KARACHI: “You put on an IRA voice?! That’s a terrorist voice!” admonishes a character in a scene from Four Lions, the new British comedy that has received rave reviews.
The comedy showcases the lives of a terrorist group as they persistently fail to plan and carry out a terrorist attack. Four Lions was promoted at the Sundance Film Festival as a “comic tour de force; it shows that while terrorism is about ideology it can also be about idiots. Based on three years of research and meetings with everyone from imams to exmujahedeen not to mention a wealth of surveillance material from major trials, Four Lions plunges beyond seeing these young men as unfathomably alien or evil.
Instead, it portrays them as human beings, who, as we all know, are innately ridiculous.” The inanity is a stamp of the film’s trailer, which shows the four would-be terrorists do all sorts things including ‘putting on an IRA voice’ to buy bottles of hydrogen peroxide, film a threatening video and strap bombs to crows for practice.
Two of them even try and shoot a drone down in Pakistan – only to be chased by the Predator dropping missiles left, right and centre. They argue over everything, from the size of the gun in their terror video to training methods. One of the plots involves them wearing furry costumes and another has them blowing up the internet.
The war on terror has become the inspiration for everything from satire websites and blogs to stand-up comedy and film. Pakistani stand-up comics Saad Haroon and Sami Shah routinely make fun of suicide bombers, and Shah produces a podcast – “How I Became a Suicide Bomber” – that intersperses comedy with the suicide bombing phenomena.
Jeff Dunham’s ‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ stand-up act became a viral hit around the world in 2007, and blogs like Bositive Neuj (bositiveneuj.blogspot. com) capitalise on the truly comic aspects of what had become part and parcel of every Pakistani’s life: terrorism. But the comic value isn’t just restricted to our part of the world.
Jihad! The Musical was staged in London a few months ago, after having first debuted at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2007. The Edinburgh performance was preceded by a storm of negative publicity, attacking the play for making light of terrorism. But it found appreciation from former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, who attended a performance in February.
The Telegraph quoted the musical’s producer, James Seabright, saying. “He came with one police officer, his wife, and three friends. We had been contacted by Special Branch about his visit on Friday. All they required was that one of their officers should be sat beside him. After the show, the general stayed on to congratulate the cast. He was warm and generous in his praise.”
A recent report by the Demos think tank on the difference between radicals and terrorists has been picked up by The Telegraph as proof that satire and comedy could bring back radicalised individuals from a dangerous precipice. But while one does not expect terrorists to take films like Four Lions seriously, it may help citizens of Pakistan and UK understand how terrorists’ minds work.