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John Cleese Explains why Comedians don’t Joke About Muslims

John Cleese of Monty Python has admitted on Bill Maher’s show something which his fellow comedians generally won’t: that the reason they don’t make jokes about Islam is that they’re frightened of being killed. [1] Recently, British comedian and writer John Cleese discussed the irony of political correctness. Cleese argued that the concept was “condescending” based on the idea that it only allows jokes to be made about certain groups while implying others needed to be protected.  John Cleese, appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher, spoke of how political correctness is flawed as it implies that some groups are too “feeble” to “look after themselves”.  “It’s so awful isn’t it?” Cleese said. “It starts out as a halfway decent idea, and then it goes completely wrong.” [2]  “Make jokes about Swedes and Germans and French and English and Canadians and Americans, why can’t we make jokes about Mexicans? Is it because they are so feeble that they can’t look after themselves?”  [3] John Cleese, famous for his comedic troup Monty Python, appeared to agree with Bill Maher about the hypocrisy of Liberals, who argue that it is not politically correct to criticize Muslims despite heavily criticizing fundamentalist Christians. “It’s very very condescending there.”  Cleese then asked Maher, “Who are the people you can’t make jokes about?”  To which Maher responded with “Muslims” before challenging the comedian to try and “see what your Twitter feed says”  A laughing Cleese responds, “That’s not saying that you can’t, it just means that they’ll kill you. Theoretically you could.”  John Cleese commented on the dangers of making jokes about “people who are going to kill you.”

The problem is if you make jokes about people who are going to kill you, there is a sort of tendency to hold back a little isn’t there? [4]

Previously, John Cleese controversially made claims that the Bond films lost their humor because Asians can not grasp subtle British humor.

The big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that’s why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it’s a fundamental flaw. The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humor or the class jokes. [5]

Islamic State, British Prime Minister Cameron told a Muslim audience recently, “has nothing to do with the great religion of Islam, a religion of peace.”  John Kerry, speaking on a visit to Iraq, said that Islamic State “claims to be fighting on behalf of Islam but the fact is that its hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam.”  Nothing to do with Islam? Really? Is it any wonder that comedians such as John Cleese daren’t tell the truth when our politicians set such a craven example? They would all do well, I think, to read this superb essay by Tom Holland called How Do We Prevent Radicalisation?  The first step, Holland suggests, is for everyone to stop playing this “nothing to do with Islam” game.

The grim truth is that sanctions can be found in the Qur’an, in the biographies of Muhammad and in the histories of early Islam for much that strikes the outside world as most horrific about the Islamic state. “Kuffar are afraid we will slaughter yazidis,” a British jihadi tweeted recently from Syria, “our deen [religion/ law] is clear we will kill their men, take their women and children as slaves insha Allah.” That this reading of assorted qur’anic verses and episodes from the life of the Prophet is the most brutal one imaginable does not necessarily invalidate it. To be sure, there are other, richer, more nuanced interpretations possible – and yes, the bone-headed literalism of those who would interpret the Qur’an as a license to maim, enslave and kill represents a challenge to everyone who prizes it as a revelation from God, supremely compassionate and supremely wise. That is no reason, though, to play the jihadis’ own takfiri game, and deny them a status as Muslims. The very appeal of their sanguinary interpretation of Islamic scripture is far too lethal to permit such a tactic. It is not enough to engage with the jihadis solely on the battlefield. They must be defeated as well in mosques, and libraries, and seminar rooms. This is a battle that, in the long run, can only be won by theologians.

The grim truth is that sanctions can be found in the Qur’an, in the biographies of Muhammad and in the histories of early Islam for much that strikes the outside world as most horrific about the Islamic state. “Kuffar are afraid we will slaughter yazidis,” a British jihadi tweeted recently from Syria, “our deen [religion/ law] is clear we will kill their men, take their women and children as slaves insha Allah.” That this reading of assorted qur’anic verses and episodes from the life of the Prophet is the most brutal one imaginable does not necessarily invalidate it. To be sure, there are other, richer, more nuanced interpretations possible – and yes, the bone-headed literalism of those who would interpret the Qur’an as a license to maim, enslave and kill represents a challenge to everyone who prizes it as a revelation from God, supremely compassionate and supremely wise. That is no reason, though, to play the jihadis’ own takfiri game, and deny them a status as Muslims. The very appeal of their sanguinary interpretation of Islamic scripture is far too lethal to permit such a tactic. It is not enough to engage with the jihadis solely on the battlefield. They must be defeated as well in mosques, and libraries, and seminar rooms. This is a battle that, in the long run, can only be won by theologians.

How best to establish, for instance, that the actions of jihadis in beheading their foes are indeed contrary to Islam? Fighters for the Islamic State might well point out that the Qur’an describes angels decapitating unbelievers with the aim of spreading terror; that the first Muslims are described as harvesting heads on the battlefield of Badr; that Muhammad himself is said to have owned a sword that can be translated as ‘Cleaver of Vertebrae’. It is not enough, within such a context, merely to insist that Islam is a religion of peace, and leave it at that. Muslim scholars have an urgent responsibility to demonstrate in the most painstaking detail exactly where and why the jihadis are wrong. Just as Christian intellectuals, in the wake of the Holocaust, were obliged to confront the evil purposes to which the New Testament had been put, and recalibrate their understanding of it on a theological level, so do their Muslim counterparts today need to redeem their own scriptures from the taint of savagery that is doing so much to blacken the image of their religion. [6]

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[1] James Delingpole, Why John Cleese Daren’t Make Jokes about the Religion of Peace, Breitbart, 28 Nov 2014
[6] James Delingpole, Why John Cleese Daren’t Make Jokes about the Religion of Peace, Breitbart, 28 Nov 2014

About Bill Wallace

Bill Wallace is a self-fashioned writter, a computer programmer and cybermarketer from Quebec City, Canada who decided to enter the political arena after his disillusionment with the socialist system under which he was living in the French Canadian province of Quebec.

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