"For me, the most important lesson
[of the Freedom Movement] is that by respecting the fact that fellow activists could passionately disagree over strategy and tactics—yet remain allies—they strengthened SNCC and the Movement as a whole."
From Bruce Hartford's article in the current issue of Urban Habitat.
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Monday, December 31, 2012

Humor is more Effective than Anger in Achieving Social Change

Bruce Hartford has argued that humor is more effective than anger.
Laughter and ridicule undermine authority and diminish its ability to compel obedience. You can weaken, unbalance, and ultimately overthrow the king quicker by laughing at him than by futilely screaming fury at him.
Below are excerpts from an article in the NYTimes about how Bassem Youssef is "weakening and unbalancing" the religious right in Egypt.  One can tell Youssef is effective because he has become a target himself.

December 30, 2012
For Liberals in Egypt, a Champion Who Quips

CAIRO — As a new Constitution engraves Islam ever more firmly into Egyptian law, a young comic’s escalating battle with a group of ultraconservative television sheiks has become an early skirmish over the application of Islamic law, or Shariah.

In the weeks leading up to the referendum over the Islamist-backed charter, sheiks hosting Islamist variations on “The 700 Club” have spent weeks attacking the protesters who clogged Cairo’s streets, calling them perverts, drug users, paid thugs and Christians. When a 38-year-old television comedian, Bassem Youssef, began mocking the sheiks for their outlandish allegations, they turned on him, too, accusing him of sexual immorality and even poor hygiene.

“Bassem Zipper,” one called him, “the varmint.” Mr. Youssef “doesn’t know how to wash after he uses the bathroom,” another one said.

Far from offended, Mr. Youssef replayed clips of their attacks. “To those who tell me, ‘You insult the sheiks and scholars,’ I say, ‘The equation is very simple,’ ” he told his audience. “ ‘Just like you don’t consider us Muslims, to us, you’re not sheiks or scholars.’ ” ....

....during his war of words with the sheiks, young men at street cafes in poor neighborhoods far from Cairo could be seen watching his show and shaking with laughter. ...

“He makes a point of saying, ‘We are reclaiming Islam. Islam belongs to us and not you. As Muslims we are offended by what you are saying, so we are defending our religion by ridiculing you,’ ” said Hossam Bahgat, the executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. ....

“You could write a Ph.D. dissertation on the contradictions in Salafi discourse, or I could write a human rights report about its bigoted rhetoric,” Mr. Bahgat added, “but none of this is half as effective as one of Bassem’s weekly shows.” ....

....Another Salafi sheik, apparently speaking in a mosque, urged his listeners to recapture Tahrir Square from protesters. “No matter who dies and no matter who’s killed,” he said. “And the rule is well known: our dead are in heaven, and their dead are in hell.”

“So to become a martyr, you need apply for the party’s ID card?” Mr. Youssef asked, displaying a membership card for the Brotherhood’s political arm. “Is everyone going to tailor the path to paradise to their own measurements?”

Soon the sheiks were aiming their fury mainly at Mr. Youssef.
Sheik Khaled Abdullah, another television preacher, lashed out at Mr. Youssef’s audience, calling them “paid kids from downtown.” Nabih el-Wahsh, a lawyer and frequent guest on Salafi networks, called the same viewers “a bunch of gays and hermaphrodites.”

.......But after reprimands for reducing Islam to an exchange of insults with a late-night comic, Mr. Abdullah last week professed a change of heart. He asked Mr. Youssef’s forgiveness for being “tough on him.” ....

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