Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

Laugh and the world laughs with you … or does it?

Published on 08 January 2015
Updated on 19 March 2024

Chappatte’s cartoons – as always – say a lot. The attack on Charlie Hebdo was more than ‘just’ another terrorist attack; it was an attack on humour, one of the most sophisticated ways we have of communicating as humans. Humour is not appreciated by dogmatic thinking, be it ideological or radically religious. Humor questions dogma. It exposes paradoxes. Like a scanner, it removes the ideological trappings and goes to the core of the issue. 

Whoever argues for one truth and one ideology finds in humor their worst enemy. Once people start joking and laughing, they are ready for alternative thinking. The end of communism in Eastern Europe started with humour, very often of the sarcastic sort. And, according to Aung San Suu Kyi,  humour is one of the best ingredients of survival.  

A few years ago, Maltese philosopher Fr Peter Serracino-Inglot introduced the concept of serious jokes to diplomacy and politics  and provided this illustrative example of an attempt to kill humour….

‘In the 1990s in Algeria, at the height of the Fundamentalist period, satirical journals such as El Manchur and Baroud continued to appear, with jokes which are not only admirably courageous but which also survive well in translation. For instance, Aziz Chouaki published a funny short story; in it a State is depicted in which anything funny is forbidden and the spirit of laughter is shut up in a sort of Pandora’s box. But a group of jokers form a kind of holy Order and dedicate their lives to rescue the spirit of laughter from its encapsulation. This goal is achieved in a funnier manner than the salvation of the book in Fahrenheit 451. The point of the short story is not just that the right to joke is worth being defended but also that it can only be defended by joking. For this popular Arab writer at least, it is both end and means.’

In the Internet era, cartoons are even more important. Among the avalanche of information that besets us each day, cartoons can reduce long narratives to simple, impactful messages. Chappatte’s cartoons say much more than the thousands of tweets, articles, and blogs that published in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. They make a difference. This is probably why Charlie Hebdo was stopped in such a cruel way.

This attack on humour is an attack on some of the core values of humanity, including creativity, empathy, tolerance, and the importance of common sense. We are now at a point where we should be asking some fundamental questions about ourselves and the society in which live…….

Subscribe to Diplo's Blog