Alan Simons
Author | Writer | Social Activist

Religious Satire and Humour. Is it worth dying for?

As a British comedy, there are very few films that can be compared to “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” To remind you, the 1979 film, directed by Terry Jones, tells the story of the character Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man who is born on Christmas day in the stable next door to Jesus Christ and is consequently mistaken throughout his life for the Messiah.

The film’s themes of religious satire were controversial at the time of its release, drawing accusations, from some religious groups of blasphemy and protests.  At the time, thirty-nine local authorities in the United Kingdom either imposed an outright ban, or imposed an X rating (18 years) certificate. Some countries, including Ireland and Norway, banned its showing, and a few of these bans lasted decades. The filmmakers used the notoriety to promote the film, with posters in Sweden reading, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”

Nevertheless, the film was a box office success, the fourth-highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom in 1979, and highest grossing of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular and was named “greatest comedy film of all time” by several magazines and television networks, and it later received a 95% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So, why am I telling you this? Well, there was a report published today on the WIN World Israeli News website with the heading, “Muslim holy site’s booze-filled dance party sparks outrage at Palestinian Authority.” For those of you hell bent on going immediately to the link, please tolerate me for a few minutes!

As many of you know, I have a satirical-come-religious streak in me that recently led to my latest book being published – heaven forbid I should promote it within this article- titled, The Village of Little Comely-on-the-MarshI’m straying!

Let me give you my personal version of the WIN article. It goes something like this:

Location: Nabi Musa, some 30 km from Jerusalem. According to Muslim tradition, a pilgrimage holy site to Muslims located in the West Bank, believed by some, to be the tomb that houses Moses, who is also esteemed as a Prophet and a Messenger by Islam.

Story line: A group of youngish men and women, Christian and Muslim Arab characters, all intent in getting together for an organised Saturday afternoon good time, “alcohol-infused dance party,” with, it is rumoured, some cannabis thrown into the mix, together with the sounds of loud electronic music.

Mind-boggling? There’s more!

On hearing about the party, a group of not too happy Arabs from Jerusalem organize a posse and drive to the event to shut it down, where they are met by the party’s celebrants and the arrival of members of the IDF, there to keep the peace.

The celebrants angrily insist they had received permission from the PA’s Ministry of Tourism to hold the event, a claim in which the PA, without delay, announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry to look into the matter. Subsequently, PA’s Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called for patience until the results of the investigation are published.

Accusations abound. The PA’s Ministry of Tourism and the Waqf, (an Islamic endowment of property to be held in trust and used for a charitable or religious purpose), exchange accusations. Hamas, obviously looking for ways in which to stir the pot, also join in the condemnation by stating “a provocation against the feelings of the Palestinian people.” This adds to social network’s views: “Israel, as the one responsible for harming the holy site, and others blame the celebrants for “adopting the behavior of the Zionists.” Other online surfers claim that a group of Jews held the party.” And not to be left out, many surfers share posts accusing young Christians of being responsible for the party at the site holy to Islam. In this part of the Middle East, the relationship between Christian and Muslim Arabs isn’t the best under normal circumstances, which also adds to the problem.

Forty-one years ago accusations of blasphemy and protests abounded with the showing of the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” And for those of us who continue to have respect, not only for our own religious tenets but apply those same values to our neighbour’s religion, what actually happened at Nabi Musa must be taken with upmost significance. It was not a film. But I wonder if Terry Jones, the director of “Life of Brian”, if alive today, would have siezed the opportunity to direct a film based upon the Nabi Musa events with the film score written to include the following text:

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Nabi Musa;
Come and behold him.

Yes, there will be people who will attempt to see the satire and humour in reading about Nabi Musa and take advantage of it. Yet, if there’s one element out of all of this that has drawn me to write about, it is the fact that both Christian and Muslim Arab young people wanted to get together for a good time, albeit at the wrong place and for the wrong purpose. Perhaps, in 2021 we might consider, as Jews, to join them to find a suitable setting for all of us.

By the way, the site of the Nabi Musa event is located in Area C, which is under Israeli responsibility.

Partial sources for this article include content from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Wikipedia.

About the Author
Simons publishes an online international news service, now in its 15th year, dealing with issues relating to intolerance, hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia, conflict and terrorism. As a diplomat he served as the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Rwanda to Canada, post-genocide era. He has lectured and designed courses as well as been a moderator at numerous institutions in the areas of therapeutic management, religion in politics and communications. He is currently working on his fifth book, The Children of the Forest, a children’s fairy-tale in the European tradition. He is available for workshops, lectures, talks and readings throughout the year. He can be contacted at simonsalan@protonmail.com
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