Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Healing Power of Laughter | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Can humor succeed where politics has failed?

The question may be an oversimplification to some degree, especially when it comes to the dilemma of resolving the rift between the Muslim world and the West or the integration of Arab and foreign communities abroad. However, what prompts this question is the increasing success of American and European entertainment that depict the reality of Muslims in the West, and the success of actors of Muslim background in humorously handling the problematic relationship between Muslim and Western societies.

By the same token, a regular reader of the European and American press would notice the rise in sarcastic articles about the ambiguous relationship between Muslims and the West, in the process removing this relationship from the trap of fear and suspicion to be based on positive interaction even through satire.

For example, in the UK based Guardian newspaper, I saw a preview for a magazine that takes an interest in Muslim issues, incorporating the necessity to get to know this Muslim “other” using words that comically criticize the stereotypes of a violent, murderous Muslim.

Today in the United States, attention has been directed towards a new American comedy series entitled “The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour Special.” As apparent from the title, the series satirizes the so-called fight against terror or the axis of evil, as defined by the Bush administration in the post-9/11 era.

A group of actors of Muslim background had set up a team of comedians, naming themselves “the axis of evil,” and held shows all over the US, attracting an American audience of non-Middle Eastern descent.

According to Dean Obeidallah, a comedian of Arab descent, the American audience wants to hear jokes about the news. This tendency to mock the news seems to be a way to vent anger that has been maximized by false or exaggerated news aired and exploited by several American channels, which has contributed significantly to Arabphobia and Islamophobia.

American interest in this type of comedy stems from the ability of these kinds of shows to reduce tension between the two cultures; the clash between which has taken a violent turn. Some optimists have not hesitated to consider this comical approach to the clash between Islam and the West a gateway to dialogue between minorities and the West.

Undoubtedly, the line between comedy and reality is thin; however entertainment and humor can act as a channel to establish a positive connection between various groups, especially as the events of 9/11 have unexpectedly drawn the attention of the Americans towards Arab and Muslim communities. This simplified approach to matters is likely to contribute to easing the levels of Arabphobia and Islamophobia that has become an obsession in the United States and Europe.