This could be my last post for a while. I may have to go into hiding. Because powerful forces are seeking to hunt down and destroy those of us who satirize them. Witness Wednesday’s report in “The Daily Currant” (dailycurrant.com) of Egypt’s arrest order for Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show.”
Well, maybe that’s a stretch. “The Daily Currant” is a satirical news blog. And what could be sillier than Cairo seeking to arrest Jon Stewart just because he prompts some major laughs at the expense of hypocrites? Unless it’s Cairo arresting the Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef for poking fun at Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi. And that’s no joke.
Youssef believes that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are not all they would like Egyptians—and the world—to believe. So the government—Morsi disclaimed responsibility—arrested Youssef a week ago then released him as the world media shone a bright light into a dark hole. Nonetheless, Cairo threatens to withdraw the license of his TV channel. Its response resembles that of Seinfeld’s fabled Soup Nazi: “No freedom for you!”
I could be next. My novel Slick! points a big finger at the hypocrisy of Arab politicians who rule—or seek to rule—in the name of God. (For grins I skewer Washington, too.) Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to go after Jon Stewart and me in tandem—two Jews daring to say that something’s not kosher in the Arab world. And that goes beyond Egypt.
A week ago, a Palestinian Authority court upheld a one-year prison sentence handed down to the journalist Mamdouh Hamamreh for posting a photo on Facebook likening P.A. president Mahmoud Abbas to a villain on a popular Syrian TV show. The P.A. then thought better of its stupidity and released Hamamreh.
Laughter indeed is serious business. Poke fun at a powerful figure in the Middle East—or at someone like Russian president Vladimir Putin (which I’ve done)—and you take your life in your hands. Morally corrupt leaders fear one thing above all: being turned into a punch line. Incredibly, they make it so easy.
People repeatedly ask me, “How do you come up with so many ideas for novels?” My answer is simple. “Every morning, I wake up.” Each day, a malevolent despot, despot wannabe, religious leader or corporate tycoon models the foolish emperor in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” He’s the character whose vanity blinds him to the fact that he’s parading stark naked in front of his subjects—themselves willing believers. It takes an innocent young boy to reveal the truth.
Of course, satire isn’t the only weapon against hypocrisy. Drama does a fine job. Netflix’ original series “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey offers a nasty condemnation of Washington politicians. Yet no one (publicly at least) has suggested banning the show or arresting its creators. We have the First Amendment. Also, a hint of legal action would spur more people to sign up for Netflix and watch the show.
Still, satire remains my weapon of choice. Because the smallest barb of humor often cuts more deeply than the sword.
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