Irony has been in the news these past few days, when a couple of guys not only refused to share a Frenchman’s joke at the expense of the Prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him, but actually gunned down the joker– along with a dozen of his cronies, for good measure.
For comparison I give you the case of an eighteen-year-old who fell out with a friend over which videogame is best. The friend wrote something on Facebook to the effect of “You're crazy, you're messed up in the head,” to which the teenager replied: “Oh yeah, I'm real messed up in the head, I'm going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still beating hearts,” adding “LOL” and “JK.” The additions – abbreviations for “laughing out loud” and “just kidding” – are important, because, in the modern world, it is widely assumed that declaring something a joke is enough to make it funny, precisely as the author of the joke at the expense of the Prophet Mohammed has done.
This took place not in China, Russia, or North Korea, but in Austin, Texas. The teenager’s name is Justin Carter, and last year the poor lad did six months in jail for that comment of his on Facebook. According to a press report, “a woman in Canada who came across the boy's post failed to see the humor” and alerted police “after her internet research revealed that young Carter lived near an elementary school. Carter was taken into custody and charged with making a ‘terroristic’ threat,” meaning he could have gone down for a maximum of 8 years in the slammer for the joke that failed. A very different outcome indeed from nearly identical fiascos suffered over the years by the nominally adult editors, writers, and cartoonists in Paris’s cool and happening 11th Arrondissement.
Not only did the journalists not get jail for their schoolboy jokes, they got police protection, popular plaudits, and now, albeit posthumously, a ticker tape parade on a par with General MacArthur’s. I am all in favor of liberty and tolerance, of course, but how can the West live with such double standards? Why should the liberty and the tolerance extend to one infantile attempt at humor and not to another? Why should police protect journalists and persecute schoolboys? And why should a joke at the expense of the Prophet Mohammed – or, for that matter, of Jesus Christ – be tolerated where a joke at the expense of, say, underage victims of sexual abuse – or, for that matter, of the Jews who died in the Nazi gas chambers – is as legally actionable as an anti-Soviet anekdot in Russia under Brezhnev?
Depending on the targets of his barbs, a scoffer gets tolerance or the clink. To be consistent, this notion of justice should really extend to party politics, so that any Republican making a bad joke, for instance, should be punished, while any Democrat making the exact same one should be rewarded – at the taxpayer’s expense, of course.
But why stop there? Sport is as rife with partisanship as history, to say nothing of politics. Perhaps Golden State Warriors fans should be permitted unbridled irony while Atlanta Hawks fans should remember to keep their mouths shut? Or should society mete out rewards and punishments according to the kinds of sport its citizens follow, with chess and badminton the obvious candidates for ostracism?
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.