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Having nothing better to do last night, I sat down with a friend to watch a DVD performance by the brash, Hicksian comedian Jim Jefferies. The show was called ‘Contraband’.
About half way through, as seems to be obligatory in modern comedy, the Australian performed a routine critiquing the religious, beginning (naturally) with Christianity, moving onto Judaism and then, to my great surprise, Islam.
And he didn’t ‘tackle’ Islam in the playful, tip-toeing style of Dara O’ Briain, Frankie Boyle or Ricky Gervais, but with a dirty-mouthed fearlessness usually only employed against Biblical ideas.
Commenting on a recent scandal involving blasphemy against Mohammad (there have been so many, I honestly don’t know which one this was), Jefferies informed any Muslims in the crowd that his microphone stand was the literal incarnation of Mohammad and that it was ‘fucking gay!’.
I was taken aback, not because I have never encountered this sort of thing before (the internet is filled with anti-Islam comedy), but because Jim Jefferies is not a ‘right-wing’ race-baiter, and nor is he a reviled ‘working man’s comedian’ of the Jim Davidson or Bernard Manning variety. He is a respected liberal who campaigns against race-discrimination and in favour of gun control (born in Australia, Jefferies now lives in Los Angeles), and yet here he was, giving an equal allotment of hatred to a variety of anti-liberal targets. I surely don’t need to remark as to how rare that is.
Jefferies is said to have form on this. I am told that his Islamophobic gestures from ‘Contraband’ are repeated in his other performances (most of them are available on YouTube). We must hope that this bravery has sufficiently cleared the way for others to follow in his footsteps. As an American observer commented in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks – “blasphemy (against Islam) must become so commonplace that it bores people” rather than shocks them.
Of course, it is inevitable that popular culture and Islam will collide at certain points and in regard to certain subjects. While no-one is going to risk being murdered in the defence of bacon, a celebrity or two might be tempted out of PC-world by issues like Muslim homophobia, sexism, and the prohibition of music.
Indeed, that last element is potentially the richest Islamophobic vein of all. Surely nothing is so fundamentally beloved by and interwoven with the spirit of the Western world as music. It is an art the West (and the West alone) has perfected and through which the highest forms of Western expression have been communicated. It consoles our deepest miseries, undergirds our joys and sustains us through all the voids in-between. Naturally then, music artists are revered with an intensity superior to that aroused by the practitioners of any other art-form.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if Taylor Swift – a woman currently worshipped like a Nordic Goddess – fell victim to a Muslim bullet for being ‘Haram’ (which, like all musicians, she undoubtedly is). I’m pretty sure the backlash (among the public, if not the government) would be palpably more severe than followed 9/11, 7/7 or Charlie Hebdo. At a stroke, the youngest billion of the world population would be transformed into dead-eyed, anti-Muslim zombies, horny for violent relief. Such is the terrifying power of sex, groupthink and idolatry.
Popular culture has, by definition, immeasurably greater political influence than the exotic fancies of the intelligentsia. Very few people pay any attention to books or newspapers. The majority of people live in a state of cheerful stupidity, a kind of apolitical daze. What would happen if they were shocked out of it? The mind boggles.