Noel Gallagher Names The Problem and Larry David Gets A Fatwa
Ex-Oasis singer Noel Gallagher made some unusual public comments about terror and the establishment recently. Unusual only in the sense that they were true, which is a rarity when those with celebrity status talk about the disagreement we currently find ourselves in with jihadism.
Noel comes from my home city of Manchester, the same Manchester where 22 concert goers, mostly young girls, were murdered by a suicide bomber on May 22 of this year. Musicians from around the world came together to play tribute gigs and offer much appreciated solidarity and support to the city after this unthinkable crime. As to be expected though, no one involved would actually name what it was we required solidarity in the face of.
However, in possibly the most rock and roll thing one can do these days, Noel Gallagher publicly spoke the words “Islamic” and “religious beliefs” in the context of terrorism. He told Rolling Stone Columbia:
“And there’s bombers roaming free around the whole fucking city and the government and the one before them and the one after that will be powerless to stop it because of some hippy ideal about people’s religious beliefs.”
He then goes on to describe the Manchester bomber as a “fucking Islamic goon”. I almost feel guilty about opting for Blur over Oasis in the dark days of 90’s Britpop now.
Noel is right about this of course – it is a religious issue and the perpetrators are ‘Islamic’ (goonish or otherwise). But he appears to stand alone where mainstream affirmation of these facts exist. Perhaps others with his stature fear violent reprisals for speaking too honestly, or would simply prefer not to be called a racist, or have their wallets hurt by boycotts.
Another fellow Mancunian, Morrissey, formerly of The Smiths got into a bit of bother for merely alluding to the problem after the Manchester bombings. “Manchester mayor Andy Burnham says the attack is the work of an “extremist”. An extreme what? An extreme rabbit?” he asks in a Facebook statement.
Rather than address this reasonable question, Morrissey was instead taken to task for a single sentence: “Politicians tell us they are unafraid, but they are never the victims.” Even though it is clear that the explicit context of his comment was Islamic terrorism, people couldn’t pass up the opportunity to bash him over the head with something completely unrelated. “Have you forgotten Jo Cox?” they asked.
I see this avoidance elsewhere in the entertainment industry. It’s too risky to go for the actual problem, so people throw themselves head first towards a secondary or unrelated problem instead. This is especially disappointing when it comes from influential political satirists such as Jon Stewart, Charlie Brooker and John Oliver.
Brave comedians and satirists were once the champions of “telling it like it is” when others would not dare, and it pains me to see them rhetorically castrated by the emergence of Islamic terrorism. They simply just don’t know what is safe to say – so don’t say anything at all.
Whenever a large act of Islamic terror would occur (see ‘often’), the people we rely on to trounce fascist ideologues with blistering satirical take-downs took refuge in mocking the secondary issues instead – turning their sights singularly on the right-wing response to Islamic terrorism. “Did you see what FOX news said? Aren’t they idiots? Glad we all agree”. Applause.
You’d think the ceaseless acts of Islamic fundamentalism across the globe would be a gift horse for satirists. After all, these grown men believe in flying horses, child brides, a paradise that offers 72 virgins and get a bit testy if you give a certain 5th century prophet the crayon treatment. The jokes almost write themselves.
I thought we’d actually made some progress on this score when the BBC ran a comedy sketch called ‘The Real Housewives of ISIS’. Concepts such as suicide bombings and jihadi brides were beautifully lampooned. No issue there then, surely? Wrong. It received endless accusations of Islamophobia and thousands of people signed a petition calling for it to be banned.
As I told East Coast Radio at the time, it’s a very curious message to be sending people when you claim ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, yet protest that mocking ISIS is somehow ‘Islamophobic’.
I’m very pleased however to see the return of Larry David’s sitcom ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ this month. Larry David has made a habit of poking fun at religious conservatism throughout the show’s 9 seasons (including his own Jewish heritage) and even mined the Israel/Palestine conflict for laughs in one episode. He also drew the ire of some humourless Christians with an episode that sees him accidently urinating on a portrait of Christ.
In this latest series, it’s the turn of Islamic absurdities to get the same treatment – namely the idea of a Fatwas being issued for offending the Ayatollah.
What’s most impressive about Larry David’s decision to take the show to this place is the fact that he does not need to. He is rich, comfortable and successful. Everyone was going to watch his show regardless, yet he decided to exploit the concept of fatwas and Islamic blasphemy for laughs on a huge, mainstream comedy TV show. Inviting all the dangers that come with it – critical and personal.
We should not underestimate the power that humour and ridicule holds in the face of fundamentalism. We need to make the idea of dying (or killing) for your faith utterly laughable.
We can not completely rely on top-down, government action to intellectually terminate the ideology of Islamism and martyrdom within our societies. It has be attacked from the trenches of popular culture too. Weaponised laughter and ridicule may not be enough to win this fight of course, but it’s a pretty, pretty, pretty good start.
You never know, the next potential suicide bomber in waiting may just get their first introduction to Jihad and martyrdom from a political satirist or sketch show tearing it apart for laughs – rather than a charismatic preacher. This would be a preferable scenario for all of us.