Hit & Run

Eastern Attitudes


This recent Mideast poll finds the U.S. more unpopular in the region than ever. It also notes that the Mideast's most admired world leader is Jacques Chirac, who must be proud to sit atop a list that includes such sterling figures as Gamal Nasser, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden.

Findings as absurd as these are ripe for parody. Yet the attitudes behind such polls are more likely to be parodied in the Mideast itself than in the West. For example, Syria's marvelous satirist* Yasser Al-Azmeh has had considerable fun with knee-jerk anti-Americanism among Arabs. In one TV sketch that ran before the Iraq war, Al-Azmeh portrayed a man so stupidly obsessed with the U.S. that he angrily pours out his wife's mug of American coffee, squeezes empty a tube of his daughter's American toothpaste, and even switches his brand of razors when he realizes the old brand is American. His intent, he explains, is to "bankrupt" the United States. When Al-Azmeh cuts himself with his new, inferior razors, he announces that "it is good to shed blood for one's country," and that he is proud to bleed "in solidarity with the Palestinian people."

To Al-Azmeh, it's all a pose, so much Pan-Arabist PC. The sketch ends with his character in grateful possession of a pair of U.S. visas; he'll not only bring his pregnant wife to the U.S. to assure a safe birth, he's already chosen an American name for the child, who -- to Al-Azmeh's secret delight -- will be a native-born U.S. citizen.

[*Syrian satirists? Syria's Ba'ath Party has been smart enough to tolerate a certain amount of humor, allowing a frustrated populace to laugh at some of the regime's failures. This was true even under the elder Assad, when the leading political comedian was actor Duraid Lahham. A combination of Woody Allen and Groucho Marx, Lahham poked fun at such targets as hapless bureaucrats and the regime's lousy housing. He's still working. Al-Azmeh, an important voice of the "Damascus Spring," is much more ambitious; his true subjects are the falsities, humiliations, and hypocrisies of life under a tyranny (he's even targeted the lies and pomposities of the Ba'ath itself). Arab satire is a richer subject than many Westerners might think: The Emirates-based network MBC, for example, features a weekly knock-off of Saturday Night Live, which often targets Arab as well as American politics.]