
6. Grinder Girl distracts jihadists from their porn viewing.
5. Biff Henderson: Zionist stooge.
4. They didn’t get the memo that Oprah’s feud with Dave is over.
3. Replacing Jay Leno with an animatronic robot hasn’t gotten them the attention they anticipated.
2. Anwar al-Awlaki resents not being recognized as Letterman’s illegitimate son.
1. Will it float? Apparently, Osama won’t.


Osama’s Diary, March 11, 2010

June 6, 2011

Best. Birthday. Present. Ever.

Ayman’s been wracking his brains for months trying to figure out how to ruin Biden’s trip to Israel. God knows he’s done enough damage to himself, what with those pictures of him shirtless washing his car and that embarrassing Hennessy ad campaign. It’s a good thing I saw that mess because I was so close to signing that deal to be the “spokesmodel” for Dr. Scholl’s gel inserts. But I did think their slogan was pretty catchy: “Are you gellin’ like a mass-murdering terrorist?”

So anyhoo, Biden like goes to Israel because, you know, they’re so bad-ass and he wants to look cool, but he got like totally served. 1600 new homes in the occupied territories. The look on the dude’s face was priceless.

Was pretty bummed that we were out of toaster strudels, so I settled for a couple of cinnamon pop-tarts and some Sunny D. Read the paper (Family Circus never gets old, does it?) while Adam kept trying to give me a back rub. I just freaking woke up. Duh. Maybe we’ll watch Twilight: New Moon again later. I don’t know, made me cry last time, so I’m not sure I’m up for that again, but Adam totally wants to watch it again. He even sent me a little note the other day that said, “You give me everything by breathing!”

Had to do one of those PR visits to a madrassa down in the suburbs. Those kids are so obnoxious and immature, but you gotta go what you gotta do. I told them we were going to have an art contest, and the winner would get to go to Chuck E. Cheese and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with me. I told them they had 5 minutes to draw a picture of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Once they all had their crayons and paper, I shouted, “Go!” Six kids started drawing furiously. Totally Punk’d. Kids love shit like that. Took them out and had them shot.

Ate a whole box of Sour Punch Straws and half a carton of Whoppers on the way home and felt a little guilty. But I promised myself I’m done purging. I’ll just work harder in my spinning class this week. Ayman tells me it’s bad for my teeth, too. Speaking of Ayman, I’m starting to get tired of him. Such a buzz-kill. All he ever wants to talk about is killing and maiming. It’s like he’s obsessed with all this jihad shit. I told him he needs a hobby, like tole painting or scrapbooking. Adam says I’m his hobby. Slightly awkward.

Spent the afternoon working on a video. I never know what to say on these things. I mean, it’s always about infidels and crusaders. Can’t we mix things up? Maybe do a musical (Adam says he’s up for it)? So, I got to the bit about the Crusader-Jewish alliance, and I just started giggling. Couldn’t stop. You know how that is, when you just can’t stop laughing. Almost peed my robes. At first Ayman was pissed, but he started laughing too, so we gave up. Ayman started doing his famous Hank Hill impression, though I don’t think Adam liked him pointing and saying, “That boy ain’t right.”

After dinner (Dino Bites and grape Kool-Aid) watched some Drake & Josh and then Iron Chef (the secret ingredient was cranberries). The trazodone was starting to kick in, so we had a group hug and I headed off to bed. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.


Exclusive: Osama’s Diary

May 13, 2011

Owing to my connections in high places within government, intelligence, and civic organizations, I am pleased to announce that my blog will be the exclusive home for selected excerpts from Osama bin Laden’s diary. I think you will agree with me that the diary is a revealing and intimately personal glimpse into the life of the man revered by jihadists and hunted by governments and armies.

The diary begins March 10, 2010.

I’ll begin from the moment I got you, the moment I saw you lying on the table among my other birthday presents. I wanted an XBox 360 because, duh, Final Fantasy XIII came out yesterday, but I guess a diary is OK.

Last night we stayed up late and watched al-Jazeera and then American Idol. Didi was totally channeling Stevie Nicks, but Lilly doing Patsy? OMG, barf! The wives were getting into Casey; they said he looks like a blonde version of me. As if. Adam (you know, that kind of dorky American) just kept gushing about Aaron Kelly and his “smooth, boyish features,” and I was like, Ick, whatever.

Ayman was being a total douchebag because he wanted to watch 90210, but I was like, Dude, get your own TV! I mean the guy is a doctor, he can afford it.

Slept in late and watched iCarly over a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. I told Ayman I was taking the day off, so no calls, no couriers, just a relaxing day in the hot tub with the wives. Adam was way pissed when I told him there wasn’t room for him in the hot tub, so he stomped off to play MapleStory for a while. What the hell kind of screen name is Purple Cherub?

Lunch was great. Wife #3 (I always forget her name) made “ultimate nachos” and Nestle’s Quik. What would I do without her.

Played World of Warcraft while Ayman was busy working on some bombing or something. Who knows? Who cares? Adam noticed I was on, so all of a sudden I’m being followed around by the Purple Cherub. I know he likes me, but jeez, give it a rest!

Mom Facebooked me a happy birthday. I totally forgot to harvest her peaches on FarmVille. Maybe after the party. Adam’s status was “crushing on the OBL.” Kinda squicked by that, but you know, he’s awesome with the video and scaring Americans, so what can I do?

The party was, like, OK. I got a sweater from Mom (again!). The wives chipped in and bought me a George Foreman grill (like I’m ever going to cook, duh). Ayman said his gift to me would be a wicked-good attack on the crusading infidels, but I was like, “Dude, attacking infidels doesn’t get me any Microsoft Points.” I swear he rolled his eyes at me, but he promises he wasn’t.

Adam got me a two-year subscription to the Undergear catalog. He said he just wanted me to look nice and be comfortable. I guess he was right; some of my stuff is getting a little worn out. I’m not sure why he circled a studded latex jockstrap, but the wives thought it was pretty hot. I guess I should be glad to have someone around who has good taste.

Stayed up late getting a pedicure from Adam (the mauve looks nice on my nails), and then we braided each other’s beards and watched Suite Life on Deck (Adam likes Cole, but I think Dylan is cuter and a better actor). Watched al-Jazeera for a while. I am so freaking sick of that Obama. All I ever hear about is Obama this, Obama that. He thinks he’s soooo popular and cool, but it won’t last. I mean, look at Bush. His ratings were like in the 90s, and now where is he? Clearing brush in some god-awful hole in Texas.

OK, I can go to bed now. My Idol faves are safe (Go, Didi!), and Ayman is watching Futurama (I keep having to remind him you can’t assassinate an animated robot). Tomorrow I guess I have to get back to work, you know, evil terror master and all that. But today was pretty awesome. I think I might keep the toenails polished. I mean, no one will know but me, Adam, and the wives.