Thursday, March 08, 2007

Guest post: Humor and Islam

In comments to my post on the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, Goon (not Snoopy) wrote an interesting analysis that deserves to be more widely read:
It is unfortunate that the Muslims have not embraced humor in the way that Jews have but it is not very surprising. Humor is a humanizing defense mechanism for those considered to be lower status. It helps them to deal with that situation and it helps them to get past it. Humor is an equalizer. It brings those of (perceived) higher status down to the level of the others, not by vilification but by humanization.

Humor also requires introspection by those to whom it is directed. Rather than demonize, the humorist simply exploits weaknesses, foibles and idiosyncrasies of those objectified, be they from within the community or those outside of it. The mirror of introspection is held for all to see. It requires a degree of strength to survive looking at the mirror.

Humor always seems to work best when carried out from the bottom upwards; that is, the "lower" pokes fun at the "upper". To do this there has to be an acceptance of "lower" status.

Hope is also at the base of humor but is a hope for ultimate reconciliation rather than retribution. The inferior one does not want to gain superiority, but, rather, attain equality with those objectified and move on together.

Jews have a clear advantage in humor. Introspection is an important facet of being a Jew. It is the foundation of teshuvah. It is also the mother lode of material. We also have few thousand years' experience in being considered a lesser form of life by just about everyone. Yet, despite that we do not vilify or demonize those who persecute and abuse us. Humor allows us to move on and when the abuse and persecution stop we must get along with those who previously did these things to us. Our hope is for reconciliation, not domination.

The true test of any culture is its ability to withstand domination. Humor is the one proven successful method for dealing with this. The best humor comes from those who have been subjected to lower social status. The Irish and Scots have been dominated by the English for centuries but their humor (which is fantastic) keeps them vibrant. The Blacks have been slaves but have many of the best comedians anywhere. Some of the funniest comics around now are new entrants into western society like Hispanics, South Asians and Orientals. These cultures have the strength to look into the mirror of introspection and emerge relatively unscathed.

Perhaps Islamic communities lack this strength. The vilification and demonization that they constantly engage in are the tools of the weak. No society that has resorted to them has ever survived more than a few generations. Hamas and Hezbollah et. al. are certainly irritations but they only manifestations of ridiculous weakness. The development of Arab humor, however, would indicate the beginnings of strengthening. This is, perhaps, more worrisome. We are comfortable with Arabs as terrorists. Can we be as comfortable with them as humans?