Think you’re funny? Well, don’t screw around in the United Arab Emirates, people.
In America, expressing one’s sense of humor is a basic right protected by the first Amendment — it has its own special place in protected speech even as we all know how important satire is to keeping governments in check.It is when we see the loss of these freedoms that we realize how unfree some societies are, and how some governments are apparently still threatened by the power of the pen (or in this case, YouTube,) over the sword.
According to the Associated Press:
“An American man who works in the United Arab Emirates has been held in a maximum-security prison for months after posting a parody video about youth culture in Dubai, a rights group and family attorney said Wednesday.
Shezanne Cassim, 29, of Woodbury, Minn., was arrested in April and charged with violating a 2012 cybercrimes law that boosts penalties for allegedly challenging authorities, attorney Susan Burns said. He was moved to a maximum security prison in Abu Dhabi in June.”
We take it for granted that we can create and read satirical humor about our government and society. In fact, just imagine NOT mocking our government — it’s harder than it looks! Anyway, let’s try to get the government of Dubai to chillax on Mr. Cassim who is, after all, a US citizen who is as used to posting junk on YouTube and Chukles as the rest of us!
There is an old Dubai joke indicating that commerce is in the blood. A merchant asks his young son, ‘what is two plus two?’. To which the youth replies, ‘It depends… Am I buying or am I selling?’
From the architectural “go-aheads” that have been given lately, it is clear that — as long as it involves huge piles of cash — the government of Dubai can tolerate almost any joke, no matter how large.
It is time for Shezanne Cassim to come home and for the government of Dubai to learn how to take a joke.The Arab Spring has not been altogether warm and fuzzy for comedians in the middle east and sadly, Dubai isn’t alone in its thin skinned response to the regions comedians.
Egyptian government of Muhammed Morsi, for its part has apparently joined the ranks of the fun police.
Bassem Youssef, widely known as the “Jon Stewart of Egypt” — was issued an arrest warrant after being accused of insulting the Egyptian president and supposedly along the way Islam itself.
In classic form, when learning of his arrest, Mr. Youssef retained his sense of humor, tweeting that he will hand himself in to the prosecutor’s office Sunday, “Unless they kindly send a police van today and save me the transportation hassle.”