Thursday, 9 March 2006

Laughter: a basic human right

By coincidence, the US State Department report on human rights abuses around the world hit the news at roughly the same time as Coxsoft Art posted the Hensip cartoon below. And here's another coincidence: this morning I noticed in the Londoner an exhibition of cartoons: Misunderstanding the President Through Cartoons - President George W Bush in Caricacture, which is at The Political Cartoon Gallery, 32 Store Street, WC1E, until March 18.
What's the link? It is human nature to relieve stress by laughing at what worries us or makes is feel afraid. Its technical name is manic release. Bird flu worries us, so we take the first opportunity to laugh at it. That a buffoon like George W is in charge of the richest, most powerful, most heavily armed nation on earth worries us, so we laugh at him, and Americans are the first to chuckle.
I doubt that Congress or the Hague has enshrined the fundamental human right to laugh at what worries us, because human rights documents are written by politicians, not by psychologists. But we should have this right, and, when it is repressed, violence often takes the place of laughter. Look at all the religious mayhem around the world.
Those offensive Danish cartoons are a case in point. Islamic terrorists worry us, so we need to laugh at them, and it is a fundamental human right that we be allowed to do so. Forget freedom of speech; this is a very weak argument, and Muslims rightly accuse the West of double standards: one law for them, another for, say, Holocaust denial.
We must be allowed to relieve our worries over Islamic terrorism by laughing at it, and any publisher or government who denies us this release is infinging our human rights. As for cartoon protestors, they must recognize that we didn't create this stress; we are the victims. If they put their own house in order and remove the worry of Islamic terrorism, the West will no longer need to laugh at Islam.


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