Is Muslim comedy an oxymoron?

Rather than begin with my own opinion, the following is an excerpt of a review of a sketch on a BBC show. I will reserve my opinion until the very end.

A Muslim comedian has spoken out in defence of a controversial new BBC comedy sketch called The Real Housewives Of ISIS, saying ‘being offended is very popular these days’. The BBC has come under fire for the sketch, which satirises US reality TV shows like Real Housewives Of Orange County and Real Housewives Of Atlanta. It appears on new BBC 2 show Revolting and follows a group of British girls who have travelled to Syria to join ISIS and marry terrorists.

In the first episode, one of the characters is seen showing off her new suicide vest after complaining that ‘it’s only three days until the beheading and I’ve got no idea what I’m gonna wear’. Another bemoans that her husband ‘won’t stop talking about his 40 virgins’. After some critics described the sketch as ‘disgusting’, comedian and writer Shazia Mirza has told The Guardian: ‘The rightwing press might be offended, and maybe the leftwing liberals, but Muslims aren’t offended – it’s like they want us to be offended but we aren’t. We’re OK, thanks’

Mirza continued: ‘There’s a long history of people from different religions mocking themselves – Christians, Jews, Catholics – why can’t Muslims make jokes about themselves? If we are going to continue that proud tradition of satire that has to be allowed.'”

Naturally, I wanted to see the sketch for myself before rendering an opinion.  Here it is.  The Guardian 
  1. I think satirizing a group is the most effective way to undermine it, even when such group is as heinous as ISIS.
  2. The massive amount of suffering they have caused makes me reluctant to enjoy even a joke at their expense, but if the satire can can make some potential recruits turn away or shame their cause, then let’s have more satire.
  3.  I am so politically incorrect and impervious to personal offense that I find the idea of a female ISIS recruit complaining that she “has nothing to wear to the beheading” hilarious. Sorry folks, I do. I don’t even understand the whole concept of being offended.
  4.  My only quibble with what Shazia Mirza said is that she implies that the right wing press is more likely to be offended than the left wing liberals. NO! The latter are offended by almost anything, far more so than conservatives. Taking up offense for others is the badge of honor for liberals.
  5.  I really found it funny, especially the one where the wife says she has been widowed 5 times, then hesitates as the building shakes (drone strike?), then corrects herself and says 6 times.
As for the title of this post, I appreciate satire as among the highest forms of humor, and I would like to see a lot more self-satire from Muslims. As someone born into a Jewish household, I can appreciate the history of Jewish humor as a constructive response to oppression. If I were being oppressed, I hope I could laugh in the faces of my oppressors. Yeah, nothing would make them angrier….but that’s the idea!

As for a lot of Muslim spokesmen today AND their liberal media enablers,  I want to quote Hussain Haqqani, a prominent Muslim and former Pakistan envoy to the US: “The violence over ‘Islam’s honour’ is a function of the collective Muslim narrative of grievance. Decline, weakness, impotence, and helplessness are phrases most frequently repeated in the speeches and writings of today’s Muslim leaders. The view is shared by Islamists – who consider Islam a political ideology – and other Muslims who don’t. The terrorists are just the most extreme element among the Islamists. As a community, Muslims are obsessed with their past pre-eminence, which stands in stark contrast to their current weakness. The bravado of beheading “blasphemers” and thinking that a terrorist attack can change the global order are ways of reclaiming a glory that is vividly recalled but has not been seen by Muslims in recent centuries.”

If you hate what I have to say, good. I invite you to get it off your chest by replying. But don’t necessarily expect a response. Dueling blogposts, emails, and texts are fun for awhile, but ultimately futile for mutual understanding. I am open to real dialogue but NOT dueling diatribes!

 

 

Personalized potatoes, PB+J, Stolen Super Bowl jerseys.

The NFL, after reviewing hundreds of videos (taken by various media), released a few of them which showed a guy with an empty shoulder bag entering the Patriots locker room after SB 51 with the rest of the media and walking back out with a fuller bag tucked under his left arm. This very same thief also had Tom Brady’s stolen SB49 (Seahawks) jersey in his possession. The NFL also suspects that he took Von Miller’s cleats, jersey and helmet after SB 50. If you want the more complete story, here is the link to ESPN stolen valor

Even more obnoxious to me, since Kurt Warner is my all time fave sports hero, is that he also had in his possession Kurt Warner’s jersey from the Rams 1999 SB victory. The thief, Mauricio Ortega ortega, even brought the Warner jersey with him to SB 51, hoping to sell it to Kurt for thousands of dollars. Thank you Marshall Faulk, hall of famer and teammate of Warner’s from the “greatest show on turf” days, for refusing to sign any of Ortega’s stolen valor!

What should be done with this guy? Barred from entering the U.S.? Banned from NFL sporting events? How about the CIA recruiting him? As a spy, his bravado, stealth and total disregard for any conventions would make him a star among covert ops. It will be very interesting to see what Mexico does. Will he be a hero because he thumbed his nose at the US? or will he be prosecuted as the criminal he is? Stay tuned.

Switching from the NFL to the NBA, we have a couple of creative but harmless sports stories. Potato Parcel, a company that got a deal on Sharktank, sent personalized potatoes to the starting fives of every NBA team. Fun! Here are some examples. potato parcel

The ultimate American comfort food may be PB and J. The NBA starters may like their personalized potatoes, but for comfort food, nothing beats the old standby. This story is too amusing for me to mangle it by retelling, so check it out. pb and j in nba  I must confess that this story had an immediate effect on me. Just last week, I had managed to use up the last of the strawberry jam we bought when our kids were living at home, and I vowed to never buy any more jelly! But when I read this story, I immediately checked the cupboards. We had bread and peanut butter, but no J! So there went my resolution, as I ran out to the nearest store and bought some J (blackberry), then had a PB and J for lunch-for the first time in about 45 years! Look for me to be out on the courts next week, doing layups (in my dreams). 

Some ideas on the most intractable conflict of our times.

You can find interpretations of the history of the Israel-Palestinian conflict which support any political view. Who knows what is correct other than those who were there? Though any cop will tell you, even eyewitnesses often fail to see what is there.

Some history is not in dispute. After Israel was established by UN mandate in 1947, Arab armies invaded in 1948 from every direction and Israel counterattacked. Many Arab families that inhabited the land prior to mandate left before the war, expecting to return after the Arab victory. We know what happened. Israel won, and took territory in excess of the UN-designated borders, and the families that left mostly became refugees. There are about 7 million Palestinian refugees (defined as descendants of those who either fled their homes or were expelled by Israel) and most live in squalor and abject poverty. It is a fact that billions of dollars have been given to various groups claiming to represent the refugees. WHY, THEN, ARE THE REFUGEES LIVING IN SUCH MISERY? WHERE DOES THAT MONEY GO?

After almost 70 years of violent exchanges and emotional upheavals, and untold grief visited on both sides, is there any hope for a peaceful coexistence? If there is, it would be found in only one principle: I call it radical forgiveness.

My radical suggestion will seem dangerously naive to an Israeli, but it would start by Israel saying, “we have been destroying the homes of suicide bombers, building walls and expanding our territory through settlements. Those actions have mostly resulted in more clever bombers, more enemies and more anger rather than peace. What we are about to do doesn’t change our right to exist, but acknowledges the reality of cause and effect. Starting now, no matter what you say or do to us, we will bless you. We will dispense true justice, as the Old Testament commands. In Exodus 22:21, God commands our forefathers, ‘you shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in Egypt. You shall not harm any widow or fatherless child. If you do and they cry out to me, I will hear them and my wrath will burn against you.’ Perhaps if we start obeying God’s Word rather than our anger and fear He will bless us with peace. But even if He doesn’t we will obey Him.”

The experts of today claim that the conflict isn’t about religions, it is about land. How foolish. All human conflict is ultimately about who or what you worship, about who is in charge of your life. The charge that Joshua gave to the people of the exodus before they entered the promised land was: “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15. joshua 24:14

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods, for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Uh huh. It wasn’t long before the people broke faith with God and exalted themselves as god. The last sentence of the next book of the Old Testament after Joshua, the book of Judges, ends thus, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” What a mess that was, but you will have to read the whole book. judges 1

Back to modern day Israel. Why do I suggest that Israel make the first move towards radical forgiveness? Because we Jews (I was raised in a Jewish household but chose to believe Christ at age 40) and Christians serve God who wants a relationship with people, and who wants us to express our love for Him through obedience to His statutes (Jews) or our emulation (in spirit at least) of Jesus. Muslims serve Allah, who commands obedience also but not out of love or relationship. In his book No God but One: Allah or Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi says “Islam diagnoses the world with ignorance and offers the remedy of sharia, a law to follow. Christianity diagnoses the world with brokenness and offers the remedy of God himself, a relationship with him that leads to heart transformation.”

The people of Israel could choose to follow the path of radical forgiveness, though it is hard and their theology and materialism may not give way to it. I do not believe that the theology or anger of the Palestinians can allow such a path. I beg to be proven wrong.

 

It’s better to make “yes” easy than to make “no” hard, but it is contrary to human nature.

I have been negotiating settlements with insurance companies for years and get more money for my clients using that principle above than any other strategy. Except for life insurance, where you are paying the premium for an exact amount of money when the insured dies, ALL OTHER INSURANCE SETTLEMENTS PAY BASED ON SOME KIND OF NEGOTIATION. Mostly, you are paying the premium to get an amount up to the policy limits if a certain kind of loss occurs.

The key is that to me IT ISN’T A STRATEGY; it’s the right attitude.  Here’s what I mean: In almost any human interaction, we can make it easier for the other person (whether it’s an insurance employee or a negotiator for a particular side in a conflict) to say “yes” to our request or try to make it hard to say “no”. My work with insurance provides lots of great examples of how this works. Here are some general principles:

  1. Assume that the other side IS negotiating in good faith, meaning that they want to do the right thing. But what if they aren’t? That’s okay, often they aren’t, but as you apply these principles, they can move from being an adversary–wanting to win, to beat you–to being a friend, or at least caring about how you feel. However, the best way to establish good faith is to state your assumptions and ask questions as taglines. For example, “I want to do the right thing for all parties here, so that we can all feel good about the solutions, and I hope you feel the same; don’t you agree?”
  2. Get the assumptions and expectations of both sides out in the open and make sure you are both “speaking the same language.” Examples: “What I want to happen here is ______ (describe your desired outcome in “visual” terms, meaning that if you each were able to record the outcome, it would look substantially similar). Once those outcomes have been described, you will know how to move closer to a “win-win” (or you may find that the differences are too great to get to “yes”).
  3. If it’s a situation where a written contract is involved, like an insurance policy, know exactly what it says about such a situation. Make sure that what you are asking for is within reasonable bounds. If it is not, then the situation WILL become adversarial, and it’s your fault. Then it becomes about making it hard to say “no” rather than easy to say “yes.”
  4. If it starts getting ugly at this point, like the example in my post entitled Let there be peace…or not, it is either time for bringing in an independent authority, like an arbitrator, mediator or judge, or switching to the alternative strategy, which I refer to as “making it hard to say “no.”

I have never had to resort to this strategy, because it will usually create an enemy. You may think you’ve won in the short term by getting your way, but if you have to work with or live with this person, you can be assured that they will find ways to pay you back, unless you can win them over. While I could use the example from my other post–the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–to illustrate this state of war, I don’t think that’s a good example because they never got past #1, good faith. Each wants to crush the other side, and what further makes it intractable is that each side is also a proxy for a larger conflict.

The negative side  of the “make it hard to say no” principle is this: If we want something and the other side doesn’t want to say ” yes ” no matter what inducements we have offered (the positive side of making it hard to say “no”), we can try threatening to do harm or withhold good if they stick to “no.” That is the approach of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It seems to lead to more of the same. If it’s a court of law or divorce situation, it can become sue and counter sue. When there is a lack of good faith, or when egos are threatened, or emotions get stirred up, there is only one way out of the anger escalation spiral. I will explain that in my next post–Ideas on the most intractable conflict of our time.

After this digression to politics, I will return to my insurance example. The settlement offered my client was initially $7,500, and they had some vague written justifications. The policy didn’t specify what the damages should have been–they never do. Making it easy to say “yes”, I cited some court cases with similar circumstances in which the judgments ranged from $25,000 to $50,000. The claims guy them raised his offer to $10,000.

In response I cited a Washington state statute which mandated arbitration when the potential judgment was under $50,000 (the policy allowed the company to refuse arbitration, but the statute modified the policy). I then explained that, in consideration of saving the insurance company the time, money and potentially negative publicity of losing an arbitration, my client would be reasonable and not ask for the maximum possible arbitration amount, let alone what it might be if we went to court, given the strength of our case. The insurance claims guy said he could go a little higher and asked what our number was.

Normally they expect you to ask for a little more than their offer. I asked for a number which I said would be fair to both parties: $30,000, which was halfway between his offer of $10,000 and the arbitration limit of $50,000. He immediately agreed, my client signed his waiver and the check was in the mail (it was).  The way I framed the ask gave the insurance guy a rationale to accept it.

Perhaps I could have asked for more, but it would have violated what I call the 50/50 principle. For example, if someone wants to split compensation on a case, and there is no way to accurately assess how much work each will have to do, the 50/50 split is usually accepted instantly. It feels fair. Anything other than that split will lead to a degree of arbitrariness, which universally feels like it could be unfair.

Anything that breeds even a tiny degree of suspicion tends to harm the agreement. The strategy of making it hard to say “no” almost always involves a threat. “Agree to what I want or else ” never feels good to either party and should ultimately be a weak fallback when you can’t get to “yes.” Unfortunately it’s also the foundation of our adversarial legal system.

Can you do your duty despite “survivors guilt?”

Now that I have gotten a lot of the polemics out of my system with my previous blog purges posts, I want to put on my compassion hat and address a subject that, as common as it is will no doubt be even more common in the future: “survivor’s guilt” or trauma-related guilt.

(from the website verywell.com) “Trauma-related guilt refers to the unpleasant feeling of regret stemming from the belief that you could or should have done something different at the time a traumatic event occurred. Trauma survivors may also experience a particular type of trauma-related guilt, called survivor guilt. Survivor guilt is often experienced when a person has made it through some kind of traumatic event while others have not. A person may question why he survived. He may even blame himself for surviving a traumatic event as if he did something wrong.”

I want to be sensitive about this, as it feels real to sufferers, but… I don’t get it. When I was 24 I was sent to Vietnam courtesy of the U.S. Army, starting out as an infantry grunt but soon found myself, due to my having a B.A. in psychology, being assigned as what the military called a psych tech. In my case, I was the sole arbiter of who was and was not fit for combat, operating from a fire base called Quan Loi, many miles and a long helicopter ride from professional supervision. A degree in psychology was hardly any preparation at all for my duties.

In a sense I had the power of life and death, in that if I decided someone needed a break from combat, I could assign them non-combat duty for up to 90 days. How did I decide who was fit and who was not? Eeny meeny miny moe, more or less. But I actually was quite good at it and even maintained some semblance of sanity. I can’t say the same for my predecessor, who became a nervous wreck before he handed off the pleasure to me.

One day a soldier came to see me, desiring to be relieved of duty as helicopter door gunner. His story was that he was having blackouts, periodically losing awareness. I asked for examples but he couldn’t give me any. I asked his crew members but none of them were aware of any such behavior. In the absence of any corroborating testimony (including his own) I couldn’t justify relieving him of duty. Two weeks went by and I saw him again. This time he was dead, as were most of his crew. The one survivor said that my patient pulled the pin on a hand grenade and then appeared to forget to throw it, just staring at it. It blew up and caused the helicopter to crash.

I could have used this incident to beat myself up, calling into question my judgment and my competence, justifying quitting or sinking into drug abuse. I felt traumatic guilt for a few weeks, then asked myself the questions, “do I think someone else could do a better job if I quit? Wouldn’t quitting be indulging in my feelings of guilt to the detriment of my patients and my duty?” My answers led me back to the job, with a resolution to be more thorough. That is why I still have trouble understanding the degree to which so many people allow themselves to be debilitated by guilt that they survived or made a bad decision.

Existence is full of uncertainty. Everyone will make bad decisions, we will know people who died or were maimed by horrors we were spared from, but life goes on and our duty remains. True judicial guilt usually means a person consciously did wrong and deserves either punishment or making restitution. But what we call guilt feelings when we didn’t consciously do wrong can be an indulgence that justifies shirking our duties.

One of my favorite sayings is ” I slept and dreamt that life was pleasure. I awoke and found that life was duty. I acted and found that duty is pleasure.”

 

Who needs yet another review of The Shack?

The apostle Paul already wrote the definitive review of The Shack, in 2 Timothy 4:3, almost 2,000 years ago (about A.D.61 or 65), while he was imprisoned in Rome, and aware of his impending death. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Paul also had the solution, as he exhorted Timothy, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” In other words, press on, ignore the foolishness, stand for the truth no matter the personal cost. Easy for you to say, right Paul? Not really, as Paul was certainly one to live according to the advice he gave others. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Tradition holds that Paul was beheaded, rather than crucified, since he was a Roman citizen (membership has its privileges, I guess). So rather than offer another review of The Shack from the comfort of my home in the land of the free, I will just state that if I can say at the end of my life, even if that end is premature, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” I will die with a smile on my face.  My ears don’t itch, do yours?

Do the right thing.

No, this is not about the Spike Lee movie of the same name, it’s about the GREAT CONUNDRUM. Let’s not confuse that with the “great commission” either, even though obeying Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” would eliminate most of the conundrums of life. The GREAT CONUNDRUM I am referring to is, “how do I know what is the right thing to do?”

This question causes untold agony, keeps legions of therapists employed, sells countless books, popularizes no end of made-for-TV gurus, leads to much prayer and re-prayer (when the first answer that comes isn’t the one we wanted), and keeps a whole therapeutic culture afloat. Let me simplify this. When you are confronted with life’s harder choices, the right action is almost always the one you least want to take.

That answer is consistent with my view of human nature. While human beings are capable of mercy, forgiveness, heroism and self-sacrifice, such actions are NOT the result of doing what comes naturally. What is natural, what feels good, is to take the (apparently) easy way out (though almost always that “easy way” yields the worst result), cut corners, put off whatever is uncomfortable, claim our rights, shirk or transfer our responsibilities, and finally blame someone else when it all goes wrong, which tends to be the result of doing what comes naturally. Of course, I include myself in the foregoing analysis. Do you?

A life pattern of doing what is comfortable–“the path of least resistance”–will inexorably lead to poverty and frustration, broken relationships, and then excuse-making and blaming (the “system”, parents, whomever and whatever is the explanation du jour for why life didn’t turn out). Combine that pattern with the drugs of wishful thinking and self-pity, and you have a death spiral. There is a way out.

It’s never too early to begin developing the habit of doing the hard things. The key word is habit! I’ve heard it said that elephants can be restrained by a chain around their ankle, a chain that is anchored to a stake in the ground, a stake that can be pulled up with virtually no effort by an adult elephant. Because said elephant was trained as a baby with a chain and a stake that was too strong for them, which caused great pain when they struggled against, they eventually learned to stop struggling and stand passively. Habit is a cable, too strong to break…if you’re an animal and cannot recognize that your behavior is a habit. As a human being, you can replace bad habits with good ones…or not.

The “therapeutic culture” we live in seems to encourage blaming your circumstances on something other than your habits, as if you can’t help yourself. Many years ago I read something by Zig Ziglar that greatly encouraged me to start new habits. At the time he wrote it, he was morbidly obese and could barely walk from one end of his block to the other. One day he got SO disgusted with himself, that he began an exercise program. He started walking, and the first week his goal was just once around the block. When he accomplished that, he slightly increased his pace and distance, until he was walking a mile or so. Then it was fast walking the mile, then jogging it. After months of slightly increasing speed and distance, running became a habit. How do you know when an activity has become a habit? Doing it feels more “natural” and comfortable than not doing it.

This lesson is for everyone. Human beings DO what feels comfortable and natural, so if what you are doing is the wrong thing, slowly and gradually do something better until it feels easier to do it than not to. BUT, in order to undertake such discipline, you must, like Zig, become disgusted with the results of not being disciplined. That will be $100 please.