When faced with something truly absurd and utterly outrageous, for example racism, bigotry, intolerance, or xenophobia, then I often argue that the best means of deploying criticism is not rage, but rather is satire and humour. The scope is actually quite wide and need not be restricted to such social issues, but might also include daft conspiracy claims, fraudulent medical claims, or completely whacky claims regarding aliens, gods, ghosts or psychics.
Where there is clearly no harm being done, and no intent to defraud, then I would personally consider politeness and tact to be appropriate, and would also suspend any rush to vocally deploy judgement. However, if there is indeed cause for concern that innocent people are in the crosshairs, then the gloves are off.
A wonderful example I’ve found is an Iranian satirist who mocks Iran’s ayatollahs. The BBC interviewed him and so he has a few insights that I’ve quote mined (in the good sense)
First, what does he do?
He runs a Facebook and Twitter account in Persian using a fictional character to parody the religious politics of Iran’s imams and mullahs. BBC Trending spoke to the man behind Ayatollah Tanasoli – which can be translated as “Ayatollah Genitals” or “Ayatollah Penis.”
Tanasoli has 20,000 likes on Facebook and 7,000 followers on Twitter – not enormous numbers but significant for Iran, where many people are afraid of openly aligning themselves with scathing satire and criticism.
His persona is that of a ridiculous and hypocritical hard-liner who seems to completely lack self-awareness.
- “We condemn any sort of violence, except for the violence we commit ourselves.”
- “If they had Islamic democracy in France, just like ours, those cartoonists wouldn’t have been assassinated; they would have been hanged ten years earlier.”
- “Islam values women’s rights, especially the rights of those women who give birth to male children.”
They really don’t like that
As you might imagine, the clerics do not like him at all.
And are you worried that some of your tweets are going to upset other Muslims?
That’s my intention. I want them to be upset. Not because I want to upset them to take revenge or anything – I want them to think.
What response do you get?
I don’t want to brag but I get a lot, a crazy amount of feedback from people. Like on Facebook everyday I get more than 5 or 6 emails from people who are old, like 60 or 70 – or far from Iran – and they all say ‘we love what you’re doing’. I realised that a lot of people are thinking like me.
Have you received any negative reaction or any threats, or official threats?
Oh yes, especially on Facebook. I get a lot of email contact, a lot of them at first contacted me and said, ok you’re good let’s become partners, give us your address, things like that. I told them no, I’m not doing that. And then they offered me money and I said no I’m not selling my page. And then they started harassing me – sending me emails, very threatening, “we’ll kill you, we’ll find you.”
So how exactly did he get into this?
It’s mandatory for Iranian boys to go to military service after they graduate from high school or college and, basically, you don’t have any training, they just want to keep you there but they don’t know how to fill your time so they bring in all these mullahs to talk to you. They just gather you in these mosques and soldiers just sit there every day for like a couple of hours so. It’s a brainwash process. The stuff they say about the West, the internet, satellites and all this, is so absurd and crazy that it just makes you laugh. And it’s really easy to make fun of so that’s what I did during my breaks in the army. I created this character, people would come to me and they’d say ‘give us a sermon, give us a speech’ and I would just go on and imitate being a mullah, and that mullah became very popular. So I thought that maybe I could bring it to social media.
Key Point – This is not just entertainment
This matters, it truly does, because it is from inside that such voices can reach out to change minds and win hearts over to a better more rational stance. Violent confrontation that can potentially result in reducing cites to rubble and destroying countless lives is not a solution, it never has been and never will be, there is always a better way and this is an example of a path that leads to a far brighter future.
The Ayatollahs retain their grasp on power because people defer to them and look to them as the keepers of truth or morality. If eyes are opened and they are revealed to be flawed humans promoting absurd ideas then their grasp will inevitably falter and fade with the winds of time.
- BBC article on the interview (It’s worth a read)
And here is the actual BBC interview with him (to preserve and protect his identity, they use an actor to read his words).