This week I tweeted a couple of jokes about the extremist group Islam4UK. Did Islam4UK have a little hand gesture routine like their sister company Phones4U? And how glad I was the government had ignored the suggestion to rename them Islam 4 – UK 5. There’s nothing particularly brave or satirical about these jokes. They’re basically just having a go at the group’s media-friendly name which is remarkably “does what it says on the tin” for an extremist organisation. If they wanted to have a covert agenda then they’ve blown it. Frankly, I don’t hold out much hope of success for their splinter group Bombs4UKOlympicson8thAugust2012.
Of course there’s a danger in making such jokes. If I’m going to offend someone with a joke, I want to make sure I’m offending the right people. Which, unless I’m fearless (I’m not) means: not people who may want to kill me. Is it OK, for instance, to joke about the problem of recruiting Muslims from Britain as suicide bombers because they’re worried the virgins in heaven will be Susan Boyle and Anne Widdecombe? Again, nothing edgy about this (plus I’m basically insulting 2 women who happen to look not so pretty. Which opens up other dodgy issues). But I suspect there’s a reticence amongst some comics to have a go at Muslim fundamentalism (Christians are quick to point out we have no such fears about laughing at them).
Shouldn’t we be bolder? David Baddiel explores putting the funny into, er, funnydamentalism in his new film The Infidel, whilst Chris Morris’ upcoming film on Islamic extremism should definitely put a cat amongst the pigeons. Probably one wearing a belt full of explosives.
The other reason to avoid such jokes is loss of life. Was it right to add that last sentence to the previous paragraph? After all, people get killed in suicide bomb attacks. Though isn’t that’s one of the reasons why people want to joke about it. The greater the fear, ther greater the taboo, the funnier a joke can be. But we still have to know what we’re doing. Islam4UK were banned after trying to organise a march through Wootton Bassett, the village that soldiers killed in combat are flown back to. And I’ll share this with you, dear blogreader/bleader/whatever the term is, I heard jokes being discussed about the Islam4UK march being attacked by villagers with tea and sandwiches or tombola prizes strapped to their bodies but I don’t think such jokes justify the bad taste. They’re not targetted at the right people, they don’t clearly attack the bad guys.
You have to be careful about targets in satire (though anything attacking Bono is always justified). Recently, I wanted to send up Conservative plans to rely more on charity and the voluntary sector by getting my picture wizard Ross to mock up a pic of some soldiers in tabards saying “British Army” as chuggers, charity collecting on a high street (You see? Satire! How the Tories would have winced!). I found a picture online that would have been perfect but then realised it was of a soldier who’d been shot in Afghanistan. Was the point I would be trying to make with the joke worth that (unintentional) lack of respect? To use a terrible, wrong phrase which in its wrongness flags up the whole difficult issue of comedy and taste – it’s a minefield.