"Jihad – The Musical"

Dangerous Trivialization

"Jihad - The Musical" premiered at the Arts Festival in Edinburgh. It makes fun of Islamic terrorism – and is encountering much resistance. Ralf Sotschek reports

At any rate, they are very courageous. "Jihad - The Musical," had garnered a lot of controversy even before its premiere at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. The musical directed by Evan Cabnet from New York makes fun of Islamic terrorism.

It tells the story of Afghani farmer Sayid al-Boom, played by Indian actor Sorab Wadia, who succumbs to the allures of a veiled, poppy-exporting femme fatale (Meetu Chilana). But she turns out to be a terrorist, and all of a sudden Sayid is in a group of holy warriors.

At the mercy of terrorists and the bloodthirsty media

Manipulated by a sinister reporter (Emily McNamara), who scents a good exclusive story, Sayid ultimately becomes sport of terrorists and a bloodthirsty media. But rescue arrives in the form of sister Shazzia (Daniella Rabbani) and a capitulation-prone Frenchman (Jonathan Wiener).

The highlight of the musical is Sayid’s song "I want to be like Osama." So far, at any rate, it is not Muslim organizations who are protesting against the musical, but angry British citizens who want to stop the shows.

One cannot stage such a piece so shortly after the aborted bomb attacks in London and Glasgow, says one petition to British prime minister Gordon Brown. He should prohibit “this tasteless representation of terrorism and its victims. "The idea that someone is trivializing Muslim terrorism is extremely insulting, especially for the victims."

The American production company Silk Circle Productions has a different opinion. "It is not our intention to affront or insult anyone with this show," says producer James Lawler. "It is a musical comedy made in the British tradition of racy and hilarious music theater.

It’s about an Afghani poppy farmer who falls in love with the wrong person and finds himself in a tight spot. Like every good comedy, our musical touches on current topics, approaches them with humor, and shows how to make the best out of a difficult situation." Lawler says the petition is "polemical and gratuitous".

British sense of humor in the face of adversity

Obviously those calling for a banning of the performances have misconceptions about the show because they have not seen it. How could they? It will soon have its world premiere in Edinburgh. "We were very respectful to the religions and cultures depicted in the musical," claims Lawler. "We achieved this with a very clever and tactful script."

Twenty-five-year-old Zoe Samuel wrote the script together with Harvard graduate Ben Scheuer, who also composed the music. Samuel believes the musical captures the spirit of the "British sense of humor in the face of adversity."

She says: "We want to evoke the spirit that prevailed during the bombing raids on London during the Second World War. We laughed at those who wanted to intimidate us." We must keep up our morale during this threat to our security.

Samuel does not know what religion her actors belong to, if any, because American labor laws do not allow her to ask the question. It is a "diverse ensemble," she says.

The actors had just arrived from New York and landed immediately in the midst of the controversy.

Considering the topic of their musical, they couldn’t have been totally taken by surprise. Samuel, who grew up in London and in Los Angeles and New York, points out that many more people have seen the video of the Bin Laden song on YouTube than have signed the petition.

Proliferation of comedies against Islamist fundamentalism

In recent years, cabaret artists and stage comedians in Great Britain have increasingly turned their attention to Islamic fundamentalism. The more the government in London threatens to pass laws against the incitement of religious hatred, the more productions making fun of terrorism and suicide attacks appear.

Two of the most popular videos on YouTube are "Jihad Jane’s Suicide Song," in which a veiled woman laments her fate while she mops the floor and, in the end, kills herself, and the "Angry Muslim Man" with a bobble cap and a falsetto. The reason for the boom in Great Britain is the immigration of numerous stage comedians from India, Pakistan, and the Middle East who trust themselves more because no one can accuse them of racism.

Their forerunner was Shazia Mirza from India, who gave up her career as a physician in Great Britain after the September 11 attacks and stepped on the stage. She started her show with the words "Hello. I’m Shazia Mirza. At least that’s what it says on my pilot license."

Every Muslim who read her script was enthusiastic, says Zoe Samuel. A few Muslim comedians want to bring the musical to New York. But first it will be performed at the three-week Edinburgh festival, which starts on Sunday.

The Edinburgh Festival is the largest festival of its kind in the world. Around 2050 different productions will have been shown by August 27, a total of 31,000 performances. The organizers are expecting 1.5 visitors.

"Jihad - The Musical" is only one of numerous musicals in Edinburgh. The genre is experiencing an astonishing revival. Two productions deal with former prime minister Tony Blair. "Tony! The Blair Musical." And "Tony Blair. The Musical."

Also on the festival program in Edinburgh are "Asbo: The Musical" about the controversial rulings concerning antisocial behavior and "Orgasm: The Musical."

Ralf Sotschek

© TAZ/Qantara.de 2007

Translated from the German by Nancy Joyce

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