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Guest Column: Criticism of joke strikes both ways
By Tim Hughes
The barrage of criticism and outrage against State Sen. Dave Syverson for his unfortunate “Mohammed” joke raises several questions.
If, as the critics argued, it is wrong for a public figure to perpetuate contempt for people living in a certain region of the world, why is it assumed that the purpose of the joke was to create contempt?
And if a region of the world where little girls have acid thrown in their faces if they try to go to school, women have their noses cut off for refusing to marry men they don’t love, or are buried up to their necks and stoned to death for eloping with men they do love, doctors can be ordered to sever people’s spines in eye-for-an-eye vengeance, and daily newspapers routinely refer to Christians and Jews as “apes” and “pigs” over the repeated protests of our State Department, doesn’t deserve our contempt, what does?
As for the Senator being a racist, if I recall correctly, Iranians are Caucasians just like the Senator, so how does that make him a racist against his own race, or is this just one more example of sanctimonious mud-slinging without regard to the labels being slung?
There’s a petulant and almost adolescent rage against the denunciation of Syverson in all that has been written and said about his Mohammed joke, and that raises a question as to what’s really behind the outrage. I submit that the fury has been anything but sincere, at least on a subconscious level.
Coming as it did during the week of Rockford’s Pro Am, it reminded me of the time Bob Hope appeared at the Pro Am. At a MetroCentre performance the night before the tournament, Hope told not one, but several insensitive jokes about gays. There was no outcry then, but I can just imagine the table-pounding demands for Hope and the Pro Am to apologize and apologize abjectly, for spreading his message of intolerance. No doubt, there would have been calls to boycott future Pro Ams, and for unmitigated shame to eternally rain down on the city of Rockford.
A generation later, I doubt that many, if any, can recall the jokes Hope told that night, the Pro Am remains a popular and prestigious summer attraction, and the gay civil rights movement is stronger than ever, achieving many of its goals most would have thought impossible a few years ago.
Syverson’s joke may have been a reflection of bad judgment, but I think we need to direct our outrage and indignation at the reason we have such jokes in the first place: namely, the subjugation of women and girls in certain regions of the world.
Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.