Mon 30 Jul 2007
If you had taken a poll of Holocaust survivors after their liberation from death camps in World War II, chances are few would have imagined that a future comedian (and a Jewish one at that) would produce a box-office smash that included a chorus line of goose-stepping rockettes prancing to “Hitler in springtime.” For the record, Mel Brooks spares no one, including a Busby Berkeley romp with Torquemada through the Spanish Inquisition. Nor does Monty Python, who satirized Nazis and, spam-spam-spam, The Spanish Inquisition, on the other side of the Atlantic. Of course, neither Brooks nor Python would have kept their heads (or the body parts they make the most jokes about) in 15th century Spain. So if even the cruelest atrocities of history can be lampooned with hindsight humor, when is a good time to rip into Osama Bin Laden and the distorted political mantra of jihad?
Jihad: The Musical already hit New York, and now it is taking Britain at the fringes (if Edinburgh can be deemed a fringe venue) according to the latest news reports on the BBC and The Guardian.
Here is the plot:
JIHAD THE MUSICAL tells the story of a young Afghan peasant, Sayid. Coming from the desert, Sayid dreams of proving himself to his bossy sister Shazzia and to the world, by making it as a flower farmer. Enchanted by a mysterious veiled woman, he leaps at her offer to work for a company that ‘exports poppies’ to the West. Unfortunately, Sayid soon discovers that the woman is a terrorist, and the company a front for a jihadi cell seeking to blow up targets in the West, most particularly one known as the Unidentified, Very Prestigious Landmark.
Farce ensues as Sayid is brainwashed by the all-singing, all-dancing jihadis, vowing to fight for their cause. Meanwhile, a sinister reporter, Foxy Redstate, uncovers the plot, encouraging Sayid to keep her in the loop in the hope that such an exclusive will propel her to media stardom. Sayid finds himself caught between the terrorists on one hand and the media on the other, driven to share in their enthusiasm for the impending terrorist spectacular. Fortunately help is on the way in the form of his no-nonsense sister, who teams up with a surrender-prone Frenchman to come to the rescue. Everything comes to a head on the night of the attack, where, caught between his sister, the bloodthirsty global media, and the jihadis he has come to see as a new family, Sayid has to decide whose side he is really on.
If you are not able to fly to Edinburgh (or afraid to do so because of a terrorist attack) this week, then you might take a page out of the top-secret terrorist guidebook itself and check out the online video posted on You Tube. For all the right-wing radio jocks out there, before you go ballistic on this, check out an animated spoof that Fox aired on “Family Guy”.
So is it too early to make fun of an ongoing tragedy, especially given the recent airport bombing in Glasgow, Scotland? There are enough videos on the net of people being blown up and heads being chopped off. Is there room for satire, especially a show that intends to expose the theatrical absurdity of terrorists and anti-terrorists alike? There are certainly precedents besides Brooks and Monty Python. The English National Opera opened their season last year with Gaddafi: A Living Myth. If former “terrorists” are good for opera, why not the pop scene with a chorus line of make-believe houris? Shall we call them burquettes?
This musical is bound to be offensive because what it makes fun of is offensive. But it is hardly the first volley in the humor wars. Before Danish cartoonists drew offensive images of the Prophet Muhammad, Osama and “jihad” had been savaged in cartoons and caricatures and by Photo-Shop junkies since the September 11 attack. Try typing “Osama Bid Laden” into Google images and you will see what I mean. Even Barbie strips down for the act. Yes, this show is funny. So is South Park. Comedy is often a sibling of tragedy, because both reveal unpleasant truths. Our tears have not stopped, but a little laughter does soothe the savage bestiality that harms us all.
Remember, in this musical it is just another fiddler, not a sharpshooter, on the roof.
Daniel Martin Varisco
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