October 14, 2017

Source: Bigstock

I then watched an ayatollah, or perhaps cleric of lesser rank, preaching in a mosque. The mosque was full, but his sermon, if that is what it was, was relayed to a crowd outside by means of a large, liquid crystal screen.

The cleric wept and wailed, I presumed for the death of Hussein, and the crowd outside made gestures of deep mourning themselves, holding their hands over their eyes. As soon as the cleric reverted (rather suddenly, I thought) to a more normal mode of expression, however, some of the younger men in the crowd—and the crowd was all male—took out their smartphones at once and returned to the communication of fatuities as usual. I might have laughed, but laughter would have been offensive.

I could not help but wonder what had been going on in the minds of people who could at one moment be (to all appearances) in deep contemplation and mourning, and at the very next be sending messages (say) about nothing of any importance whatsoever. But I have often observed people emerging from the funerals of their close friends, who, as soon as they have left the church or crematorium, resort to their phones as if they might have missed something of much deeper significance during the ceremony.

But perhaps my greatest surprise of the evening was when my friends showed me videos afterward of a Sunni comedian satirically mocking the Shia. He was dressed as an ayatollah who spoke pious idiocies, slapping himself on his chest in histrionic gestures of mourning, rendering ridiculous those of the Shia who do likewise in all seriousness, and all accompanied by raucous studio laughter. As far as I am aware, this intentionally insulting video, which if made and shown in the West would have resulted in howls of outrage (and not only from the Shia) and demands for prosecution under hate-crime laws, resulted in no threats or violence; only, perhaps, in a reinforcement of the age-old and reciprocated antagonism of the Shia toward the Sunni.

It seems, then, that one is freer to disparage others, and mock their religion, in the Muslim world (provided one does it in the right place and is surrounded by the like-minded) than in the Western world.

Overall, the experience confirmed the wisdom of the Northern English saying: There’s nowt [nothing] so queer [odd or peculiar, not homosexual] as folk [people in general].

I write, of course, as a completely rational man myself.


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