Friday, August 26, 2005

Abu Khaleel: Jokes from Iraq

Abu Khaleel, the screen name of a cyber-friend in Iraq, has posted again. This gives me a lot of satisfaction and relief, because his last post was not a happy one. His last post, titled "Pit of Despair," was published after the London bombings. He wrote then "I felt anger, but it was an anger of another kind. /What angered me most was that I have somehow found out that I had less compassion than I should for those people who suffered or lost their lives. Have I lost part of my humanity and capacity for compassion… or the ability to feel for the suffering of other people?/ It is a loss indeed. But it is also my loss… of part of my soul." Writing from a place deep inside, he was the image of a good person struggling with bad impulses in the face of an evil that threatens to overwhelm even the best of us.

A look at the comments thread at that last post shows that I am not alone in my concern. Down in the list he indicates that he took leave for a rest in Jordan. He is welcomed warmly back to his keyboard by several people other than me.

Today's post on his other blog, A Glimpse of Iraq, is about jokes, of all things. Jokes, of course, are one of the social index markers. Even in bizarre situations the human capacity for humor is used to maintain sanity and overcome depression. As far as we know, animals don't joke, although I wonder about some pets I have seen. (One of Abu's stories, by the way, is about a parrot.) As a student of folklore long ago I was introduced to jokes and story-telling from an academic angle. The Aarne-Thompson index has been around for a long time as the definitive catalogue for folk takes. Academic analysis spoils the humor, but it also shows the universality of the human experience. Jokes grow in the same social soil.

Humor does not cross social barriers as easily as pictures or scientific data, but I see the expression of irony as an indication of psychological good health. There are several "good ones" including this...

A jackal met another one in the western desert making a quick dash towards the Jordanian border. He asked him what the hurry was. The other said that Saddam’s people were killing everyone who had three balls. The first said, “But surely you don’t have three balls!” The other replied, “Of course not! But they only count them after cutting them off”.
And this....
A Jew living in the mainly Shiite town of Kut in the south was pressured by some of his friends to convert to Islam. Finally he promised to do it the next time he went to Baghdad.

After he came back from the promised journey, he was asked by a friend about what he did. The man replied, “Well, as soon as I got a taxi in Baghdad I told the driver what I wanted to do, so he took me the this mosque called Abu Haneefa (the founder of a major Sunni sub-sect) I talked to the Imam there and everything went well and we finished in 5 minutes”.

The friend snapped indignantly, “So, you became a Sunni? Damn you! You should have remained a Jew!”

Welcome back to blogging, Mr. Khaleel. You were missed.

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