Explosion of Postwar Humor Helps Iraqis

October 25th, 2004 - by admin

Hamza Hendawi / Associated Press – 2004-10-25 00:28:43


BAGHDAD (October 23, 2004) — In debt, jobless and fed up with power outages, Abu Qadouri and his wife have themselves frozen to be revived when life is better. Ten years later, they are thawed out.

“Turn on the TV so we find out if elections were held and a democratic government installed,” Abu Qadouri shouts at his wife. She yells back: “We have no electricity!”

The scene is from “Aqid al-Mikabsileen,” or “Alley of the Junkies,” a comedy that began airing last week on a privately owned Iraqi TV channel. Broadcast daily, it has taken the country by storm.

Many Iraqis readily admit that humor is not considered an Iraqi characteristic. Egyptians have a reputation as the jokesters of the Arab world. Iraq is better known as a nation of avid readers.

But the unbridled freedoms that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the misery of a constant cycle of bombings, kidnappings and murders have kindled a national sense of humor.

Much of it is satirical and can be seen in street graffiti that makes fun of everyone, starting with the 140,000 American soldiers in Iraq. Other targets include insurgents, common criminals and political parties.

Laughing to Keep from Crying
“The black humor you see on television is the only way for us to vent frustration,” said Qasim al-Sabti, one of Iraq’s leading painters. “We cry one minute and laugh the next when we watch ‘Alley of the Junkies,'” he said. Much of the dialogue is in the Iraqi dialect, which can be difficult to understand, even for fellow Arabs.

“Every time I apply for a job they ask me for a letter or recommendation from a political party,” Abu Hamoudi, the episode’s lead actor, complains to his wife. Their son has given up trying to find a job and has taken up begging at a traffic light close to the family home.

Hashem Salman, one of Iraq’s top comedians, is not too thrilled about TV shows portraying Iraqis as thieves, looters and junkies. As for artistic license, he claims comedians under Saddam could get away with criticizing the regime.

Another comedian, Majid Yassin, said in some ways exercising his profession is harder these days with the capital the scene of so much violence and crime. “You cannot go to a show and come out at 10 or 11 at night. Not any more,” he said. “My group performs only in safe towns outside Baghdad.”

Still, what Iraqis see in “Alley of the Junkies” is a far cry from anything seen or watched during Saddam’s reign of terror, when Iraqis could end up in jail — or worse — for indiscreet jokes about the president and his family. Now, Iraqis post images on Web sites ridiculing Saddam. One shows him bearded and squatting on the ground, singing about how unfair life can be.

Another one shows him lying on his back in a hole — he was captured in December in an underground hole near his hometown of Tikrit — with rats and trash around him. “You are the only loyal Baathists left for me,” he tells the rodents.

Newspaper Cartoons Savage US Occupation
Newspaper cartoons, by contrast, are heavy with criticism and sarcasm, but with only a dash of humor.

One published recently in al-Sabah, a semiofficial daily newspaper, laments the destruction wrought by the US Army. It shows an Iraqi speaking to American soldiers on a tank that has just crushed a median.

“Mister, my dear, drive to the next street,” the Iraqi says. “There’s a sidewalk there that you haven’t destroyed yet.”

In the daily al-Moatamar, published by the Iraqi National Congress party, a party that primarily gathers Iraqi exiles, cartoonist Abdul-Khaleq al-Hubar drew three haggard Iraqis in their underwear seated on a bench.

One is blindfolded, another has a cloth stuck in each ear and the third has his mouth covered with a handkerchief. An American soldier stands before them like a school teacher. He’s carrying a folder bearing the words: “Democracy: First Lesson.”

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