Burning Satire

Satirical? No. Tasteless? Yes.

I’m not really a fan of Twitter. A snappy one-liner is rather too often used as a form of personal self-aggrandisement, frequently to the detriment of others. Our modern Swift, Mr. Stephen Fry, whose intellect is beyond the grasp of most of us, laughingly tweeted a link to this image, with a byline to the effect that the Catholic Church was enthusiastically embracing social media. Not unsurprisingly, this provoked a tornado of invective, often misspelled and personal. Mr. Fry with his usual, self-deprecatory winsomeness laughingly and quite unrepentantly dismissed the critics as being unenlightened as to the meaning of the word ‘satire’, inviting one of them to ‘get an education’. Before I went any further, I looked it up.  In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Quite so. Ridicule and shame in abundance. HHPB has of course made a public apology on behalf of the body he represents, so I don’t think the image could be considered satirical, merely offensive, in particular to those who suffered such abuses by members of the clergy. A dignified apology from said tweeter, alternatively some forethought, would have been both kinder and in considerably better taste.
The Catholic Church, at least in places where First Amendment type legislation exists, is often pilloried and the public are quite at liberty to express an opinion about its goings-on, whereupon it shrugs its massively magisterial shoulders and remains pretty much unruffled. No Catholic was caught making petrol bombs to throw at people like Stephen Fry, or the original author. Not so elsewhere.  An obscure film trailer which set out to deliberately inflame tensions in the Islamic world by depicting the Prophet as a fraud and a child molester, and allegedly shows him having sex can’t really be described as satirical either. The entire film has only been shown once in public, it would seem, but excerpts have gone viral on the Internet. Everyone, it would seem, is scrabbling around, trying to find someone to blame, since the whole business has triggered an avalanche of flag-burning, chanting, rioting and arson across the Islamic world, possibly inflamed by fiery rhetoric during Friday prayers. Lives have been lost and many injuries sustained and I rather wonder what percentage of the rioters have actually seen any part of the film at all, in particular those responsible for the arson and ransacking of the American School in Tunis, which is nothing more than ignorant, wilful vandalism. The finger of blame seems to be being pointed in all kinds of directions, from a shadowy film-maker with a rather murky history to the bankrollers who are suspected of belonging to the opposition in Egypt. Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox church issued a statement labelling the film as malicious and divisive – how very prescient of them – and condemning some Egyptian Christians living abroad who it said had financed “the production of a film insulting Prophet Muhammad”. Were all this only about a film, it might be dismissed as a rather large storm in a comparatively small teacup and like most Atlantic squalls, likely to blow over quite quickly. 
US Consulate, Benghazi

Unfortunately, the death of the US ambassador to Libya, together with ferocious civil disorder in Tahrir Square, with all the usual ‘Death to America’ and’ Death to Israel’ sloganeering now requires US diplomacy to develop a very light touch indeed. If the timing of these events, calculated in some dark corner, was designed to upset the US election campaigns, its timing was badly flawed. Whatever the cause or indeed the motivation, the events appeared to underscore how much the ground in the Middle East has shifted for Washington, which for decades had close ties with Arab dictators who could be counted on to crush dissent. America can’t just pay up and hope for the best any longer. Indeed, why should it?
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