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Perspective: Why war and fear have to become one big laugh.

Byline: Jo Ind

I'm gagging for jokes. I don't care how bad they are: 'Osama bin Liner', 'Armageddon out of here'. I don't care. I'm not proud. I'll take anything that's going.

My favourite so far came from Birmingham Muslim Shazia Mirza: 'My name is Shazia Mirza - at least that's what it says on my pilot's licence'.

There's a time for reflection, a time for mourning and a time to send it up in humour.

Laughter is what we need right now so it is no coincidence that humour is related to both elements of the Government's war on terrorism legislation.

Rowan Atkinson is worried that Government plans to make inciting religious hatred a criminal offence will mean the end of jokes that begin: 'There's a rabbi, a priest and a prostitute. . .'

I don't think he's right. Laughing at religion is not the same as stirring up hatred against it and even the law, ass that it is, can tell the difference. Richard Dawkins has more reason to be worried than Black Adder.

Nonetheless, it's interesting that Atkinson feared the war on terrorism meant the death of humour. We've experienced an embargo on jokes since September 11, which is no laughing matter for a comedian.

Then came the news that the Government was trying to change the 1991 Criminal Justice Act so anthrax hoaxers faced seven years in jail rather than six months for wasting police time.

Of course, it is very silly and irresponsible to go playing practical jokes with brown envelopes and talcum powder at a time like this, but I do understand the temptation.

As a general rule we laugh about the things we are anxious about.

That's why the English joke about the Irish, medics make fun of body parts and everyone laughs about sex. That's why no law can stop us laughing about the war.

When I was surfing the Net I came across an American web site packed with jokes about A Lesbian Nomad (anag). His cave, his beard, his headgear - they were all up for ridicule.

When I clicked on 'George W Bush' for jokes I was issued with the following statement: 'Due to recent tragic events, this site will not be featuring new humour about President Bush until further notice'.

That made me laugh.

Do you find this dialogue between the Government's chief whip, Hilary Armstrong, and the Labour MP for Shrewsbury, Paul Marsden, credible?

It took place, apparently, when the MP was summoned to the whip's office for not toeing the party line on the war.

Armstrong: 'Well, what would you do with bin Laden?'

Marsden: 'I think we should indict him on criminal charges. It could be done very quickly and then the UN should take charge of the military action, not the USA. It would be much more effective. By all means send in the SAS, but let's get the UN on-side first.'

Armstrong: 'The trouble with people like you is that you are so clever with words that us up North can't argue back.'

If I were reading fiction I would put the book down. I don't believe Armstrong's response. Nobody in her position is that stupid.

That's why it is irritating that several newspapers have presented the dialogue as a 'verbatim transcript' of the meeting.

It is not a verbatim transcript. It's a paraphrase. Marsden took notes of what he remembered as soon as he got out of the room and then wrote it up for a tabloid.

A verbatim transcript is what you get when you type every word from a taped conversation.

Doubtless, if Armstrong were to write her 'verbatim transcript', it would be Marsden who came over as unable to follow a basic conversation.

Please could we get out of this habit of putting a fiscal value on what people are worth?

The Queen, apparently, is worth pounds 1.15 billion. The Prince of Wales is worth pounds 346 million.

As for me, I've got a small pension fund, about pounds 350 in a savings account, a few grand tied up in my house and a PA system.

But this isn't what I'm worth. It's what I own.

My worth is priceless.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Oct 25, 2001
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