Saturday, March 26, 2005
Nazar Joudi misses the days when laughter echoed through the musty alleyway where he and his friends - cobblers, goldsmiths and tailors - told vivid jokes to escape the war.
Their tales of dimwitted Shiite Muslims, unlucky Kurds and hapless Sunni Muslim tribesmen enlivened a dark corner of a Baghdad marketplace and nurtured an oral tradition found throughout the Arab world. Puffing cheap cigarettes and slurping tiny cups of tea, the men would laugh until tears streamed down their haggard faces.
But after Iraq's Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, Joudi noticed that divisions were emerging among his old friends. Shiites sided with Shiites, Kurdish barbs took on a sharper edge and everything offended the Sunnis. Ethnic and religious jokes lost their humor, Joudi said with sadness, so the men stopped coming and the ritual died.
"Now if you tell a joke about a Sunni or a Kurd, you wonder whether you're hurting their feelings," said Joudi, 42, who's a Shiite. "People are just not relaxed about that stuff anymore."
And they never will be again, Nazar. It is the price we pay for pluralism. But Iraq, like all free societies, can create "PC-free zones" where people can still laugh about the small and troubling truths and falsehoods of their daily lives. These places are called "comedy clubs." Mr. Joudi, there's a business idea in there somewhere.