x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Culture of laughter is absent in Arab world

Arabic satellite channels yield only weepy soaps, aggressive talk shows, silly entertainment or the most hackneyed religious programmes.

"We saw the World Laughter Day quietly go by in May in the same way we skipped the fall of Baghdad day on April 9, and the same way we'll greet Naksa Day on June 5 commemorating the 'setback. of 1967, because our days have simply come down to a rotation of depression and nausea," wrote Ahmed Amiri in the Emirati daily Al Ittihad. Arabic satellite channels yield only weepy soaps, aggressive talk shows, silly entertainment or the most hackneyed religious programmes. Rarely do you find a comedy channel, and even then the jokes will be gauche and in bad taste.

The same could be said about other media sources, including newspapers. Editors will do what it takes to colour a light-hearted anecdote with enough grimness to make it sound like the story of the Palestinian struggle. Of course, the media are not only responsible for this, for they are a product of their environment. "And our environment, much like our very faces, is a frowning one." Many Arabs, who are more laid-back in their private lives, take on this pose when in public. "Ours is a culture that frowns upon laughter and considers it a personality failing." Arabs must call a Normal Arab Day to celebrate neither laughter nor sorrow, just a simple, ordinary day.

"Feel free to write what you want and criticise who you want, and you can start with me. Don't be afraid of anyone. I see freedom of expression as sacred, and this is the land of freedom," wrote Abdullah Awwad in the West Bank-based newspaper Al Ayyam, quoting the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, during a recent casual meeting with the press.

What about all the cutting meant to suit the censors' palates? Or is Mr Fayyad's statement simply a jab at the "freedom" in Gaza, where journalists have all the freedom they want as long as their copy observes the boundaries of the official discourse? "All you can really do in Gaza is run on the front page something to the effect that 'the situation is excellent, people eat biscuits and drink fruit juice; they can sleep in open air and security is maintained'."

Those journalists who deplored the imposition of taxes in the Gaza Strip came under heavy fire from the system's mercenaries. But editors who wish to splash a sentimental resistance speech, rant about the infidels who betrayed the Palestinian cause or denounce the Israeli blockade are most welcome to practice their freedom of expression. There is no self-destructive weapon more vicious than internal division, narcissism and backstabbing. The Palestinian factions - and journalists - must know this.

 The economic crisis which has led Greece to the verge of bankruptcy, and is still threatening to spread to Portugal and Spain, has given rise to serious doubts about the European currency, the euro, and the whole future of post-Second World War Europe which has pegged every hope on a flourishing European Union, Samih Saab wrote in the Lebanese newspaper Annahar.

After the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the pan-European movement tried to extend its reach eastwards to convert nations beyond the former Iron Curtain. It was a way to solidify fledgling democracy in those countries and propagate the principles of a free market economy. The EU managed to maintain a certain cohesion in foreign policy matters . With the outbreak of the global recession at the end of 2008, however, the extent of its discrepancies was underscored when each of the main EU member states - Germany, France and Britain - proposed varying remedies to counter the crisis, each according to their individual interests.

Germany, for instance, felt that the recovery should not come at the expense of its own economy. Some German politicians have even called for the withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone. All this leads to the same conclusion: the collapse of the euro would smash the foundations of the "European dream".

The editor-in-chief of the Bahraini newspaper Al Wasat, Mansour al Jamri, remembered the late Moroccan critic Mohammed Abed al Jabri, the leading scholar who died on Monday after producing a seminal work on the structure of the Arab mind and identity. He drew attention to the philosopher's constant emphasis on the supreme worth of the intellectual, not the politician, in any given nation. Al Jabri, who forayed into politics earlier in his career only to become the most thorough critic of Arab reason, theorised extensively about the relationship between the intellectual and the Arab regime. "It never happened throughout history that a ruler was despotic, successful or unsuccessful all by himself. Those who surrounded him - intellectuals, engineers and others - were responsible to a large degree for that success or failure," al Jabri wrote.

He saw that the real intellectual, the one feared by the state, was the one more viscerally involved in his society's issues. For al Jabri, intellectuals had no business hanging out in ivory towers. They must rather immerse themselves into the worries of the grassroots.   * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi @Email:aelbahi@thenational.ae