Sunday, August 22, 2010


By Peter Henne

In an episode in the second season of "Family Guy," the people of a post-apocalyptic town destroy all their guns in protest against their society's militarization. An army of mutated squid-babies then attacks the town, and one unnamed character says to another, "remember when you asked me what the definition of irony was?"

I had a similar reaction this morning, when I saw that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf--an organizer of the Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan--is currently on a State Department-run trip in the Middle East to showcase US tolerance and pluralism. Ironically, as some denounce him as a "radical" in America he is being touted as a symbol of moderation abroad.

That being said, President Obama's detractors could attack him for sending this supposed "radical" on a Middle East speaking tour; this would thus not be irony, but just another mark on the Tea Partiers' "con" list. Indeed, this criticism has emerged from a few Republican legislators, including the ubiquitous Peter King. It is ironic, then, that Rauf was part of a similar effort by the Bush Administration: when Karen Hughes ran Bush's outreach to the "Muslim world," Rauf participated in a US-Islamic World Forum in Qatar.

There are, of course, various types of irony, with the classical definition being "the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning." The irony surrounding Rauf is more a situational irony, in which an outcome differs from what was expected in an often perversely comical manner. And it is difficult to describe the current state of American political discourse as anything but perversely comical.

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