Nominee for the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award — Fasi Zaka

October 14, 2009

After triumphing over Nazism and Communism in the 20th century, liberty faces a new threat in this century — radical Islam.  This threat is being counteracted (we hope) by diplomacy with potential allies, force against enemies, and high-minded speeches to remind all that the cause of liberty is right and the cause of tyranny is wrong.

In addition to all that, there is another essential element in the arsenal of liberty — ridicule.  Tyrants of all stripes, in addition to being monstrously cruel and evil, are also almost always laughably, pathetically, and outrageously ridiculous. 

Charlie Chaplin realized this when he mocked Hitler in  The Great Dictator.  In Dr. Strangelove, Stanley Kubrick portrayed the communist leader as a weepy drunk and the war-mongering general as a paranoid suffering from ED.  South Park has portrayed Osama Bin Laden as the slapstick LooneyTunes villain, Wile E. Coyote.  The Daily Show and Colbert Report make their living off of puncturing the pomposity of politicians.  Humor may not be the best weapon against tyrants, crooks, fools, and all other kinds of politicians, but it is a very important one.

 But Chaplin, Kubrick, Parker, Stone, Stewart, and Colbert have mocked tyrants from the safety of the free world.  Fasi Zaka does it from the front lines.  Zaka is a Pakistani radio DJ — a shock-jock – and host of a TV news parody show, News, Views, and Confused.  Given long stretches of military rule, government censorship, and death threats from extremists, Zaka can’t and doesn’t address oppression in Pakistan head-on.  Instead, he flirts with the issues, poking fun at the Taliban and corrupt and incompetent Pakistani leaders with social satire more than political criticism. 

For example, Zaka mocks the Taliban for smelling bad rather than for beheading opponents and suicide bombings.  As an LA Times profile described his approach:

So when a guest host, a character named Mr. Enlightened Moderations, poked fun at fundos , slang for Islamic fundamentalists, it was not for any extreme religious views but for poor dress sense, aversion to after-shave and limited use of deodorant. “You sound like a  fundo,” he’d say accusingly to callers. “You doesn’t even wears a deo, smelly boy.”

By mocking tyrants and their followers Zaka makes them seem uncool.  Making them uncool may limit their power more than a speech on their logical errors.  Remember that young men were drawn to Nazism in part because they wore shiny boots and neat brown shorts.  It was a struggle whether people would perceive fascism as the trend of the future or a group of buffoons singing Springtime for Hitler.  Buffoons who smell bad don’t attract girls, so young men are much less interested in movements that are uncool.

Not everyone agrees with Zaka’s humorous approach:

Some critics say Zaka is squandering a golden opportunity to be constructive and foster moderation in a confused younger generation.  “It bothers me when people do silly entertainment shows when we really need people to make a difference,” says Mani, another radio host.

Radio hosts don’t have to be boring and didactic to get their message across, counters Zaka, pointing to frequent discussions on extremism, women’s equality and the violence sweeping Pakistan. “They presume preaching is the way for change,” he says. “It isn’t.”

Zaka can be serious.  He is, after all, a Rhodes Scholar who was educated at Oxford.  And he regularly writes op-eds with more standard political criticism.  But it is his humor and ridicule that are really advancing the cause of liberty.

I make no claim that  Fasi Zaka is as funny as Charlie Chaplin, Steven Colbert, and the others.  The parts not in English seem even less funny, but you can check out a clip of his TV show here:

And like Chaplin, not all of Fasi Zaka’s political views are necessarily desirable.  Again, Zaka is worthwhile because he mocks bad guys, not because he’s a sound political analyst.

While Zaka may not be the funniest of these satirists for freedom, he is clearly one of the most courageous.  Making crap of the Taliban and military dictators is a real contribution to improving the human condition and makes Fasi Zaka worthy of a nomination for the Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award.

(edited for clarity)


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