Time For Washington To Invest On Comedy For Our Foreign Diplomacy

I was a 19 year old Iranian when I was drafted to the Iran/Iraq War back in 1983, one of the bloodiest Wars of the 20th Century. Incidentally, the entire world, the former US defense secretary Rumsfeld and his boss, Reagan were supporting Saddam at the time:

A few days prior to one of our major strategic moves, about 200 Iranian soldiers, myself included, were rounded up to listen to an “inspirational speech” from a Mullah and two of his non clerical lieutenants. They were preparing us not to fear death.

The Mullah and his lieutenants started telling us about the heaven, the awesome time we will be having with seventy two virgins, and how desperately the virgins are looking forward to meet us up there. As a typical man, it got me excited first, you know. The thought of 72 chicks 🙂 but the excitement lasted only a few seconds. The though of death, the thought of not seeing my fat mamma, my baby sisters, and fathers anymore, by far were more powerful than anything else. Maybe, if the Mullah had said sex with thousand women, it would have been different story 🙂 But, 72! NO SIR! not enough to die for.

Saeed, the guy sitting right in the middle with the mustache, one of my very good friends made a joke about the virgins as the Mullah was still yapping. He said “wait a sec! but, I want to have sex down here on earth, not up there!”. Although, we were scared young soldiers with the thought of possibly getting killed in a few days, Saeed, me, and five other guys were literally hysterical about the situation. We laughed our pants off. But, this wasn’t a joking matter to them. So, all seven of us were yanked out of the unit and sent to the Army prison for a week because of the laughter. The punishment wasn’t really a week of going to prison, the thing is for every week of going to prison during the service, the Army added one additional month on top of our standard two years. Once released; sadly, we found out 125 other soldiers in the units were killed in the attack.

Neither I nor any of my other six friends would have fallen for the sex with seventy two virgins crap anyway, but the joke totally made one of the lieutenant and most of the surviving soldiers in our units rethink our motivations. We all continued talking and laughing about it for a few months. I am certain the lieutenant who was an ideologically changed man with fresh ideology was able to influence others in the system as well. I never saw him again. If he is still alive and reads this, I wish him well. As for my friend who made the joke, regretfully, he lost his life 3 months later in another attack – in fact a chemical attack, (the materials were given to Saddam Hussein by the US Government, and I think the Germans, to be more specific, the Dow Chemical Company).

About 2 million people including my very close cousin who was an army parashooter were killed during the 8 year war (1980-1988):

Curious as to what this personal story has anything to do with current U.S. State Department initiatives and diplomacy?

I had lunch with a good friend in Chinatown yesterday who had attended an exclusive dinner event hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week at the State Department. She was very impressed by our Secretary and the high-tech titans invited to the meeting from all over our nation; well, mostly from Silicon Valley. The topic was “how technology can be used to meet the nation’s foreign diplomacy goals”.

Although, all these initiatives are worthwhile, and our technology has helped people from suppressed countries like China, Cuba, and particularly my own beloved homeland, Iran to get their voice out, the results have not been as effective as we were all hoping. Chinese, Iranian, and Cuban regimes continue behaving the same to their people as they have been for many decades. As an Iranian American entrepreneur, I suggest our State Department consider an additional solution – using the power of Comedy 🙂

I believe one the most powerful tools the State Department can use in our Foreign diplomacy arsenal, is to invest in Standup Comedians like Jon Stewart and Bill Maher and comedians like them from the Middle East, China, and Cuba. It is people like them and their comedic talent that makes us to pull our head out of our ass and think straight – particularly in politics and religion. The investment on these comedians will cost a tiny fraction of other initiatives. In particular, we need to invest in standup comedians whose roots are from the countries we are trying to help and establish friendly relationship with their government.

What I am saying is in addition to all other initiatives by our State Department like the one last week with high-tech titans, I believe we will experience a much better tangible result if we invest in standup comedians with origin from those regions. Not quite sure how the process will work. I certainly know it will cost our taxpayers much less with a much better results 🙂

The political comedians’ job is to take shots at leaders and bureaucrats for whom the public at large already have a healthy dose of cynical mistrust. These guys do more than take shots; they shape the discussion and become part of the process through the satirical act. They can be more than simple commentators; they can be voices – funny voices. I have also experienced it right here in DC. I used to be a conservative republican till the early 90’s. As a result of watching these comedians, I and many of conservative republicans friends have woken up to the reality of the whole War on Terror thing, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen, foreign Policy, etc.

The more the State Department tries to help the people from these nations, the more tension will grow between their government and ours. As the recent political events in Iran have shown, their government ended up suppressing the people even more, the same people we are trying to help. Therefore, why not also use comedy as an environmentally friendly weapon to influence their government leaders. I know it works.

If comedy is a path to political change, our government has to really take the time to make the process customized for each of one of the countries we try to help. We need to have a better understanding of their culture and political situation.

There is a great difference between the American shows and other countries – particularly, the ones in the Middle East where I am originally from. The majority of shows in other countries benefit from no real budget, poor writing, and weak production. Yet, it is impossible to study their comedy without having a clear understanding of their political situation. Usually, their political factions are divided between the opposition and loyalists. The major factions on both sides are owners of TV channels.

Anyway, here are many classic examples of my favorite standup comedians:
. Maz Jobrani

. Jon Stewart
Vodpod videos no longer available.


. Bill Maher

. Omid Djalili

Feel free to connect with me via awesomize.me

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About Elias Shams
I have been a serial entrepreneur in telecom and social media space for past 12 years or so. I hold a M.S. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from the George Washington University and a B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Maryland. I’ve lived and worked in many countries and cities including London England, Tehran Iran, Bonn Germany, Paris France, Alicante Spain, Delhi India, and my favorite of all Washington, DC of great US of A. Two of the greatest Washington, DC based companies I worked for and very proud of are Yurie Systems which was sold to Lucent in 1998 for $1.23 B and telezoo.com that I founded in 1999. I am currently the founder and awesomizer @ awesomize.me

2 Responses to Time For Washington To Invest On Comedy For Our Foreign Diplomacy

  1. Excellent article. I think I found a new favorite blog! Great Job!!! Comedy is a great diplomatic tool, I agree.

  2. Paula says:

    OMG! I had no idea we were on Saddam’s side in the War. If I hadn’t seen the Rumsfeld’s videos and the link to Dow Chemical here, I wouldn’t have believed this nor I wouldn’t have bothered to investigate this further. Indeed, there are many supporting docs on internet supporting your claims. I feel so ashamed

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