Thursday, March 6, 2008

Guest Blogger: Sula Al-Naqeeb is a New Generation Fellow of the Center for Human Emergence Middle East.

Axis of Evil Comedy Tour: Middle East

The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour is made up of a group of Middle-Eastern American comedians. Their comedy tour has been all over the United States with much success. This is due to their ability to create new grounds with how post-September 11th issues are treated and bring this to mainstream America. Humor has been their tool to comically touch on issues such as racial profiling at airports (something they have all faced), stereotyping, typecast as evil terrorists in Hollywood, Bush and American Foreign Policy.

Like many young Arabs living in the Middle East, I have been a huge fan of Axis of Evil and have been following their skits for the last year on youtube. I never thought I would have the opportunity to watch them live in the Middle East and therefore the DVD of their tour was placed at the top of my birthday wish list. However, after Showtime started managing them and aired their show on Comedy Central in the Middle East, individuals in Cairo, Dubai, Amman and Beirut requested that the group be brought to their respective cities. This made up their hugely successful Middle East Tour. This initiative on the part of individual Arabs is a great indication of a growing interest political openness and streams of dialogue. It also indicates on the part of the respective states where the show was held an openness and acceptability for bold critique.

Having heard that they were coming to Dubai, some friends and I decided that it was worth flying over for a unique opportunity to see them in the Middle East. As we were all familiar with their skits shown in American cities, it would be interesting to see how they would approach issues like American Foreign policy as well as our some of our cultural values that seem antiquated to the West in a Arab country with an Arab audience. After days on end of torturing people around us with the infamous Maz Jobrani phrase, “ I am Persian, Meow!” we were disheartened to find out that tickets were sold out on the first day and so none would be sold online. However, luckily for us, some young Arabs in Kuwait approached Showtime and asked that they come to Kuwait. Despite ministry regulations whereby any public event has to be approved beforehand with scripts being scrutinized, the organizers approached Universities to play host to the Axis tour and to create a private event. Again, within one day the tickets sold out and we reverted to our “I am Persian, Meow!”

Politics is always a controversial issue but that is multiplied when dealing with Middle Eastern Politic especially in the Middle East. However, Axis of Evil did not shy from any political or cultural issues. Their show is essentially a socio-political satire where they deconstruct cultural enigmas, outdated values, and current events. They critique all Arab nationalities, especially the host country with sharp wit and integrity. In Kuwait, they made fun or our reckless generosity, amongst other attributes and were received with agreement and laughter. Despite the comedy, issues are not dumb down but are in fact intellectually stimulating. At the heart of their show is a message that counters discrimination. With such healthy archetypes they are inadvertently humanizing a misconstrued region.

Overall this is exciting not only because I finally got to attend their show, but also because this indicates a growing level complexity in the region. Middle Easterners laughing at each other, and with each other is not something new, however, the difference with Axis of Evil is that we now can do that within a particular context that since September 2001 has been heated or taboo. The ability to laugh at ourselves is wonderfully cathartic and in this sense, it is certainly psychologically advanced. This healthy introspection allows for us to question some of our values that might not be serving us anymore. It further shows our generation new ways of dialogue and communication that allows us to highlight pertinent issues that need to be raised in an amicable way. It is a whole other way to educate both Americans and Arabs of our limitations and strengths which people are more accepting to see and then change when addressed with humor. Axis of Evil is a reflection of how moderates and not extremists are in the majority in our countries who are appreciative of laughing our way to a solution rather than confrontation.

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