FOLLOWERS: Show us the Messiah! The Messiah! The Messiah! Show us the Messiah!
BRIAN’S MOTHER: Now, you listen here! He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy! Now, go away!
It’s probably one of the funniest scenes in the history of comedy.
Yesterday morning French embassies in the Middle East and Africa, as well as French schools and cultural centres in some areas, closed in anticipation of attacks by extremists offended by caricatures of the prophet Muhammad published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
They weren’t nearly as good as the Life of Brian, but a chorus of disapproval followed, with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault saying that while freedom of speech was paramount in France, “Is it pertinent, intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire? The answer is no.”
The Editor of Le Monde Diplomatique Alain Gresh added his own voice, telling BBC News Hour that while France had a tradition of being able to attack religions (unlike Britain, he added), the people needed to account for the global context.
“Imagine a newspaper in Germany in the 30s before the arrival of the Nazis making a special issue against the Jewish religion… In the context of Germany in the 1930s it has a political meaning.”
Well, as they say in comedy, timing is everything.
If the team at Monty Python had waited until the moment wasn’t right, we may well not know the names John Cleese, Michael Palin, or more tragically, Biggus Dickus.
In two weeks, the world might have calmed down. In two weeks, we might have retreated back into our shells. In two weeks, we might not have it within ourselves to even have this conversation.
“It’s a very sensitive question,’ said Gresh. “The cartoons will “strengthen the feeling for Muslims that they are not part of this society… that they are always under attack… that they are not considered normal French citizens.”
Drawing parallels between the Muslims in France and Jews in Germany aside, the idea that a religion is above ridicule is in itself ridiculous.
One could argue that the only reason we even have a democracy is because of the sheer terror of humiliation that our politicians face everyday. Without satire, egos run unabated. There is no more devastating, sophisticated and civilised political tool than wit.
As the English statesman and advisor to Henry VIII, Thomas More, once said, “The devil…the prowde spirite…cannot endure to be mocked.”
The events of last week showed that the frontier between the culture of Islam and the West has finally arrived and that frontier is freedom. It’s not possible to tell society that you believe in freedom of speech, but that it can only be used when the time is right.
The HuffPost reported on a demonstration in Lebanon, Nabil Kaouk, in which the deputy chief of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, warned the United States and France not to anger Muslims. “Be careful of the anger of our nation that is ready to defend the prophet,” he said. “Our hearts are wounded and our chests are full of anger.”
So ripe for satire, so plump for the picking. This cast of characters are so preposterous, their speeches so Pythonesque, that they are frankly irrésistible. When Islam starts laughing at itself, it’s going to have enough material for decades.
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