It’s a shame that religious fascism is no laughing matter, as its latest murderous incarnation, as reported by the Irish Times, reveals:
“A popular Somali comedian and playwright who mocked Islamist militants for brainwashing children and killing civilians has been shot dead.”
I say shame because engaging the causes and culprits of this malignant menace with somber and measured tones of curiosity and fear only denudes us of the one anecdote fascism cannot survive contact with: the ironic mind.
Reading this morning about the murder of Abdi Jeylani Malaq, I’m reminded of Oriana Fallaci’s interviews with Iran’s Shah and his eventual toppler, Ayatollah Khomeini; engagements where humor threated to unveil the absurdity of fascists’ claims to power, whether they be of the “secular” or the theo-fascist varieties.*
Reading Christopher Hitchens’ 2006 reflections on the Fallaci-Shah encounter, one wonders at the sheer effort dictators and would-be dictators must invest in maintaining at least the appearance of solemnity and seriousness, all-the-while concealing their astonishment at the ease with which they continue to pull off the act.
Oriana Fallaci: When I try to talk about you, here in Tehran, people lock themselves in a fearful silence. They don’t even dare pronounce your name, Majesty. Why is that?
The Shah: Out of an excess of respect, I suppose.
Fallaci: I’d like to ask you: if I were an Iranian instead of an Italian, and lived here and thought as I do and wrote as I do, I mean if I were to criticize you, would you throw me in jail?
The Shah: Probably.
Tellingly, the interview with the Ayatollah ended with Fallaci, “wrenching off the all-enveloping chador she had been compelled to wear and calling it a “stupid, medieval rag” , later being told by Khomeini’s son “that it had been the only time in his life that he had seen his father laugh.”
Regrettably, where Abdi Jeylani Malaq is remembered as a comic and for that reason a brave truth-to-power force for reason, Fallaci’s later work, “The Force of Reason”, blighted her own legacy. By descending into precisely the type of dry, boring, righteous bigotry the ironic mind exists to mock and expose, Fallaci’s humorlessness “The Force of Reason” succumbed to the type of lazy thinking her earlier wit would have punctured.
The most fitting tribute to Abdi Jeylani Malaq is to remember that rather than becoming publicly bitter, he never stopped pointing fun at the fascist thugs in his neighborhood. That and continuing to celebrate the power of satire and irony to mock the righteous, wherever they’re encountered.
On that note, I don’t know if Abdi Jeylani Malaq ever saw this Larry David’s skit on the German magician who couldn’t tell Hitler where the rabbit went due to union rules, but I’ll bet he’d have enjoyed it.
*Correction: As Andrew caught below, the post originally and mistakenly conflated the Shah and Khomeini interviews. They were, of course, distinct, if equally amusing encounters.