I was going to call this a worrying trend. But no, it’s not. When I think about it it’s an exciting trend, a real sign of hope.
Governments throughout the Middle East are starting to take jokes seriously.
Pakistan has banned telling anti-government jokes by text or e-mail. On the streets of Syria, noted political cartoonist Ali Ferzat was attacked by pro-government thugs and beaten up, with particular attention paid to his hands.
What does it mean? Well, it shows that Ralph Steadman wasn’t entirely right. One of Britain’s most famous cartoonists of the 1960s, Steadman gave up political caricature because he came to think that politicians were so monstrous in their craving for attention that they saw satire as a form of flattery. Perhaps they only pretended not to be hurt, but they did a good job of it, offering to buy even the cruellest drawing. No wonder he despaired.
But while that may happen where leaders rule by popularity, they take a very different attitude when they control by fear. Nothing undermines fear more than ridicule – that’s why some of the best jokes come out of the most horrific situations. Laughter restores perspective, shrinks giants, drives out darkness. And laughter will win.