Idol Chatter

jihad-musical_idol.jpgRemember a few weeks ago when I was waxing poetic about how art is supposed to provoke, as well as inspire? Well, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the 60-year-old mother of all other fringe theater festivals, is providing plenty of provocation in the guise of “Jihad: The Musical.”
The story of a young Afghan who aims to make it big as a flower farmer, but soon falls in with a mysterious veiled woman who ‘exports poppies’ to the west. But, Sayid soon realizes the group the woman works for is a terrorist organization. As the plot description states: “Farce ensues as Sayid is brainwashed by the all-singing, all-dancing jihadis, vowing to fight for their cause.”
Viewing one of the show’s big numbers “I Wanna Be Like Osama” on YouTube, I giggled at the pink lame burka-clad chorus dancers pirouetting around Sayid with rocket launchers and a very nervous-looking mountain goat. The combination of cheesy Vegas-style textiles, Broadway moves, pop cultural references and heterodoxy combine to create an amusingly surreal number. And the performance isn’t all that bad.

But, unlike Mel Brook’s “Springtime for Hitler” from 1968’s “The Producers,” which came out a healing 23 years from the end of WWII, “Jihad” comes a mere six years on the heels of one of the most catastrophic events in human experience. More importantly, the farce of “Springtime for Hitler” is funny simply because the “good guys” won–the right team won a hard-fought, hard-earned victory in the crusade against fascism. “Jihad: The Musical” only acts to remind us that we are still embroiled in a seemingly unending, futile struggle. Now where’s the funny in that?
The musical is advertized as “a madcap gallop through the wacky world of international terrorism; one that puts the powers that be in their place, and that invokes the Blitz spirit that we must laugh at those who seek to intimidate us.” But, Osama bin Laden, and terrorists the world over, is not like the fear-inducing Boggarts of Harry Potter fame that can be vanquished with laughter. I agree that we can’t give in to terrorism and live our lives in fear; but a “madcap gallop through the wacky world of international terrorism?” That’s a bit too much.
Having not seen the show, I cannot say for sure whether there is a real lesson here about how poor Afghans are tempted into the world of terrorism, or if it’s simply a farce with a terrifically controversial, and potentially profitable, plot. It’s sometimes hard to tell at Fringe festivals since there is “no artistic vetting.”
Currently, I’m leaning toward the “tasteless” end of the spectrum. But, the Edinburgh Fringe has been courting controversy almost since its inceptions featuring plays about bestiality to the ribald Remember “Jerry Springer–The Opera?” “Jihad: The Musical” provoked me to write this piece, and will provoke discussion amongst others–continuing to provoke emotion as only art can do.
What do you think about “Jihad: The Musical”?

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