iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Shahid Mahmood

GET UPDATES FROM Shahid Mahmood

Letterman's Tongue and the Jihadist

Posted: 09/02/11 11:46 AM ET

Our world is comprised of inconsistencies that we are perpetually trying to understand. When we solve these cognitive riddles we laugh. Laughter releases tension and is a shared expression of relief. There was much to laugh at this week. The Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann defended recent comments about natural disasters being divine retributions from an angry Christian God by saying she was joking. "I have a great sense of humor," she retorted, "and I think it's important to exhibit that humor sometimes when you are talking to people as well. Of course, I was being humorous when I said that."

Bachmann's self-proclaimed humor, itself, is worth laughing at -- consider a recent editorial in the Rolling Stone magazine. Author, Matt Taibbi, cleverly writes: "Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government." Bachmann strongly believes that President Obama is not listening to her Christian God. She endorses people like the author J. Steven Wilkins, a fervent defender of Southern Confederacy and the institution of slavery. Why? Because, people like Bachmann see Southerners as truly God-loving Christians whilst the Unionist Northerners are a group of self-serving, godless communists.

To use Bachmann's words, there is also a "great sense of humor" why the sex-crime charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn were dropped this past week. This is not because Kahn is necessarily innocent, but rather the credibility of the immigrant hotel-maid could not be established in a court of law. Now that Kahn's travel-documents have been returned to him, he will likely plan a political comeback in France. Many of his colleagues in the Socialist Party are proclaiming his return as the homecoming of a worthy presidential candidate. What this story has sadly highlighted is that Kahn and his wife are privileged and extremely wealthy. Only wealth can assemble a legal defense team like theirs, posting a $1-million bail, ensuring a $5-million insurance bond, and renting an apartment for $14,000-a-month in lower-Manhattan. It is ironic that an individual like Kahn, who is from the political left, is leading a party supposedly representing the interests of the common man. Doubly ironic if you consider that Kahn was the managing director of the International Monetary Fund -- an organization accused by the political left of being interested only in ensuring how financial institutions recoup their loans on the backs of the destitute.

Irony, like satire, highlights our human shortcomings in the arena of ridicule. It shames us into improving. This form of humor channels societal criticism in the hope of constructive change. It is a powerful tool in the hand of talented artists and comedians. As a result, purveyors of humor are often targeted, beaten, and killed for their mass appeal and their ability to make audiences laugh and think. David Letterman was the recipient of death threats by a jihadist-group this month. The jihadist-group was upset by the comedian's jokes about the death of bin Laden. The group stated, "This despicable person mocked the leaders of the Mujahedeen and we urge jihadist followers everywhere to cut-off Letterman's tongue and shut it forever." Letterman responded to this fatwa using his Top-ten List as a radar-guided missile, "How can someone be so angry at a time when Kim Kardashian is so happy?" He proceeded to inform his audience he had started making inquiries if the TV network's life-insurance policy would cover him for jihad.

Letterman was lucky. Syrian security forces severely beat the political cartoonist Ali Ferzat last week. They left him hemorrhaging on the curb for his artistic dissension against the current Syrian regime. Ferzat is known in the Arab world for his scathing illustrations. I met Ferzat, in France, years ago at an exhibition we both had work displayed in. He mentioned how he absolutely loathed the corruption and brutality of Arab regimes. Ferzat's assailants broke his arms, hands and every one of his fingers to prevent him from ever picking up a pen again. In one of his latest cartoons, my favorite, he condemned President Assad's overtures for Syrian reform -- drawing a government official spewing flowers in a text bubble, with excrement dripping down the side of his head. The Syrian regime has publicly shrugged off international condemnation and continues to use brutal force to maim, arrest, and kill dissidents.

Voltaire once said, "God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." The time has come for us all to leave our fears aside and laugh -- and laugh hard, very hard that is.

 

Follow Shahid Mahmood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Shahid_Tweeting