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On Freedom of Expression with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar — Founder, Global Secular Humanist Movement


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/07/17

Scott Douglas Jacobson: With respect to social media and humor, social media has positive aspects and negative aspects. The positives are the way in which people can mobilize and communicate with one another.

The negatives are some of the trivial aspects of it. With regards to the humor for building community and mobilizing people, as well as bridging divides, what are some examples of this that can be used as lights — to focus on in terms of building those communities rather than keeping oneself closed into one’s own community such as banning and shutting down people online as well as speakers in person at events?

Faisal Al Mutar: So, humor is one of the best ways to talk about serious subjects, especially the subjects that I touch upon from the Middle East to extremism to terrorism. These subjects tend to be dry.

If I have some spice, then people get excited about them, which makes using humor a necessity. I was making a joke about Buddhist monks. I started, “If you do not like ISIS, you should join them, because change comes from within.”

As a result, many people were offended by this post. Some had assumed because of my name that I am a Jihadist who is trying to recruit people to ISIS. The comments section, some people thought that the joke itself was offensive.

Because I am trivializing the experiences of some individuals. Unfortunately, because some of these jokes, some of them require some understanding of some things. The joke is, it is about how many Buddhists talk about subjects of change from within and so on.

With text, many jokes fly over many people’s heads. As a result, the reaction of reporting seemed immediate for many people, especially when you have a larger following. If you get reported by 1,000 people, even though it is trivial, it is 1% percent of my following.

However, it is enough for some pages to get shut down. I have not been banned permanently, but I have been banned for three months, the maximum. With the way social media and people are responding to this, it was not positive in my opinion.

Humor is dark, sometimes. It depends on what dark humor. Naturally, it is trying to expose their subjects. Not necessarily trivialize it, many people are not aware of it. For example, there is this meme that I like.

It has like a depiction of Joseph Stalin. It says, “Some say communism is like food. Not everyone gets it.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Al Mutar: When you look deeper to many of these jokes, you will see that what is being exposed is the totalitarian version of communism. The fact that many people under communism do not get food. It is not about making fun of people who are hungry.

It is a result of some of these complications. Unfortunately, some of the people immediately look at what is said alone. They interpret everything as literal statements. I am not trying apologize for the holy book, but it is about the context. It is about the interpretation.

As a result, people who have little to no sense of humor, and no understanding of how dark humor works, react with reportage. Sometimes, there is the case of Ellen DeGeneres. I do not know if you know her. There can be misunderstandings.

There was a Kenyan athlete who was considered one of the fastest people in the world. He is athletic. He runs fast. Degeneres made this like graphic. He was holding her, running.

So, she was saying, “Wow, this guy is running so fast.”

People interpreted from the social media environment: “Oh, look at the white woman using the black man to run.” They made a connection with slavery and racism. That is the opposite. It has nothing to do with slavery.

Nothing to do with the subject altogether. Yesterday, Heineken pulled its ad, which is for the light beer. They said, “Lighter is better.” Many of us like light beer. It is a good targeted advertising. However, some people interpreted that, “lighter is better,” means people with lighter skin are better than people with dark skin.

This is the worst possible interpretation of what is being said. The way some of these social media companies responded to the court of public opinion. If enough people are offended, that is enough for some of the posts to be taken down.

Scott: It reminds me of some statements of some people. I mean, every movement, every population has extremists. The point is not to let the extremist 1) drive the conversation or b) be the leadership.

Faisal: Unfortunately, this is an issue for many of us. We get into these situations. Sometimes, social media amplifies the scope of the problem. Let’s say a thousand people. Say I make a post about doing Trump or US politics, any subject in the world. Then 1,000 people offended.

On a major scale, if your following is 100,000 or above, then only 1,000 people are offended. You only offended 1 percent. But if the 1 percent were mobilized enough, all of them like each other’s posts. Then it looks like it is a big problem. It looks like everybody hates you.

But what’s happening in social media, everybody has the same equal amount of space when they come in as the other person. You could be Barack Obama and the other guy is a crackhead. They both have the same amount of section in the conversation.

It creates the illusion that there is an equal quality post. Sometimes, people get deluded, including social media companies. They get deluded when they see like “Oh, there is a controversy being created.”

But generally, it is small population. People probably do not care if Heineken made a “lighter is better” ad. However, there are 1,000 people. However, that is a small population. There are 2 billion users on Facebook. Only 1,000, it is not a big number.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Faisal.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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