In Mark Twain’s Notebook, he once wrote, “American[s]...are irreverent toward pretty much everything, but where they laugh one good king to death, they laugh a thousand cruel and infamous shams and superstitions into the grave, and the account is squared. Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense.”
It’s been six years, 10 months, and 19 days since the tragic events of 9/11. Finally, I have heard of the first and only authentically American comeback to that terrifying blow, and this properly irreverent response to the tragedy was not even created solely by Americans, but by a community of international artists who will stage a provocative performance at one of the Edinburgh Festival’s Fringe events, that is, if this performing troop is allowed to go on with their show.
The show is called Jihad: The Musical. This musical is described as “an all-singing, all-dancing madcap gallop through the world of Islamic terrorism.” The chorus line performs The Can-Can in pink burkhas while holding automatic weapons (probably supplied by an arms deal negotiated with the U.S. president). The story is about an unlucky Afghan peasant who winds up with a group of wanna-be Jihad terrorists who sing catchy tunes to lyrics such as “I Wanna Be Like Osama,” described by shock theater enthusiasts as a real show-stopping number.
The Guardian Unlimited quoted protestors of the performance from the government’s petitions website: “The idea of making light of Muslim extremism is extremely offensive, most especially for its victims.” However, BBC World News interviewed one of the creators of the musical who hoped the production will help audiences talk about the provocative topic of terrorism in a fresh way, and they believe satire is a good lens through which to look at things that frighten people most. Unfortunately, because the world seems too far removed from Mark Twain’s irreverent spirit, people actually need to debate about banning this musical. How sad! It is the trend nowadays for everyone—terrorists, victims, and nobodies alike—to take themselves way too seriously.
This blogger firmly believes that Jihad: The Musical’s show must go on precisely because it is already way too late for this kind of reaction to the terror plots the world over. Besides, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival prides itself on showcasing artistic license that cannot exist in any other realm.
In Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, Twain wrote, “[t]rue irreverence is disrespect for another man’s god.” If these extremists, whether they are Muslim or not, take violence and death as their god, perhaps the most effective way to fight them is for the entire world to poke fun at them with thoughtful mocking and good ol’ song and dance. The musical comedy is one artistic form that can effectively deal with sham, superstition, and religious drivel in ways that no geo-political context can ever manage. If we do not allow the irreverence of musical theater and Jihad: The Musical to thrive the world over, then we have already experienced, without even knowing it, the death of human liberty.