U2 singer Bono tells Congress comedy can help in fight against extremists

Irish rock star Bono showed up Tuesday on Capitol Hill to plead for more money for refugees -- and to offer a novel suggestion on how to fight violent extremists.

Bono said comedy should be used to help defang extremists sowing chaos in the Middle East and driving millions of families from their homes.

"When you laugh at them when they are goose-stepping down the street, you take away their power," he told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.

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To counter the propaganda of extremists and totalitarian regimes, Bono suggested the Senate "send in" Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and the actor behind the character Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen.

Bono, who wore purple-tinted aviator sunglasses in the hearing room, said he was “gobsmacked” to testify before a Senate panel, and to hear lawmakers debate humanitarian assistance. "I'm having to pinch myself," he said.

Some of the senators had met the U2 singer before.  He visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.) this month.

“Thank you, Dick,” Bono replied after he got a question from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Durbin said he had previously spoken to Bono about HIV/AIDS.

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) mentioned that his daughter interned for Bono’s One Campaign, which funds development and relief programs.

Bono used his celebrity to urge the U.S. government, already the world's largest single donor to humanitarian groups, to do more to help refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East and Africa.

“The international community is having a lot of meetings about the crisis, and I believe have issued a record number of press releases; what it is not doing is cutting checks,” said Bono.

Republican and Democrats in Congress disagree on many things, Bono said, but the two parties have been able to work together in the past to help alleviate humanitarian crises.

"On this stuff, this is like the one thing you all agree on and it brings out the best in you," he said.

According to the United Nations, the number of refugees fleeing violence and poverty around the world has quadrupled since 2010. More than 4 million Syrian refugees live in Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt.

The U.N. last year received only 60% of the funding it requested from countries to help refugees.

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Bono was joined by retired Gen. James L. Jones, who is a former supreme allied commander of NATO, Kelly T. Clements, the U.N. deputy high commissioner for refugees, and Antony Blinken, deputy secretary of State.

“It isn’t just about money, it’s about policy changes we need from governments to give refugees the ability to work, to move freely and for kids to attend school,” Clements said.

Blinken said the U.S. is using diplomatic channels to push countries hosting large populations of refugees "to give jobs to people in special sectors where they are not competing against citizens.” 

brian.bennett@latimes.com

Follow me @ByBrianBennett on Twitter.

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