The Kingdom of the Absurd

J.B. Priestly once said ‘Comedy, we may say, is society protecting itself – with a smile.’ Add to this the words of Yev Yilmaz, who stated ‘Comedy is truth, absurdity, and pain’. If we consider these statements, then we can certainly see how humour becomes more important during times of crisis, for society is no greater need of protecting itself than when it is threatened.  Fortunately, despite the government’s inexorable crackdown, moments of comedy and absurdity still prevail – and never are such moments more glorious than when the government itself becomes the protagonist in its own ridiculous parody.

Today was a classic example, for it saw the completion of a new police station, one that was built on the premises of a youth hostel. Once described on its website as a  ”friendly, comfortable and modern facility in the Seef Area“, the youth hostel now belongs to an organisation whose previous guests were less favourable in their reviews. Indeed, some alleged ‘that hoses and other objects were inserted into their anus and that guards groped their genitalia aggressively” (BICI, 1191). Not a review you’d expect to see on TripAdvisor, and probably not a place you’d want to stay.

Having said that, I’m sure the regime’s PR machine will soon be putting a positive spin on this latest folly. I can see the @GovActionsbh tweet now!

Not only can Bahrain’s police stations boast the latest in audiovisual equipment (as per the BICI recommendations), but our newest premises is a ”friendly, comfortable and modern facility in the Seef Area”

While it is ironic that a premises constructed for the purposes of hospitality should become a premises constructed for discipline, it is also an appropriate metaphor for the plight of Bahrain’s youth – many of whom have been in or will probably end up in a police cell. It also inadvertently symbolises the decline of tourism and the rise of the police state. I mean, if tourists aren’t filling up the hostels, they might as well turn them into police stations! Just the kind of message you want to send before the Bahrain Grand Prix eh?

The MOI’s Self Esteem

As if turning youth hostels into police stations wasn’t enough, the Ministry of the Interior’s Twitter feed issued a couple of gems yesterday, mainly concerning how the media were trying to affect the ‘self-esteem’ of the security services. I mean, who knew the country’s state security apparatus, infamous for its acts of brutality, were such a sensitive bunch! While I’m sure they meant ‘morale’, it is not the first time the MOI’s liberal use of ‘google translate’ has caused them a little embarrassment. My favourite tweet was probably the following:

The only way I can describe the tone of this tweet is that of ‘petulent, vengeful pirate played by Arnold Schwarzenegger’. Unfortunately, I don’t think the MOI will appreciate my satire. See next tweet.

Dear MOI.

I am not ‘after’ your self-esteem , but merely drawing attention to the absurd fact that the ministry most in the global spotlight couldn’t find someone with good English to run their Twitter account. This is in spite of the fact that there are legions of multilingual Bahrainis and expats working in the country. If you take issue with this, then I’ll ‘see you in the field’, punk…

GDN Blooper

For those of you who don’t know, the Gulf Daily News is Bahrain’s oldest, English-language newspaper. Naturally it is pro-regime, and mainly caters for Bahrain’s huge expatriate community. I’ve read the paper since childhood, and still turn to it for its unintentionally hilarious articles. Monday’s edition was a particular classic, for it inadvertently called Bahrain’s revered foreign minsiter, Khalid Al-Khalifa, a turkey. Not one to shy away from hyperbole, they slipped ‘Top’ in there for good measure. So there you have it, ‘Pro Gov Paper Calls Foreign Minister a Top Turkey’

While the trivialization of tragedy is insensitive and inappropriate, the appreciation of humour and irony is something entirely different. To be able to laugh in the face of tragedy, but not at tragedy itself, is to be defiant in the wake of misery. This is especially true when one’s misery is caused by oppression, for to laugh at your oppressor is to demonstrate hope in the face of adversity, and as such, becomes an act of resistance.

This is why satire is so important, because you’re making others laugh. On that note, here’s a shout out to the Bahrain Prime Minister’s parody account on Twitter @SheikhKhalifaPM, whose been making people laugh since-not-quite-as-long as the Prime Minister has held office.

A sense of humor… is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.

-Hugh Sidey


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