Why fascists fear comedians; RIP Abdi Jeylani Malaq

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.



  • wild turkey


    Many thanks for the Oriana Fallaci link. In a parallel universe, hopefully she has done interviews Adams, Paisley and our quality assortment of local heroes….

    Remember a Danish cartoon?

    ‘Within a short while—this is a warning—the shady term “Islamophobia” is going to be smuggled through our customs. Anyone accused of it will be politely but firmly instructed to shut up, and to forfeit the constitutional right to criticize religion. ‘

    Christopher Hitchens 2006


  • Ruarai,

    You’re confusing the Shah interview with the Khomeini interview.

  • aquifer

    Islamophobia ?

    Steering clear of exclusive male cults with dodgy arguments and eastern block weaponry is second nature to me.

    Muslims are not special.

  • Ruarai

    Indeed Andrew – and while both were dictators, neither would have been flattered by the mistake. Cheers – correction made.

    Speaking of the difference in in the brutal Iranian rulers and regimes pre and post 1979, I befriended an Iranian feminist a number of years ago who had previously been one of the interviewee subjects of the must-read “Reading Lolita in Tehran”. She made an observation about opposing oppression that, while not original, carried a penetrating resonance that’s colored my view of the act of revolution ever sense; a perspective that only grows with relevance as we watch the aftermath of the so-called “Arab Spring” unfold. Simply put, people – anywhere – may unite in opposition, as many strands of discontented Iranian life did leading up to 1979, only to wake up after ‘their’ revolution under a regime as bad or worse as the one just toppled.

    I’m not suggesting she was stating a preference for life under the Shah or, for that matter, under the subsequent theocrats – simply that one of her takeaways from experiencing and participating in the act of revolution was to see how this pchaotic and violent process paves the way for a new takeover ripe for those with the most muscle rather than the most sense.

    Here’s the book, should anyone have an interest. http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Lolita-Tehran-Memoir-Books/dp/081297106X

    Wild Turkey,

    I really wish those two interviews had taken place, no doubt. Incredible how easily some of Ireland’s finest have fared in interviews down the years. That said, I do remember one interview a student did with Gerry Adams 11 or 12 years ago where he asked him,

    “why, if, as you’ve said, all your friends were joining the IRA, and you could understand and sympathize with their choice, why didn’t you join too?”

  • I doubt that fascists fear comedians.
    I doubt that Putin fears punk rock ladies in a Moscow church.
    They may hate them but they dont fear them.
    I see nothing brave about Frankie Boyle tweeting hate stuff about a British swimmer, writing garbage in the Sun or making sexist remarks about a 86 year old woman on Mock The Week. In this instance it would appear that Mr Boyle is acting with the nasty tactics of which Fascists would be proud.
    In our own part of the world….where some of our politicians might hold extreme views worthy of fascists, racists, sexists and homophobes it was believed around a decade ago that there was a generation of comedians who were brave enough to tackle this kinda thing head on. Now they are as much part of the Establishment as….Frankie Boyle.

  • aquifer

    I think that fascists have cause to fear comedians.

    Disrespect points the way from fear towards contempt and rejection.

    That pistol on the belt is there to stop us laughing.

  • Greenflag

    And on the thread theme as an example

    Assad and his last remaining loyal general are flying over Syria .Assad takes some money from a hold all and throws it out the window .

    ‘At least one of my citizens will be happy ‘

    His general grabs a fistful of money and throws even more out the window .

    ‘ Now even more of our citizens will be happy ‘

    The pilot and co pilot and assorted crew members come over to the window and throw both Assad and his general out .

    ‘Now all of our citizens are happy ‘