Stephen Colbert Sides with Bullies and Mocks the Weak. Syrian Christians Deserve Better.
Stephen Colbert is occasionally funny. Sometimes he stands up for the truth, as when he demolished professional ex-Catholic gasbag Garry Wills. Sometimes Colbert is simply clueless, as when the Catholic Sunday school teacher welcomed a Satanist band on his show. But last week Colbert disgraced himself by comparing millions of persecuted Middle Eastern Christians, refugees from the death-squads and rape gangs of ISIS, to the bigots and killers of the Ku Klux Klan. Until and unless he apologizes, Colbert should be boycotted by every person of good will.
Colbert was attacking political leaders such as Ted Cruz, who argue that Middle Eastern Christians deserve our special welcome as refugees, since they are the primary target of religious persecution in the world. More than a million Christians were driven out of Iraq on our watch, while our brave troops followed their orders to guard embassies and oil ministries. These Christians have no nearby refuge. No Christians in the region (not even in Lebanon) are safe from Islamic terror. In some Sunni Muslim countries, such as Iraq and Syria, organized killing squads blow up churches during Sunday services and capture Christian women to sell as sex slaves. In Sunni Muslim Turkey the state represses Christian speech and encourages Islamists, while in the Sunni Muslim “Vatican,” Saudi Arabia, Bibles are banned, and oppressed foreign workers cannot even worship in embassies.
In these large and prosperous countries, Sunni Islam isn’t persecuted; it’s mandatory. The Sunni Muslims displaced by Syria’s civil war — where Sunnis are fighting for power over the Alawites, Shiites, and Christians — could resettle safely in any of these lands. The Christians can’t. But the post-Christian countries in most of Europe are ignoring the plight of the Christians, while welcoming Sunni Muslims, who throng to join the same mosques that teach the same intolerant Sunni Islam that fuels the persecution of Christians, and every year generates hundreds of terrorist attacks, like the slaughter in Paris, and the next atrocity that police are scrambling to prevent even now in Belgium.
Ted Cruz speaks for millions of Americans who want to bring in the persecuted Christians instead of those who share the faith of their persecutors, Sunni Muslims whose own religious texts tell them to “kill the infidel.” You won’t read news reports of Assyrian or Chaldean Christians persecuting anyone. They have been disarmed, harmless minority groups under the rule of foreign regimes for the past 2,000 years. The number of Assyrian and Chaldean Christian terrorist incidents has been zero, every year. That means that unlike Sunni Muslims, they are no security threat to America. We could “welcome the stranger,” the truly needy and desperate victim of persecution, instead of those who pray alongside their persecutors.
For a fuller view of the case for resettling emigrants in the closest safe country to their homelands, see Iraqi exile Luma Simms’s luminous essay at The Federalist. Thanks to the presence in so many European cities of Muslim extremists, who view Middle Eastern Christians with special hatred, the first safe country for many of these real refugees might be the United States.
In the face of such perfectly logical, truly compassionate arguments, Colbert was clearly flummoxed. He wanted to chime in along with his fellow media one-percenters by mocking the “rubes” and “rednecks” who fear Islamic terrorism (Imagine that!) — who feel a connection to persecuted Christians that they don’t to intolerant Sunnis. But where could he reach for material? He couldn’t find Chaldean killing squads, or Assyrian suicide bombers. They don’t exist. So Colbert dug up a decades-old photo of Klansmen, who flouted their own Christian faith by persecuting their black fellow-Christians. You see, he said, Here are Christian terrorists! The unheated metal storage containers where Middle Eastern Christians are huddling for shelter from intolerant Sunni Muslims don’t have televisions, so the hunted Christian refugees didn’t get to see Colbert smirking as he compared them and their families to the Klan. Perhaps that’s a minor mercy.
When a Comedian Uses His Bully Pulpit for Bullying
When comedians succeed, they are told backstage, “You killed them.” People used to say “You slay me,” in a nod to the aggression built in to comedy’s DNA. We are rendered “helpless” with laughter, “reduced to tears,” sometimes even “convulsed.” By contrast, most jokes told from the pulpit fall completely flat because they aren’t edgy enough. The teller stirs up a tepid, impatient chuckle, because he fears to offend.
Aggression is morally neutral. A gun can be used to defend the helpless, provide the hungry with food, or slaughter the innocent. Saying that you are “against” either guns or aggression is like taking a stand against gravity or entropy. That sentiment belongs in a song which stoners sing each other in dorm rooms, but in a fallen world, nowhere else.
Comedy is a blade that cuts in all sorts of ways. At its noblest, comedy slices away the lies we tell ourselves, and the cover stories of bullies. Grim humor helped the people of the Eastern Bloc endure the daily absurdities of life under Communism. A good joke can tell a vital truth in a few words with lasting power. Here is a classic anti-Nazi quip (via Hannah Arendt) that Jews repeated in concentration camps:
An anti-Semite claimed that the Jews had caused the war;
The reply was: “Yes, the Jews and the bicyclists.”
“Why the bicyclists?” asks the one.
“Why the Jews?” asks the other.
But humor can also serve evil, when it’s employed against the weak. Our culture still remembers how minstrel shows reinforced the logic of segregation. That’s why people are rightly condemned for dressing up in blackface. Spike Lee’s great satire Bamboozled reminds us how damnably funny the humor of cruelty can be. We both grew up hearing Anne Frank and Helen Keller jokes — and no, we won’t repeat them here.
In a culture still fitfully haunted by the ghost of Christian sentiments, when someone points out that we are picking on the helpless, we might feel guilty. If others notice, we might be ashamed. If everyone notices, we will be shunned — which isn’t good for your career. That’s why we don’t hear racist jokes from (white) comedians anymore, thank heavens.
So if you are a comedian who for political reasons wants to suck up to the strong and pick on the weak, without earning opprobrium, what are your options? The best one is the old switcheroo — make the strong (on whom you are fawning) seem weak, and the weak (for whom you are gunning) seem strong. Then you can kiss up while kicking down and be applauded for your courage. Win-win!
Sunni Muslims in the Middle East are strong. Saudi Arabia spends hundreds of millions of dollars funding intolerant Sunni mosques in every corner of the world, while forbidding a single Christian chapel on its soil. Saudi cash sloshes into academic departments at schools such as Georgetown University, to ensure that their Middle Eastern studies programs are Islamically correct. Well-funded Islamic pressure groups, such as the terrorist-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) target any public figure who speaks truthfully about Islam. Academic and media elites regard concern over Muslim intolerance as contemptible, dismissing it as “Islamophobia,” a prejudice akin to the (career-ending) charge of racism. And criticizing Islam can also be deadly — as the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo found out, and the makers of South Park chose not to, fearfully canceling their episode that skewered Muhammad. A dozen Americans were nearly killed in Garland, Texas, at the “Draw Muhammad” attack. It takes no courage at all for a New York-based TV comedian to make nice to Islam, and Muslims.
Nor does it cost Stephen Colbert a thing to sneer at the most abandoned people on earth, Middle Eastern Christians — to compare these dark-skinned refugees living in tents, who rely on underfunded foreign charities for cooking oil and space heaters, to the ex-slaveowning aristocrats who led the Ku Klux Klan. Such quips might win Colbert an invitation to write for The New Yorker, might help him to snag a TED talk. But they’re not jokes he will want to hear repeated back on Judgment Day, when “killer” humor might take on a different meaning entirely.