Kyrgyzstan and Britain: united by censorship

You know freedom of speech is in a dire state when you have to defend someone’s right to make a dick joke.

In case you missed this story: Michael McFeat is a Scottish man who worked for a mine in Kyrgyzstan. He wrote on Facebook that the nation’s favourite dish (which looks a lot like a horse’s penis) looks like… well, a horse’s penis.

Chuchuk, a Kyrgyzstan horse-meat dish

Instead of getting a couple of shares and then disappearing forever, his remark outraged the people of Kyrgyzstan. The miners acted like minors and went on strike over McFeat’s comment. Even worse, the government arrested him and toyed with the idea of sending him to jail for five years. Eventually they just deported him.

Now, I believe that no article or stand-up set or conversation with my increasingly disappointed mother is complete without a good dick joke. I also quite like to needle the easily offended. In fact, in solidarity with McFeat, I’d like to offer these additional descriptions of chuchuk for him to use at his own discretion:

‘The world’s worst haemorrhoid cushion.’

‘George Foreman’s ankle bracelet.’

‘Just the horse’s penis joke again, because that is what it looks like.’

McFeat’s offending Facebook post

Now, I can say all that because I know the police aren’t going to knock down my door and ask me why I’ve been joking about a meal. Kyrgyzstan’s reaction to someone cracking wise is worse than you would get in Britain.

It isn’t that much worse, however. We may be comfortable with dick jokes in this country, but we have a history of overreacting to harmless jokes. Indeed, every element of this story seems to have a matching version from our own culture.

The widespread overreaction to a social-media post: how different is that from the transatlantic shaming that Trevor Noah received from the Twittermobs of Britain and America for a couple of dumb tweets that were over two years old?

The self-righteous indignation from a vocal, disgusted section of the population: how different is that from the fuss many made in Britain over Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, and too many others to mention?

The decision to remove McFeat from the mine, and then from the country for telling a joke: how different is that from the decision that Dapper Laughs can’t tell jokes at Cardiff University and Kate Smurthwaite shouldn’t be allowed to perform at Goldsmiths?

Yes, the reaction in Kyrgyzstan has been greater, and over a smutty joke so innocuous that the old ‘Carry On’ crowd would have rejected it. But it comes from the same place, the same vein of kneejerk anger over the trivial. The Kyrgyzstan government’s reaction isn’t so different from the trial of Paul Chambers, which saw someone threatened with jail for joking about blowing up an airport.

So yes, enjoy the absurdity of what happened in Kyrgyzstan. Just remember that Kyrgyzstan isn’t so far away from us.

Luke Terry is a writer and student.

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