We all know the Muslim world is a political and cultural disaster zone.
All you need to know is the spectacularly low level of book sales in the Arab world, and a similarly miserable record in winning Nobel prizes, whether in literature or hard science. A dozen years ago, a group of Arab scholars did a report for the United Nations that ascribed the failure of Arab society to a lack of freedom, knowledge and womenpower. And things have gotten considerably worse since 2002; the authors could write that there were no ethnic conflicts then. That’s long gone.
Never mind a failed state; we’re talking about a failed civilization, even in the most culturally advanced Muslim domain, the Islamic Republic of Iran. The root of their failure is the War Against Fun. They’re not only failures, but grim, humorless failures. This is the miserable common denominator of the Muslim world. As Jonathan Schanzer recently tweeted, “Saudi blocks Youtube. Iran blocks Instagram. We knew they could eventually find common ground.”
They know it themselves, and talk about it a lot. Several writers in the Saudi press, for example, unloaded on the ban on celebrating Valentine’s Day, as here:
[The answer] to most of our daily needs comes from the West, from the Christian world, of [the culture] we created in previous eras only a pittance remains… the prohibition on Valentine’s Day bears no relation to faith or belief, but [only] to desert thinking that lacks subtlety, targets women specifically and prevents a social encounter between men and women and normal life as in other societies. The guardians of values and customs went overboard in pressuring our society…it has become desiccated and coarse and adopted the thinking and behavior of the desert..
Or in this tirade, quoted in the same article linked above:
What grabs attention is that those who ban imitating the West on Valentine’s Day see nothing amiss in imitating the West in other ways, and are completely immersed in [Western] consumer culture and in devouring new Western products…
They know we’re better. Some of them, seemingly more with the passage of time, are desperate and brave enough to risk life and limb to fight back on behalf of fun.
The War Against Fun is deadly because it stultifies and suffocates creative enterprise. If the regime wins, and fun is killed, it would mark the death of playfulness, which is the heart of creativity. The Iranians are (falsely, I think) credited with the invention of chess, but there are no brilliant Persian chess grandmasters nowadays. Iranian humor is nasty, misogynistic and often sadistic, like the unhappy country’s ruling tyrants.
Some Iranian apologists and propagandists pretend that phenomena like the “Happy” videos show that Iranians are really having fun after all, but this is a ruse. These are protest videos–music, especially Western music, is forbidden in Iran, just as it was in Talibanic Afghanistan–and the happy people are politically threatening to the regime, like the Saudis who celebrate Valentine’s Day threaten the stability of the kingdom. And it’s significant that other “Happy” videos keep showing up on YouTube. It bespeaks the depth of the contempt in which most Iranians hold their rulers, and the regime’s rapid response, whether arresting the Happy people or demanding flogging and imprisonment for the actress who gave a formalistic kiss on the cheek of an eighty-year old at the Cannes Film Festival, shows that Khamenei and his henchmen know it and fear it.
It is no accident that women are singled out for special degradation by the armies waging war on fun, for the Muslim world rests on a solid foundation of misogyny. My professional career has been mostly devoted to the study of evil, including terrorism, fascism, Nazism and communism. That’s a lot of evil people, but I never found anything like the systematic rape of female death-row prisoners in Iranian prisons. Not even the Nazis in the death camps were so avid in humiliating their victims. Nor did I find the sort of systematic repression of women that abounds in so much of the Muslim world.
Like the reflexive attacks on the Happy people and the Valentine lovers, such actions betray fear that the people–especially the women–if left to their own devices would bring down the oppressive regimes. Which is why, as I have said for so long, women are the most revolutionary group in the Muslim Middle East.
The tyrants can’t risk granting freedom to fun lovers, especially if they are women, so the fun lovers are targeted, rounded up, incarcerated, tortured and often murdered. So long as that goes on, there is no hope for the Muslim world, nor for its best citizens.